Government bodies failing to meet basic licence check rules (continued)
14 July 2009
A Freedom of Information request by BusinessCar has revealed that virtually all Government bodies are not following the licence checking advice given by the Department for Transport, writes Tristan Young
His comments were echoed by ACFO chairman Julie Jenner and ICFM chairman Roddy Graham.
"It's critical that fleets should check licences," said Jenner. "If they're not already doing it they should start doing it as soon as possible, like yesterday.
"It's a fundamental part of fleet management. We know that from historic data when licence checking is introduced some people shouldn't be driving because they've been disqualified.
"Don't just visually check licences, use the DVLA or a third party that checks with the DVLA database.
"The advantage of this is that you get a report that will highlight drivers on nine points who need to be checked more often."
Graham added: "Licence checking is very important if organisations are to meet their duty of care responsibilities. It is one of the key checks all organisations should undertake to meet their obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act and avoid potential prosecution under the UK Corporate Manslaughter (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and Corporate Homicide (Scotland) Act."
The variation in frequency of checks across the Government departments quizzed is wide and inconsistent. It's also not only at odds with the DfT's recommendation but at odds with the Government's stated aim of making the UK's roads the safest in the world.
The previous road safety minister Jim Fitzpatrick set out the Government's plan in a consultation that closes tomorrow (15 July).
"We propose to make our road engineering and design safer, to make our vehicles safer and encourage consumers to buy safer vehicles. We also propose to support responsible road use through improved teaching and promotional campaigns. And, acknowledging that not all collisions are due to mistakes, we propose ways to tackle those who indulge in irresponsible road use, going beyond errors and displaying unquestionably dangerous behaviour," said Fitzpatrick.
"We are well on course to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 40% by 2010. We are among a small group of leading nations on road safety, but we believe that our proposals for a new approach to road safety and for new safety measures can make Britain's the very safest roads in the world. This is an ambitious, but achievable, vision.
"We also propose challenging targets. In particular, we want to reduce the number of deaths on our roads by one-third by 2020. Given that, in the decade to 2007, deaths were reduced by 18%, this would be a considerable achievement. However, we have an obligation to be ambitious, given the way in which injury and death on our roads so blight the lives of individuals and families," he added.
Last year road deaths fell to their lowest point since 1926 with 2538 killed, however a third of these were believed to have been driving for business. It is for this reason that the Government has been trying to make businesses adopt safer work driving practices. However, it's efforts are not being acted on by it's own departments.
Of the 21 Government departments or agencies contacted by BusinessCar only one, the DVLA carries out what is would be considered industry 'best practice', which is a six-monthly check against the DVLA database.
Seven departments carry out a visual check annual (typically by line-managers) on both fleet car drivers and their grey fleet drivers.
However, many either only check their fleet car drivers' licence or don't have a fleet of vehicles and don't check their grey fleet drivers' licence.
The Department for International Development's response is typical of many: "DFID does not have a fleet of vehicles in the UK and we do not check the driving licenses of staff who use their own vehicles for business purposes. It is the responsibility of individual employees to ensure that they hold a valid driving licence."
However, there are worse scenarios - the Department of Health, which has a fleet of vehicles, doesn't check any licences.
There were two responses that surprised us most. First was the Health and Safety Executive's answer to our Freedom of Information request, that the organisation only checks driving licences when staff join the agency or start driving cars (either a fleet car or their own vehicle), although they do offer driver training to those employees that have a company car. It's an odd mix.
However, it's the Department of Health that shocked us most. These are the people that are running the NHS, which has to clear up after an accident. Maybe they should be doing their bit to improve safety and possibly cut their own workload?
If this sounds a little flippant, perhaps a better observation comes from The AA's head of safety Andrew Howard who pointed out that drivers and managers must take a licence check system (or any safety system) seriously for it to work. Indeed, BusinessCar has heard from one civil servant that the claimed annual check, supposed to be carried out by his department, does not happen.
This can be compounded by how well (or little) qualified line managers are to check a licence, which is why almost all industry experts recommend licence verification is carried out using a third party with access to the DVLA's database.