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Your Business and the LAW

'We won’t knock; we will take your door down'
Mark Lamb Senior Collision Investigator Kent Police

The terms ‘corporate manslaughter’ and ‘duty of care’ have been regularly discussed over the past few years.

Fleet managers may know the legislation, but in practical terms, what
does it mean for the average business?

How can company managers protect themselves and what can they expect if the worst happens and a company driver is involved in a serious accident? Such an event could turn

into a living nightmare for those who are unprepared.

The legal risks to companies and their vehicles were brought home to managers attending the
‘See You In Court’ conference held at the Transport Research Laboratory in Wokingham in 2006.

Crash deaths are now treated as unlawful killing
Whenever someone dies on the roads, police refer to the Road Death Investigation Manual (RDIM), a document that lays out a defined structure of investigation for police looking into a crash or incident. Very rarely are things purely accidental, but rarely are they called ‘crimes’.

The RDIM changed that, with a death on the road now investigated as unlawful (criminal) killing. That has brought the police traffic departments and CID closer together on investigations that were previously solely dealt with by traffic police, and can now frequently also involve the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Today the police treat someone who has been killed on the road in the same way as someone who has been murdered.

It is an unlawful killing until it is proven otherwise. With a much more thorough investigation strategy, police can now present the highest levels of evidence to the coroner and criminal courts.

The investigation process
So, imagine for a moment, the worst. One of your drivers is involved in a fatal road accident and the question arises as to the roadworthiness of the vehicle.

What will the police do and how will it involve company managers? Mark Lamb is a senior collision investigator with Kent Police and paints a picture of events that should leave many Company Directors pale.

He says: ‘Vehicles involved in fatal road traffic collisions can be seized and held for up to two years. We can also seize other vehicles on the fleet to detect possible negligence.’

And it won’t just be the vehicles that are subject to scrutiny.

‘How well do you audit your staff?’ asks Lamb. In 2002, for example, there was a case involving a lorry driver who fell asleep at the wheel and killed a young couple in a car. The driver suffered from a condition called sleep apnoea, which results in poor quality of sleep and resultant lapses in judgement and concentration.

Before the crash, he had been involved in other similar, but less serious incidents.

Lamb said: ‘Someone should have picked up on his accident reports and the type of  incidents they were showing.’

Not to do so could be construed by a court as negligence, he warned.

‘Even something as innocuous as a lax mobile phone policy could come back to haunt you.’

Lamb quoted a recent statement by the Attorney General: ‘Any mobile phone use at the time of an accident, whether hands-free or not, will result in prosecution for death by dangerous driving.’

Experienced fleet managers may have undergone police investigations before, but for the vast majority of companies in the UK this will be something they have never experienced. Since the introduction of the RDIM, things are done very differently. Once upon a time, the police would call and ask to arrange a time for an interview.

Not any more.
‘We’re talking dawn raids for computers, documents and emails,’ warns Lamb.

‘We won’t knock, we will take your door down. Words on warrants could include ‘murder’ or ‘manslaughter’.’

And the trouble will intensify if the information police are looking for is not readily available.

‘Police assume that when you can’t produce the right pieces of paperwork, you’re covering something up,’ Lamb said.

Evidence collected by police to indicate an employer’s culpability could include delivery invoices that show evidence of overwork or stretched timetables.

Bonus scheme information could be found to encourage bad practice or driving. In addition timetables, work rotas, maintenance records, secondary employment documents, employee health records – plus a whole plethora of auxiliary
information that could put a company in the dock will be scrutinised.

And even if the information gathered clears a company of involvement in the original investigation, do not assume other irregularities will be overlooked.

Lamb also warns ‘An investigation could uncover other cases, nothing to do with the original, and they will be prosecuted.’


If they're driving for you, they're your responsibility