Police Federation

It is a misconception that the driver is the only responsible party

29 September 2021

Panel Discussion: Investigating commercial van incidents

The odds of being involved in a commercial vehicle incident are one in 500, but most drivers and employers operate under the perception that it will never happen to them.

The statistic was detailed during a lively panel discussion at the Police Federation of England and Wales’ Virtual Roads Policing Conference 2021 on the subject of ‘Investigating commercial van incidents.’

Chaired by Dean Hatton, the NPCC Roads Policing Strategic Business Manager, the panellists included Simon Turner, Campaign Manager, National Highways ‘Driving for Better Business’ Programme, towing and load security specialist Nina Day, a Policy Advisor with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and Phil Breen, National Account Manager at the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

Mr Turner told the panel the odds of winning the National Lottery were one in 45 million, but with 20 million vehicles used in the UK for work and 40,000 injury collisions every year, there was roughly a one in 500 chance of a collision.

He added: “Nobody thinks it is ever going to be them. The odds are worse than most employers imagine.”

The panellists agreed that driving for work was one of the most dangerous activities many employees undertake, and this was usually indicative of a systematic failure by employers.

Nina Day from HSE added: “It is a big misconception in the industry and generally for a long time amongst regulatory bodies as well, that the driver is the only responsible party.

“If you are an employer of a self-employed driver and your work puts other people at risk, you have duties under the Health and safety at work act.

“As there is a lack of understanding, companies aren’t complying with their legal duties under Health and Safety legislation. The legal requirement is to take reasonably practical steps. Companies need to do a risk assessment and put controls in place.

“They also need to keep monitoring their Fleet for ongoing compliance, review their systems, and provide some supervision.”

The DVSA’s Phil Breen discussed their Earned Recognition Scheme - a voluntary scheme for operators who demonstrate a strong track record of compliance and adherence to standards. 

He explained: “The employer or business owner needs to make sure they are providing a safe well-maintained vehicle for employees to use.

“You should be able to come to work and be in a safe environment – just because it’s got wheels and it moves doesn’t mean it’s any different from walking into a building every day to work.

“Companies must also take into account the working time directive. Has that driver been working for other businesses, or are they tired when they turn up to work?

“If these checks have not been done the question will be asked why? If your name is above the door – you are responsible. employers can’t put all the onus on the driver, as there is corporate responsibility for employees and the vehicles they use.”

Simon Turner. National Highways highlighted the ‘Driving for Better Business’ Programme as a useful tool for road officers to use and share with company owners who were worried about compliance or other vehicle issues.

He said: “It’s a free to access programme which is fully funded and managed by Highways England. We don’t sell advice or work with businesses; we use this to raise awareness of the issues that employers contend with.

“The programme provides a complete range of free tools and online resources. If there an issue with compliance, we have the right online tools for businesses to deal with it. If they want to look at their corporate responsibility, we also have free resources for senior leaders.

“From a driver point of view, we have also launched a van driver toolkit, which is a series of information cards, videos and resources employers can share with drivers.”

The panel also discussed how to bring down the numbers of prosecutions and how policing could encourage commercial companies to take more responsibility for fleets. It examined gaps in enforcement, and how progress could be made in the future.

Failure to have a proper company policy which sets rules for drivers and other staff to follow, or having a policy and not following it through, were identified as major concerns during the session, which was sponsored by National Highways.

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