Theodore Agnew, chairman of Town and Country Assistance, asks what will happen if road safety laws are changed to place a greater duty of care on employers….
The government's efforts to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 40% over the next ten years has turned its focus to fleet managers. This is not surprising, as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) estimates that around 1,000 deaths on Britain's roads involve people driving to work.
The Health and Safety Executive's consultation document on the matter is due to be published in May. Under the spotlight is the question of corporate responsibility in company car driver safety, and resulting health and safety guidelines will reinforce the need for companies to ensure best practice is implemented.
Who is best placed to advise on such issues? Motor insurers have a vested interest and substantial knowledge to contribute. But, yet again, I am disconcerted by the lack of dialogue between government and industry. This is foolish really, because undoubtedly insurers and fleet managers will be the ones left to implement any changes to the law.
Legislative changes to employer responsibilities for the prevention of road accidents sounds reasonable, but it is not so easy in practice. While employers must remain vigilant in their duty of care to employees, this cannot extend to guaranteeing the behaviour of employees. Employers can only be responsible for ensuring that preventative measures are in place and adhered to. Beyond this, employers cannot take responsibility for an individual's driving and decisions. Where will the fine line be drawn and by whom? The courts? If so, we can look forward to a slow backlog of unsettled claims, as employers and employees undertake legal battles, undoing all of the good work of the Woolf reforms.
I am cynical about just how well the government will do. Rospa's statistics show that the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads between 1981-85 averaged 81,130 per year. This had been significantly reduced by 1997 to 46,566, despite an increase of more than six million driving licence holders over the same period. But how much will the government really have contributed to road safety when they claim to have achieved its 40% target? In my view, very little. The biggest contribution to this reduction is probably improvements to vehicle design.
If the government is serious about our transport problems, it should stop generating mountains of red tape and put some of the £30bn a year it derives from fuel and other road taxes back into the infrastructure.