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The Road Traffic Act and related regulations are designed to keep people safe while on and around roads, with particular concern given to those that are in control of motor vehicles.

The term 'motor vehicle' is defined as "a mechanically propelled vehicle, intended or adapted for use on roads"1.

Drivers are primarily responsible for their fitness and behaviour and the condition of their vehicle, but if they drive for work and are found to have committed an offence while doing so then their employer(s) can be charged with causing or permitting that offence.

Regardless of whether an employee is driving their own vehicle, a company vehicle or a hire vehicle, their employer could be liable for criminal or civil action if, while on company business, they drive:

  • in a negligent fashion that creates danger;
  • a defective (non-roadworthy) vehicle;
  • without the correct licence for the class of vehicle; and/or
  • while unfit (due to intoxication, ill health, tiredness, etc.).

As an example of the consequences, under the Road Traffic Act 1988 an employer found guilty of encouraging or permitting an employee to drive a vehicle of any class without the correct licence will receive a penalty of three points on their own driving licence and a fine of up to £1,000. Additionally, employers can be prosecuted for offences under other Acts of law due to an incident involving an employee or vehicle on the road for work. If there is a serious incident, possible charges include breaching health and safety duties, corporate manslaughter and aiding and abetting an offender.

It’s worth emphasising further that employers’ liability remains regardless of ownership of the vehicle; What matters is whether the act of driving the vehicle was a work-related activity, and so the employer could exercise control and their duty of care to ensure health and safety (under the health and Safety at Work etc. Act) was applicable.

Drivers should be made aware of their responsibilities to ensure vehicle roadworthiness, maintain correct documentation, and advise their employer in the event of any changes regarding their licence and health.

Employers, fleet managers and others with duties under road traffic and health and safety law, must make sure company car and driver management policies are up to date in relation to:

  • the type of vehicle that can and can’t be used on company business;
  • who is able to drive the vehicle;
  • driving licence and vehicle checks;
  • claims and accident reporting;
  • safety instruction;
  • driving tests;
  • eye sight tests;
  • vehicle and driver risk assessments;
  • route risk assessments;
  • hours driven; and
  • rest breaks.

Please note this list isn’t exhaustive.

On the day that a new employee, whose role will involve driving, starts work, their driving licence should be checked, and a copy kept on file, to ensure it's valid and suitable for the class of vehicle(s). It might also be appropriate to have them complete an objective (impartial third party) driver assessment.

Employers should regularly check the driving qualifications of their employees who drive for work, as licences can easily change.