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Last Updated: Friday, 21 December 2007, 12:01 GMT
Employer caution on 'bad driving'
David Young
By David Young
Regulatory partner, international law firm Eversheds

The publication of a new policy by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in relation to "bad" driving has implications not only for drivers but for employers and the police as well.

Much of the headline coverage has related to the continued use by some drivers of hand-held mobile phones whilst driving.

Motorists in England and Wales caught driving dangerously while using a handheld mobile phone face jail under new guidelines.

Most drivers will still face the standard penalty of a fine and points.

But where driving falls far short of what is safe, prosecutors can press charges of dangerous driving.

Hands on

Some employers - First Group is the latest - already go further by banning the use even of hands-free kits by their employees whilst they are on their employer's business or using its vehicles.

Driver using a mobile phone
Using a mobile puts yourself and others at risk, police and the CPS say.

The point has been made that if the issue of distraction or loss of concentration while driving is the key challenge, it extends beyond mobile phones.

Vehicles have been equipped for years with radios and more recently CD changers and satellite navigation equipment.

Statistics suggest that those who drive in connection with their work are significantly more likely to be involved in an accident on the road.

Business vehicles are involved in more than a third of all accidents.

What is important for drivers and employers alike in the new policy is how the CPS plans to interpret some of these offences.

The net result will be more serious charges for many involved in accidents or observed driving "badly".

Wrecked car following car crash
Careless driving can lead to disaster

It is likely that employers are more likely to be held to account for the manner in which vehicles are driven whilst being used for their business.

New charges

In April next year, the new offence of corporate manslaughter becomes law.

Thereafter, it will be possible to charge an employer with manslaughter if:

- the way in which an organisation is managed by its senior managers causes the death of someone owed a duty of care by that organisation (such as an employee, another driver, pedestrian etc.)

- and it falls so far short of an acceptable standard that it is right to fix the organisation with criminal responsibility.

Employers face an unlimited fine if convicted.

A much closer analysis of road traffic accidents and indeed driving generally is planned.

Employers of all sizes must expect scrutiny of their driving policies, training, risk assessments and safety leadership.

Greater penalties?

The CPS guidance involves a reappraisal of the factors they and the police will look at before deciding whether driving is, for example, dangerous rather than careless or inconsiderate.

Obviously the penalties are greater for the more serious offences so businesses of all sizes are advised to reassess their driving and health and safety policies at the earliest opportunity.

If detailed driving policies were not previously put in place by an employer, they should now think about introducing them.

Then, of course, they must monitor and if necessary enforce compliance via a training and disciplinary process if they are to demonstrate the proper discharge of their own obligations.

Case by case

However, it remains to be seen how the new policy will be applied to certain situations, such as an when vehicle congestion is caused by, for example, two lorries with speed limiters occupying two lanes of a motorway (or indeed both lanes) whilst one attempts to overtake the other.

Or where the driver leaving a motorway at the next junction "undertakes" vehicles in lanes outside him because the inside lane is predictably clearer than the others.

After all, fixed cameras are better at detecting speed than they are at spotting inconsiderate driving.

And for once, this new policy makes clear that speed is an important factor, but not the only factor in road traffic incidents.

It will be a breath of fresh air, as well as a big step in the right direction, if we see more police officers talking (not necessarily prosecuting) to more drivers about their driving and general road awareness.

Illegal car phone use revealed
27 Jun 07 |  London

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