Employers still sitting in the slow lane when it comes to harnessing the latest motoring technology face a greater risk of corporate manslaughter charges over the next fortnight than at any other time of the year.
The warning comes Giles Ward, head of Litigation and Senior Partner at Leeds-headquartered Milners solicitors, as the UK braces itself braces itself for another seasonal spike in road accident deaths after the nation turned its clocks back an hour.
Research shows that there is a 30 per cent increase in traffic accidents in the weeks immediately after the autumn clock change, especially between 5pm and 8pm, and the onset of dark nights and icy driving conditions.
And, according to Mr Ward, companies who do not take adequate measures to help prevent road fatalities involving their staff are finding themselves under scrutiny in the dock in ever-increasing numbers.
“Company directors who are suddenly propelled into this situation will likely feel helpless, almost as though the incident is completely outside their control,” he said.
“But in this modern day and age, where our technology is the best and most advanced it has ever been, there are proactive steps they could – and should – take to stop accusations of corporate fault in their tracks.
“Although the offence of corporate manslaughter is rare in comparison to other driving offences, such as speeding or driving whilst using a mobile phone, firms are finding out to their cost that one offence can quickly snowball into another.”
He added: “Take the typical example of an employee who is a prolific speeder and has been driving too fast in the lead-up to an accident that results in the death of another motorist and, unbeknown to his employer, he or she has worked 76 hours in the last 4 days.
“Here, the onus will not always lay with the driver – the court is also going to be asking questions of the employer such as ‘Why hadn’t the employee’s working schedule been monitored correctly?’, ‘Who authorised him to be on the road for such a long period of time?’ and ‘Who arranged for site visits so far apart in such a short space of time?’
Mr Ward said there was growing expectation by the courts for companies to adopt a 360-degree view of their entire fleet’s activities, capturing intelligence about vehicle speed and whereabouts and acting on it.
Demonstrating a proactive approach to preventing accidents from occurring will help form the most robust defence when the court is assessing the size of any company fine, based on its turnover. His comments were echoed by Leeds-based RAM Tracking, whose own research revealed that as many as one-in-three employers are uncertain of their liability if a staff member is involved in a fatal collision while behind the wheel of a company vehicle during working hours.
Its operations director Scott Chesworth said: “This worrying statistic clearly highlights the usefulness and viability of using tracking devices for two key reasons.
“Not only do they encourage staff to drive safely and legally, but crucially, they also demonstrate a business is monitoring – and acting on – bad driving. This ensures that the business isn’t liable in the process.”
Technology has advanced at such pace that vehicle tracking now works cleverly to capture live information, which can be downloaded into a series of detailed reports. Some of the features include speeding league tables, notifications for private/ out-of-hours vehicle use, and live minute-by-minute vehicle updates.