In this update we take a look at some of the key UK motor crime developments and safety initiatives over recent months, including our thoughts on the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme, evidence presented during police interviews and the recent Highway Code consultation. We also take a look at Direct Vision Standard enforcement, the new HSE app, bridge strikes and new measures for smart motorways.
National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme – the verdict
At the discretion of the local Chief Constable an offending motorist may be offered the opportunity to attend a course focusing on re-education. The scheme allows motorists who have committed a minor offence to engage in the course with the ultimate aim of improving the driver or rider’s knowledge and behaviour whilst on the road. It is very much an alternative to prosecution.
The correspondence offering the course sets down a deadline for it to be completed. This will be well within six months of the incident date allowing a summons to be raised for non-compliance. The letter also confirms that if the course is not accepted, a summons is likely to follow. No evidence is sent with the offer letter.
With increased investigation times, and considerable delays in the criminal justice system exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many police forces are increasingly offering this alternative to prosecution at an early stage. Whilst historically, the course was reserved for cases involving vehicle damage only or indeed minor injury cases, that is no longer the case.
Few drivers understand that by accepting the course, they are in effect accepting culpability for the incident (and accepting they require re-education) which can have implications as in most cases it will cause an increase in their insurance premiums by virtue of the fact that often their insurer will be forced to admit liability as a result of the acceptance. Our recent experience in advising several drivers regarding the decision to accept or decline the course, has involved negotiating with the police to gain access to the witness statements. Following representations in a number of those cases regarding the evidence (notably the lack of it) the course offer was withdrawn and the investigation closed.
Whilst the courses may have a place, especially at the moment with such a congested criminal justice system, from our perspective, it still remains important to check the viability of the offer as experience shows that when challenged it may cause the police to re-think.
Evidence presented during a police interview
Police/prosecution assumptions of fault should never be accepted at face value without investigation and due consideration being given.
For example, witness and expert evidence presented during police interviews relating to the speed of vehicles involved in a road traffic accident, may be inaccurate. As a legal representative, it is important to bear this in mind in every case and interview attendance.
We are seeing some police forces offering (in more serious cases) the defence a chance to attend their reconstructions. This is an ideal opportunity for the defence to gain insight into the likely case issues and matters to be challenged in respect of the police investigation, which may then assist during the investigation process and any proceedings thereafter.
In our experience, it allows for early expert input into these cases and for this and other input from the defence to be taken into account in the police investigation and ultimately the charging decision. When offered, insurers and their insureds should take the opportunity to have this engagement in the case. Likewise, if offered, vehicle examinations should always be seriously considered for the same reasons.
The Highway Code - consultation with a particular focus on motorways and high speed roads
On 1 March 2021, Highways England launched a consultation seeking "views on proposed changes to The Highway Code to improve safety for users of motorways and high-speed roads". As set out in the Executive Summary of the consultation, the proposed changes include new and additional guidance on:
- The availability, appearance, and safe use of emergency areas.
- The use of variable speed limits to manage congestion.
- The use of the red ‘X’ sign to close lanes and provide a safer area for the people and vehicles involved in incidents and roadworks.
- The use of hard shoulders that become extra lanes during periods of congestion.
- How road users can help keep themselves safe in the event of a breakdown.
- How safety cameras are employed to promote compliance with speed limits and lane closures.
The consultation closed on 29 March 2021 and we await the outcome with interest.
Direct Vision Standard - enforcement has started
The Direct Vision Standard and HGV safety permit for HGVs is part of the Mayor of London’s Vision Zero Plan. This plan seeks “to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries on London's transport network by 2041". Applying for a permit is free of charge.
All lorries over 12 tonnes (GVW) entering or operating in Greater London must hold a valid Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) safety permit before entering the area. Failure to hold a permit will result in the issue of a penalty charge notice of £550. Covering most of Greater London, the scheme “is in operation 24 hours a day, every day of the year.”
