How fleet managers need to take responsibility for driver fatigue related accidents

Driver fatigue significantly increases the risk and the seriousness of accidents. Fleet managers need to have effective tools in place that protect the public and employees from bodily injury while mitigating the risk of fines or lawsuits.

The impact of driver fatigue
While exact numbers are difficult to come by, research shows that driver fatigue is likely to be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents, and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

These types of crashes are about 50% more likely to result in death or serious injury as they tend to be high speed collisions because a driver who has fallen asleep cannot brake or swerve to avoid or reduce the impact.

Sleepiness impacts drivers negatively in several ways: 

  • Increased reaction time
  • Reduced vigilance, alertness and concentration
  • Reduced information processing speed
  • Lower decision-making quality 
  • ‘Tunnel vision’
  • Microsleeps
  • More likely to get distracted
  • Mood changes (eg. irritability, apathy)
  • Communication difficulties

Usually, drivers will be aware of their tiredness. If they continue driving they are likely to be either underestimating the risk of falling asleep or ignoring the risk. Zero hours contracts can create an incentive to accept any work that was offered without appropriately considering safety procedures. Pressure from clients or line managers as well as private reasons can also result in the flouting of company safety rules. Further, people who suffer from 'shift work sleep disorder', a condition developed by working late at night, especially from 11 pm to 7 am, are three times more likely to be involved in a vehicle crash, according to researchers at the University of Missouri.

Crashes caused by tired drivers are most likely to happen: 

  • On long journeys on monotonous roads, such as motorways 
  • Between 2am and 6am 
  • Between 2pm and 4pm (especially after eating, or having even one alcoholic drink) 
  • After having less sleep than normal 
  • After drinking alcohol 
  • If taking medicines that cause drowsiness 
  • After long working hours or on journeys home after long shifts, especially night shifts

Source: Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

The main risk created by drowsy drivers is of course that an accident causes severe bodily injury or death. Such serious events can trigger a series of consequences not only for the driver but also for their employer.  

Potential impact: 

  • Brand reputation
  • Backlash from the general public and employees
  • Business closure
  • Insurance restrictions/refusal
  • Prosecution
  • Gross Negligence Manslaughter
  • Corporate Manslaughter

In a worst case scenario, companies can face unlimited fines, publicity orders, imprisonment for directors and remedial orders. 

The Association of Fleet Professionals (AFP) suggests that all organisations operating company cars and vans have a fatigue policy in place within their fleet and company rules that is enforced across the business.

Fatigue management rules

  • Engagement, support and training is vital
  • Embed and implement policies
  • Robustly manage policies 
  • The need to challenge: ‘Are you fit to drive?’ 
  • Do not assume your driver tells you everything
  • Drivers need to manage themselves

While it is necessary that drivers manage themselves, fleet operators also have a duty of care to ensure the wellbeing of the on-road team. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act, UK companies and organizations have a responsibility for their employees while they are driving for work purposes. This means that businesses may be liable for road crashes caused by or involving employees who are suffering from excessive sleepiness. Telematics solutions can help monitor and manage fatigue with automated alerts and notifications and customised reports detecting unusual patterns that could increase risk. 

Fatigue management plan

To prove that the company is taking the management of health and safety seriously, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends creating a plan and to make sure that it is followed in practice. Such a plan should include an assessment of the risks from work-related road safety to the organisation. It should include a health and safety policy covering, for example, organising journeys, driver training and vehicle maintenance. Management should make sure that there is top-level commitment to work-related road safety in your organisation. The plan should clearly set out everyone’s roles and responsibilities for work-related road safety. Those responsible should have enough authority to exert influence and be able to communicate effectively to drivers and others.

Safety checklist: 

  • Are your drivers competent and capable of doing their work in a way that is safe for them and other people?
  • Are your drivers properly trained?
  • Do you ensure your drivers have clear instructions about how to keep themselves safe while on the road?
  • Are your drivers sufficiently fit and healthy to drive safely and not put themselves or others at risk?
  • Do you know your duties under health and safety law when employing contractors and subcontractors?
  • Are vehicles fit for the purpose for which they are used?
  • Are vehicles maintained in a safe and fit condition?
  • Are you sure that drivers’ health, and possibly safety, is not being put at risk, eg from an inappropriate seating position or driving posture?
  • Do you plan routes thoroughly?
  • Are work schedules realistic?
  • Do you allow enough time to complete journeys safely?
  • Do you consider poor weather conditions, such as snow or high winds, when planning journeys?

Source: HSE

For further information, please contact: 

Steve Vachre, Motor Practice Leader
T: +44 (0)161 828 3367  

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