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Professional Drivers, Public Safety and the Duty Owed by Employers

Two stories that have made news headlines recently have again raised questions about the duty of care that transport companies owe the general public.

 Traffic Bus Taxi

Two tragic events that have devastated lives and brought the issue of passenger safety to the forefront of our minds once more.

On Saturday last week, a double-decker bus crashed into a supermarket in Coventry, killing two people and leaving another five needing hospital treatment. The 77-year-old bus driver is said to be “devastated to the core” and the whole country has been shocked by this heart-breaking incident. Our thoughts go out to the families of those who lost their lives and we hope that the injured passengers recover quickly.

Also reported was the arrest of Harry Clarke, the Glasgow bin lorry driver who, after blacking out at the wheel last December, crashed into a crowded city centre street, killing six people. He was arrested last weekend over claims that he drove a car despite having lost his licence for medical reasons.

Fit to Drive

It could be argued by some that the Coventry bus driver, at 77, was too old to be driving a bus.

Although there is no upper age limit, bus drivers are required by law to renew their licence every year and provide a medical report declaring that they are fit to drive. The DVLA’s minimum medical standards for drivers sets out the medical conditions that must be reported.

Stagecoach, who employ the Coventry bus driver, confirmed that the driver has passed his mandatory annual medical and that both he and the company are fully cooperating with police.

Regarding the Glasgow bin lorry crash, it is widely reported that Harry Clarke had fainted at the wheel during his previous employment as a bus driver but had failed to declare this to Glasgow City Council.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry this year heard how Mr Clarke repeatedly misled council officials over his history of blackouts and how the council had mislaid paperwork regarding Mr Clarke’s recruitment.

The inquiry is still ongoing and only time will tell whether not having essential paperwork will be relevant should any civil action be brought against Glasgow City Council.

Ensuring Passenger Safety

Companies must ensure that any drivers they employ are fit to do their job and are not at risk of endangering others.

As Slater and Gordon expert employer liability solicitor Matthew Tomlinson puts it, “An employer can be held liable for the actions of an employee. Therefore, the employer has a duty of care to the general public at large when employing drivers that they are suitably skilled, qualified and fit for the driving activities that they are employed to undertake.”

A guidance document from the Health and Safety Executive advises employers on managing work-related road safety and asks employers the question: “Are your drivers sufficiently fit and healthy to drive safely and not put themselves or others at risk?”

Employers should ensure that drivers over a certain age not only pass their annual medicals as required by law but also work appropriate shifts that don’t make them run the risk of becoming tired behind the wheel.

Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer a free consultation for anyone injured in a road traffic accident through no fault of their own. Call us anytime 24/7 on 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.

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