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At-work road death study considers new rules for van drivers

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One in three (29%) of all road fatalities and more than one in five (21%) of all casualties occur in driving-for-work collisions, a new landmark study suggests

The research, conducted on behalf of Roadsafe and Highways for England, found more deaths occur from at-work road trips than at the workplace, despite the dangers posed by industries such as construction, farming and mining.

Most of the victims are non-working drivers, the study – which focuses on the van, company car and ‘grey fleet’ sector – reveals.

In 2018, it shows that 520 people died in collisions involving a driver or rider driving for work, but only 12% (63) of them were working drivers or riders.

It found that 5% (25) of the fatalities were passengers of a driver driving for work, while 83% (432) of those killed were non-working road-users.

The figures are in sharp contrast to the total of 144 people killed in workplace accidents during the course of work in the UK in the year 2017/18.

“This report will support the objectives of our Driving for Better Business Programme,” Stuart Lovatt, Highways England  

The report - ‘Driving for work - a strategic review of risks associated with cars and light vans, implications for policy and practice’ - estimates that up to 39% of pedestrian fatalities in the UK were in collision with a ‘working’ driver, causing up to 11 pedestrian deaths a month.

The study, conducted by UCL and Agilysis, says there is a lack of attention to work-related road safety by policymakers.

It warns that despite a rapid increase in vans (up by 27% from 3.24m light goods vehicles in 2011 to 4.12m in 2019) and people working in the gig economy, this sector falls outside the strict regulations governing other occupational drivers.

Despite businesses switching to ‘last mile deliveries’ by vans – coinciding with the boom in internet shopping - vans and drivers are not subject to the strict driver training, drivers’ hours restrictions and roadworthiness regulations governing HGVs.

On average, finds the study, vans are being driven 12,800 miles a year, accounting for 15.4% all vehicle mileage. Two in 10 of these journeys occur on minor urban roads.

Nick Starling, chair of the Transport Safety Commission Work Related Road Safety Forum, said: “Vans and drivers are not subject to the same strict regulation of driver training, drivers’ hours restrictions and roadworthiness testing as HGVs and buses/coaches, while the number of vans on the road and people working in the gig economy continues to rise.

“This report highlights the importance of stakeholders across all sectors working together to understand and manage the risk better.”

The study calls for further investigation into who is driving for work, the type of vehicles used, the type of roads used, who is being injured and the numbers working in transport in the gig economy. It says that strategic stakeholders must work together to drive down the death toll.

It also calls for new links between coroners’ data and crash data to improve analysis and transparency of work-related crashes. 

Stuart Lovatt, head of strategic safety at Highways England, said: “This report will support the objectives of our Driving for Better Business Programme which aims to raise awareness of work-related road risk to business leaders and their drivers.”

The study warns that despite the high level of driving-for-work fatalities, the figures are probably an under-estimate, due to shortcomings in data-gathering.

It concluded that it is not known how many people drive for work, there are no reliable statistics on the number of workers using their own car for work and it is unknown how many of the rising number of gig workers use their own vehicles, how far they drive or how many hours they work.

It also found that reimbursement to employees for miles driven is a ‘disincentive’ to reduce mileage.

Professor Nicola Christie, from UCL Transport Studies, said: “Our research shows that people who drive for work pose a serious risk to others, especially pedestrians.

“This is a worrying situation because of the rise in van traffic and last mile deliveries as we increasingly shop online, particularly since the start of the pandemic.

“There is a clear role for the Government to lead on initiatives to bring the management of risk to the attention of employers and the self-employed, and reduce this burden to individuals and society.”

The researchers from the UCL Centre for Transport Studies and transport safety and behaviour consultants Agilysis estimated that vans each drive around 12,800 miles per year, equating to 15.4% of all vehicle mileage with 20% of these miles being on minor urban roads.

The changing economy has led to a rapid increase in the number of vans on the road and the proportion of people working in the gig economy, where they are paid per job, or ‘gig’.

Should vans and their drivers be subject to similar regulations faced by HGVs? Have your say in our Fleet News poll.

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