Business and the LAW
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
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
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
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
And it won’t just be the vehicles that are subject to
‘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
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
‘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
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
|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