UK: Reducing Work Related Road Accidents

Last Updated: 27 May 2002
Article by Pauline Munro

Whilst driving around in your car, listening to the radio, you might have heard the Government-sponsored radio advertisement warning you against driving and using a mobile phone at the same time. The advertisement has the same resonance as the Christmas season drink/drive campaign and one look at the number of deaths on the roads indicates the reason for the campaign.

Each year more then 3,400 people are killed on the roads and a further 40,000 are seriously injured. Of these it is estimated that as many as 1,000 deaths may involve someone who is working at the time. The Governments' road safety strategy sets out the following targets:-

  • 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured in road accidents.
  • 50% reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured.
  • 10% reduction in the "slight casualty" rate.

The Health and Safety Executive have not generally been involved in road safety. However, this looks set to change with the report of the Work Related Road Safety Task Group entitled "Reducing at Work Road Traffic Incidents". The report makes a number of important recommendations about how an employer should address "at work" road safety.

In the past, except in certain circumstances, road traffic law has taken precedence over health and safety law. Consequently, there has been little motivation for employers or the enforcement authorities to examine whether a failure in health and safety management systems might have contributed to the accident. The Task Group considers that this is no longer sustainable and in particular proposes changes in the reporting system, firstly to enable the purpose of the journey to be included on the police report form and secondly to introduce a review of the reporting obligations of companies under RIDDOR to include serious injuries arising from at work traffic accidents.

The primary recommendation of the report however is that employers should manage the risks associated with at work road journeys and other on the road work activities within the framework they should have in place for managing health and safety within their organisation.

In practise, this means that employers need to ensure that systems are in place to manage at work road risk and that the action they take covers not only regular drivers, but those who drive on occasional company business. The Task Group report states this will mean that a company needs to ensure that its policy, organisation and arrangements for health and safety are extended so as to reduce risks and as part of this, employers should assess risks arising from driving activities or working by the road. Such a risk assessment could for example identify whether particular journeys are necessary, identify driver competency for the class of vehicle involved, manage the maintenance of vehicles and cover mobile phone use.

At present there are no recommendations for a specific driving test for occupational drivers or for an approved code of practice for the management of at work road safety, but this is an option which is not ruled out.

Even without the task group report, it would be impossible to ignore the issue of mobile phone use. Numerous studies confirm that the reaction times of drivers are slowed when using handheld or handsfree mobile phones. Calls have been made for legislation outlawing the usage of handsets whilst driving, although the Government has considered that this would be impracticable and wants the police to prosecute people for careless driving etc. if involved in an incident when using mobile phones whilst driving. Irrespective of whether legislation is in fact forthcoming, employers should be aware of the risks of mobile phone use. It is not just employers who face potential liability if an accident occurs whilst an employee is driving using the mobile phone, but also the employee. Clearly unless a company has a specific policy in place to manage the use of mobile phones, employees will feel compelled to answer and make calls whilst driving with all the risk that such use entails. The only way for a company to be certain it is doing all it can to protect its employees' health and safety and to try to avoid liability in the event of an accident occurring as a result of mobile phone use by an employee during an at work journey is to have a clear policy prohibiting the use of mobile phones until the vehicle is off the road and stationary. It might seem that this is an unnecessary restriction, but in the absence of such a policy a company may face an allegation that they have put their employees at risk by expecting them to make and receive mobile phone calls whilst driving.

A copy of the Work Related Road Safety Task Groups' report can be obtained from

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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