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Health and Safety Offences and your Operator’s Licence – the consequences of dashboard clutter

18 September

Back in 2017, cyclist Dr Suzanna Bull was tragically killed when a lorry driver failed to see her bicycle when he turned left because of objects “cluttered” on his dashboard that had “restricted” his view.

In December 2019, the driver was sentenced to 21 months in prison for causing death by careless driving. The company – who had been his employer at the time of the accident – pleaded guilty to failing to discharge its duty contrary to the Health and Safety at Work Act and was fined £112,500.

The company has now had its Operator’s Licence revoked by the Traffic Commissioner following a Public Inquiry and its directors have been disqualified for 5 years.

The Facts

The lorry driver had fitted an aftermarket tray to his dashboard, which created a significant additional blind spot to pedestrians, bikes and cars when very close to the front of the vehicle and which was designed to only be used when the vehicle as stationary.

On the day of the accident, the cyclist had come up the nearside of the lorry on her bicycle, in the designated cycle lane, and then pulled into the cycle space in front of the lorry at the traffic lights. ​

With the tray in place on the dashboard, the cyclist was not visible (had the tray not been there the cyclist would have been visible for up to five seconds prior to the incident).

The lorry then commenced a left turn and fatally collided with the cyclist.

The Public Inquiry

Following the outcome of the criminal proceedings, the company was called to a Public Inquiry, during which, the director and transport manager for the business told Traffic Commissioner Nick Denton that he had been unaware that the driver had fitted a table to the dashboard of the vehicle.

During an adjournment, however, a Police Officer from the Serious Collision Investigation Unit of West Midlands police who was in attendance at the PI emailed the Traffic Commissioner to inform him that the director’s assertion contradicted evidence given at the criminal trial.

The director later admitted to the Traffic Commissioner that he had in fact been aware that the driver had fitted the tray and drove the vehicle with it in place and that he had failed to enforce the removal of tables used by drivers.

Furthermore, two years after the fatal collision, another of the company’s vehicles was found to have a large sat-nav blocking the driver’s vision and the vehicle’s windscreen and wing mirrors were judged to be in such a state of disrepair that they were rendered useless.

The Traffic Commissioner concluded that the company “could not or would not manager its drivers” and found that the company and transport manager had lost their repute.  He therefore revoked the company’s licence and the directors were each disqualified for five years.

Lessons to be Learned

Many drivers will fit products to their vehicles in order to make them more comfortable; however, this case highlights the duty of operators and transport managers to make sure that any modifications to vehicles do not render the vehicle unsafe.   Any items which obscure the driver’s vision would cause the vehicle to fail an MOT and would also be deemed a prohibitable item (quite possibly resulting in an ‘S’ marked prohibition notice), which would often result in a DVSA fleet inspection.

Operators must therefore have a clear policy in place in relation to what, if any, adaptations to vehicles they will allow and training must be provided to drivers.  If any degree of aftermarket adaptation is to be permitted, then clear guidance should be provided to drivers on where and how items should be fitted and, ideally, any aftermarket products fitted to vehicles by the drivers should be checked and approved by the operator.  Operators must also have a system for regularly inspecting vehicles to ensure drivers are not breaching the operator’s policy and adapting vehicles in such a way as to jeopardise road safety.

For further advice, contact Backhouse Jones’ Regulatory team on 01254 828300 or Regulatory@backhouses.co.uk

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