A lorry driver was arrested yesterday on suspicion of dangerous driving, following a collision on the M6 motorway in which 5 people in a Nissan Micra died.
Sadly, this leads us to pose the question, based on the number of fatalities, what’s the most dangerous type of equipment in the workplace? You might assume that it’s a piece of industrial or construction equipment, but it’s actually the vehicles your workers drive. Irrespective of the size of your fleet, do the practices and procedures within your organisation reflect this risk both in terms of the exposure to your organisation from a regulatory perspective, as well the real risk of imprisonment for both your driver involved in a fatal road traffic collision, as well as others within your organisation.
‘Life means life’. In December 2016 the Government launched a consultation to review the maximum sentence available for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, considering whether the maximum sentence of 14 years should be increased to a life sentence. The consultation, and the 9,000 plus responses to it, is a stark reflection of the ever increasing focus surrounding fatal road traffic collisions.
The ‘criminal’ offence being considered within this consultation is an offence which potentially anyone within your organisation who drives may one day face if they were to be involved in a fatal road traffic collision:
- The driver who drives whilst knowingly fatigued or deprived of adequate sleep
- The driver who is distracted by a lengthy telephone call conducted on a hands-free mobile device
- The driver driving a poorly maintained vehicle
Reflective of the ever increasing focus to legislate and prosecute within the area of road traffic collisions, the consultation also considers a potential new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, an offence which is likely to carry a custodial sentence. This would be an offence in addition to causing death by careless driving which would cover the spectrum of cases where death or serious injury arises from what may be a momentary lapse of concentration, and the driver involved is at risk of a prison sentence.
Even in cases which do not involve a death or serious injury, the changes to the sentencing regime for offences of driving without due care and attention (careless driving) will have a significant impact on HGV drivers. Under the new sentencing regime, the driver will be sentenced based on culpability and harm, and a specific factor indicating higher culpability is that the driver was driving a heavy goods vehicle, or carrying passengers for reward. In cases therefore involving a HGV driver, the starting point for the Court will be the consideration of disqualification and therefore potential loss of livelihood for a professional driver.
Whilst the law needs to reflect that someone has died or been seriously injured, the offender’s culpability for the death may be significantly different and only time will tell whether changes to the law will continue to reflect this.
Culpability is why organisations cannot simply look at a fatal road traffic collision involving one of their workers as a matter which impacts that driver alone. Aside from the important area of employee relations and a need to protect an individual worker’s interests who is at risk of receiving a custodial sentence ‘for carrying out their job’, organisations and members within that organisation are also at risk of criminal and regulatory offences arising from one of their workers being involved in a fatal road traffic collision.
The recent case of R v Gordon Wood and Potter, which involved a tipper truck striking a number of pedestrians, resulted in charges being brought against the driver, the Director of the small company, as well as the mechanic. Both the Director and mechanic were convicted of four offences of gross negligence manslaughter, receiving prison sentences of 7 ½ years and 5 years respectively. The driver in this case was acquitted of the offences of causing death by dangerous driving, and causing serious injury by dangerous driving.
In addition to the risk of individuals within your organisation facing criminal prosecution, the financial implications for an organisation as a whole under the recently updated Sentencing Council’s guidelines on Health and Safety Offences should focus every organisation into considering their driving policies, as well as the culture that surrounds the implementation of those policies.
All of this leads organisations to think seriously around procedures in place within the company to offer a driver, who was going about their normal working day, immediate representation throughout the police investigation and potential criminal proceedings which are likely to result in a lengthy prison sentence? All Directors should take an increased focus in ensuring that Health and Safety is well managed. Never more so than right now as the regulatory challenges tighten.
This article is written by DAC Beachcroft in association with Anthony Jones Insurance Brokers.
Anthony Jones Insurance Brokers are specialist Motor Fleet insurance brokers providing insurance and risk management for the transport and logistics sector.
For more information visit the Transport and Logistics page on our website.
Contact: Steve Blackmore on 020 8290 7764 or email@example.com
DAC Beachcroft’s national, dedicated Motor Prosecutions team operates a 24 hour service that ensures your drivers receive early advice from a specialist lawyer as well as police station representation throughout England, Wales, and Scotland.
For more information on this service visit the Motor Prosecution page on the Beachcroft website.
Contact: Lili Oliver – Partner – Head of Motor Prosecutions on 0117 918 2822 or firstname.lastname@example.org