I’m sure I’m not alone in urging my other half to “drive safely” every morning as he sets off for work. As the mornings get darker and the risk of ice, fog and other inclement weather conditions increases with the onset of winter, it becomes ever more important for all drivers to exercise caution. It’s no coincidence that National Road Safety Week takes place in November, after the clocks have changed and so many daily commutes take place in darkness.
Safe driving should be a consideration for employers as well, because for a large proportion of employees nowadays the most dangerous activity they will undertake all day is driving, be it to and from the workplace in their own cars, or in company vehicles in the course of their work duties. Employers can be held liable for road accidents in certain circumstances, so they must make efforts to limit the risks as far as possible.
As we become ever more connected, our vehicles are no longer the places of sanctuary from the outside world that they once were. And yet, it is a well-established fact that distractions caused by attempts to multi-task behind the wheel are a major contributor to road traffic accidents. Although much of the time we appear to be “on auto pilot” while we are driving, and although we may believe we are perfectly capable of having a conversation, listening to a radio play or planning our forthcoming meeting while on the road, any activity that engages our minds more than superficially, can slow down our response to hazards and be detrimental to our safety. However experienced we may be, holding an in-depth work-related telephone conversation – even hands free – while driving, is a risky distraction, as proved by recent research conducted at Newcastle University. As for reading and responding to text messages while driving, that is clearly asking for trouble.
Therefore, if an employer has any expectation that its employees should be available to take phone calls while driving, it could be held responsible not just morally but also legally if an accident results. Policies on the use of mobile phones while driving, whether or not the car or the phone are company-provided, should make it very clear that they should be on voicemail while driving, with the driver picking up messages the next time they stop for a break.
We rely on all our senses while driving, but probably the most important one is our eyesight. If we can’t see properly to read road signs or spot hazards ahead of us, then we are far more at risk. Everybody knows that employers are required to provide free eyesight tests to regular users of computer equipment, but what about company car drivers? It makes sense, in order to protect the company’s human and mechanical assets, to offer eyesight tests every couple of years to employees whose duties include driving.
When visibility is impaired for weather-related reasons such as fog, heavy rain, frosted up or steamed up wind-screens, or twilight, drivers need to exercise greater caution. Stopping distances between vehicles should be increased and speed reduced. The use of dipped headlights or fog lights should be encouraged. And greater journey times should be accepted. The same applies to icy conditions. Putting undue pressure on company car drivers to meet unrealistic delivery schedules, or penalizing them for lack of punctuality, when adverse weather conditions occur, could again result in legal liability for companies in the event of an accident.
Raising awareness of the hazards of driving is part of a responsible employer’s repertoire, not just in relation to drivers of company vehicles. However, for anybody who drives as part of their work, the obvious place to put such guidance is in the Company Car Policy. Typically, such policies will cover not just the choice of vehicles, frequency of replacement, and provisions regarding servicing and maintenance, but will explain what to do in the event of an accident. It therefore makes sense to include a section on accident prevention!
Common sense much of it may be, but the statistics speak for themselves. More than half a million UK drivers have points on their licenses for driving while distracted (including using mobile phones), which proves that it is not always common practice. Reminders backed up by the threat of disciplinary action for contraventions of the rules regarding the use of mobile phones while driving, for example, may carry more weight than exhortations alone. And guidance on safe driving in adverse weather conditions including fog, snow and ice, may prove invaluable, particularly to inexperienced drivers encountering such conditions for the first time.
Protecting your employees makes good business sense, so put a “driver safety” section into your company car policy now, and help ensure everybody gets through the coming winter unharmed.