A fatal bus crash in Coventry city centre in October 2015 could prompt new regulations to make telematics and driver behaviour monitoring compulsory in public service fleets and HGVs, according to law firm Stephensons.
Birmingham Crown Court last month found that Kailash Chander (80), a driver for Stagecoach subsidiary Midland Red South, was driving dangerously when he caused the deaths of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox.
Prosecutors said he mistook the accelerator for the brake before the crash.
He had previously been sent eight warning letters about the standard of his driving after a telematics system fitted to the company’s vehicles, which monitored braking, acceleration and speeding, flagged up poor driver behaviour.
Chander was involved in four other driving incidents in the previous three years.
Additionally, he missed a one-to-one meeting to address concerns over his driving because “his bosses needed him to be out driving”, and he was allowed to continue with his work until the fatal collision.
Chander, who was diagnosed with dementia after the crash, was judged unfit to plead or stand trial at Birmingham Crown Court and jurors were not asked to return verdicts of guilty because the defendant was mentally unfit to take part in the hearing. They were instead invited to rule on whether Chander had carried out the acts alleged.
Stagecoach had already pleaded guilty to two charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act in September 2017.
These included failing to ensure the safety of employees and failing to ensure members of the public were not exposed to risks to their safety arising out of the driving of public service vehicles (PSVs).
Stagecoach will be sentenced on November 26 and faces an unlimited fine.
Paul Loughlin, a solicitor at law firm Stephensons, said the Traffic Commissioner, the government body responsible for licensing and regulating operators of HGVs, PSVs and local bus services, does not yet consider telematics systems a compulsory requirement, but this could change.
He said: “As in this case, operators can be prosecuted for ignoring clear and indisputable issues relating to health and safety deficiencies highlighted by telematics systems.
“Regulatory action might also come before the Traffic Commissioner as a result.”
Peter Millichap, marketing director at Teletrac Navman, a telematics provider, but not the supplier Stagecoach was using, added: “It’s what you do with the data that counts. It’s critical that operators proactively manage the telematics data they have at their disposal, from driver behaviour behind the wheel to monitoring driver hours, in order to identify potential issues and enforce best practice.”
The court heard that the four driving incidents Chander had been involved in included one in 2012 when he struck street furniture and one in 2013 while pulling into a bus stop.
The other two crashes happened at Stagecoach depots, with Chander driving into another bus on one occasion and a gate on the other.
At Midland Red South, the telematics data was available to management, with drivers needing to reach a rating of 20 events or below to get a cash incentive payment.
Chander’s ratings ranged between 32 and 87, and every score that went over 50 resulted in a warning letter.
Following one of these high scores, Midland Red South sent a letter to Chander saying that his driving would be monitored – possibly with someone joining him on board his bus – and a one-to-one meeting would take place.
Seven months before the incident, Chander was referred to the company’s driving school, which sent an anonymous assessor to report on his driving.
The instructor said the journey was uncomfortable and erratic and would not have been good enough to pass an initial driving test.
In August 2015, Chander received a letter with a breakdown of his scores from four previous weeks which were 59, 87, 87 and 59.
The court was told that the usual weekly hours for a driver were 39 or 42 hours, but in the week leading up to the crash, he had worked for more than 70 hours.
Jurors were also shown CCTV footage of Chander, who struggled to punch a ticket moments before the crash as his hands were shaking, steering the bus as it drove over a pavement into the supermarket where the collision took place.
Defence lawyers acting for Chander had argued his conduct was careless because it did not fall far below the standard expected of a competent driver.
Fleet News asked Stagecoach if it will be making any changes to its policies around telematics, driver monitoring and driver training as a result of the case.
A spokesman for Midland Red South said: “None of us at our company will ever forget the terrible events of October 3, 2015.
“We are deeply sorry for the heartache of those affected, particularly the families of Rowan Fitzgerald and Dora Hancox.
“We have made it our continuing priority to work very closely with the authorities to help fully understand and learn detailed lessons from what has happened.
“The court hearing has been an important part of that process. We intend to comment further at the end of the case after the court has made its decision.”
The Traffic Commissioner told Fleet News it was up to the Department for Transport (DfT) to consider a revision to regulations in the wake of the trial.