Tough times: Neil Nixon assesses the likely impact of impending ‘safety’ legislation on van fleet operators and their drivers

Tough times: Neil Nixon assesses the likely impact of impending ‘safety’ legislation on van fleet operators and their drivers – driver safety

Neil Nixon

Companies across Britain are winning contracts on the basis that they can guarantee delivery of goods by van within just a few hours of the parcel being received.

But, according to vehicle risk management company Risk Answers, such guarantees frequently involve van drivers putting both themselves and other road users at risk. Now, it seems, both the European Union and governments across Europe are set to introduce new legislation to limit the risk–and fleets choose to ignore the implications at their peril.

Tiredness is thought to cause around ten deaths per week on Britain’s roads and around a fifth of accidents on motorways and trunk roads.

Unlike the drivers of HGVs and buses, drivers of LCVs do not have their working day limited by the number of hours they are allowed to drive or the amount of rest time they must have in between stints behind the wheel. That looks set to change with the EU consulting with the governments of member states on the proposal for a ‘Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Harmonisation of Certain Social Legislation Relating to Road Transport’.

Remove the legal jargon and the EU is seeking to introduce to other transport areas–for example LCVs–similar regulations to those that already impact on HGV and public sector vehicle drivers.

It is likely that new legislation will demand the fitting of digital tachographs to LCVs and that van fleets could have to obtain an Operators Licence just as HGV fleets must.

Once the EU has approved the new directive each member state will implement the measures. In the UK the Government is shortly to introduce its amendments to the 1998 Working Time Regulations to take account of these changes.

However, says David Faithful, solicitor and partner in leading insurance solicitors Amery-Parkes and a non-executive director of Risk Answers, the UK will probably apply much stricter rules than required under the EC’s legislation.

“White van man has received a bad press and we have had a number of tragic incidents involving LCVs,” says Faithful. “I believe the UK Government will want to put in place more stringent regulations than the EU envisaged. That is something the Government is quite entitled to do.

“That is the risk that the LCV fleet industry is currently facing. Fleets have a choice–either assess the risk now and put monitoring procedures in place or wait to be penalised when tough new measures are introduced.

“The EU directive should be the catalyst for LCV fleets to put their fleet safety records in order. Van drivers are rushing around the country to meet extremely tight delivery deadlines and, in many cases, an analysis of the distances travelled and the time allocated means the only way packages can be delivered on time is by drivers working long hours and speeding. That is dangerous.

“If a driver is involved in an incident whether or not the driver is employed by the organisation or is an external contractor, the company could be held liable for aiding and abetting any offences that take place. The new legislation may not require companies to train drivers but it could require companies to prove that a risk assessment has been carried out.”

A report from the Work-related Road Safety Task Group has already left the door open for new regulations if companies don’t put their own houses in order. For example, it did look at whether the operator licensing system should be extended to include LCVs.

The report said: “The information we have on mechanical failures among light goods vehicles–showing a higher percentage rate of failure than large goods or public service vehicles–suggests there is an issue here which needs closer examination.”

And the group called on the Department of Transport and appropriate agencies to conduct further work to look into how best to improve the safety of the operation of LCVs, possibly through a modified operator licensing system.

But experts say fleets should not wait until the law bites, instead they should act now. By completing both fleet and driver risk assessments, solutions can be put into place to reduce accident levels, ease driver stress, improve journey planning and ultimately cut insurance premiums.

Legislation such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, the Health and Safety at Work Act, the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and Working Time Regulations, while not specifically including van driving, should act as guidelines for employers looking to implement best practice.

Driver training is only part of the overall risk management strategy which should be adopted and Graham Griffiths, managing director of leading driver training company DriveTech, says: “Compulsory driver training should be considered for employees with accident records but only once they have shown loyalty to the company. In addition, specialist training might be required because of specific driving issues raised by the use of LCVs. This might cover the handling of the vehicle because it may alter depending on the loads carried and where they are situated in the vehicle.

“Employers should also give specific training on loading techniques and vehicle performance when loaded. This would particularly apply to vehicles if they are being used to tow. In addition, psychometric tests could be used at interview to assess whether the individual is aggressive or not, for example.”

In conclusion, regulation is, as we all know, fast closing in on the LCV sector. Ridding the industry of the ‘white van man’ image is long overdue, and improving the working conditions and performance of drivers is an essential step forward.

COPYRIGHT 2003 DMG World Media Ltd.

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