There is little doubt driving in and around London is hazardous for both drivers and vulnerable road users. Many collisions occur due to the driver’s inability to see the hazard, largely due to the considerable number of blind spots associated with HGVs.
The Direct Vision Standard seeks to measure how much an HGV driver can see, which indicates the level of risk to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. The ultimate aim of the scheme is to increase safety and reduce collisions. Of course, indirectly it raises awareness of the dangers associated with driving in London.
The vehicle manufacturer will issue a star rating for the vehicle. This can easily be checked by any operator/driver by simply entering the registration details on the Transport for London website.
This rating (0-5) will not take into account any ‘extra’ safety systems that have been fitted. HGVs operating in London must currently meet the minimum requirement of one star. By 2024, this will increase to three stars.
This depends on whether the vehicle meets the minimum DVS requirement or if it was granted subject to the Safe System. The permits of vehicles rated one or two stars or those that have qualified on the Safe System will expire at the end on 25 October 2024.
From October 2024, these vehicles will need to reapply for a 10 year permit under the progressive Safe System. The permits of vehicles rated as either three, four or five stars will expire on 25 October 2030 or ten years after the application date if granted later than 26 October 2020 (whichever is the later).
To achieve the ‘Safe System’ status, by way of a summary of the requirements set out by Transport for London (see here for further information), all zero star-rated vehicles need to have the following :
- Class V and VI mirrors.
- Fully operational camera monitoring system.
- Sensor system which alerts the driver.
- Audible left-turn vehicle manoeuvring warning.
- Proximity warning sensors installed on the near side of the vehicle.
- Warning signage (to warn vulnerable road users of the hazards of the nearside of the vehicle).
- Side-underrun protection.
Naomi North, Partner within the criminal defence team who regularly works with professional drivers and fleet managers provides her view on the scheme:
The HSE app
In January 2021 the Health and Safety Executive announced the release of a mobile app "designed to help organisations understand the law, their health and safety rights, and their responsibilities".
The catalyst behind the app is the HSE’s mission "to prevent death, injury and ill-health in Great Britain's workplaces". The hope is that by ensuring that guidance is easily accessible in a simple and straightforward format may encourage its use and improve safety.
The app was created in partnership with The Stationery Office (TSO) and "is primarily for small and medium sized businesses to help them better understand the law and what is required to protect employees". Some of the topics covered include risk assessments, slips and trips, workplace transport, and electrical safety. It is an excellent tool for anyone responsible for health and safety management within their company.
Network Rail report that in 2019 there were 1,787 reported bridge strikes. The most costly single bridge strike amounted to a cost of £1.8 million in train delays.
Most bridge strikes involve professional drivers and all are capable of avoidance. Set out below are some key steps that fleet organisation/provider can take to help reduce the risks:
- Ensure all managers and drivers are familiar with Network Rail’s ‘good practice guides’, with such guidance to be incorporated into the organisation’s induction programme, to include the translated guidance for non-English speaking drivers.
- Ensure all drivers know the height and width of their vehicle and indeed any vehicle they have access to.
- Ensure routes are planned and have an appropriately robust policy in place for circumstances where drivers are required to deviate from that route unexpectedly. Drivers should be instructed to pull over safely, plan an alternative route or seek guidance.
UK Government announces new measures for ‘All Lane Running’ smart motorways
The recent Government announcement that no new stretches of smart motorways can open in the UK without stopped vehicle detection technology highlights the concerns regarding their safety. Reporting on progress made in relation to actions identified to improve the safety of smart motorways, the Department for Transport (DfT) has pledged that all existing stretches of ‘All Lane Running’ (ALR) smart motorway will be fitted with stopped vehicle detections by September 2022. The news was welcomed by a number of road safety organisations who have been expressing concerns about smart motorways following a number of relatively high profile fatal collisions.
These concerns have been echoed by several coroners, in particular David Urpeth (the Sheffield Coroner) who resumed an Inquest into the deaths of two men who were killed as they stood stationary on a stretch of smart motorway.
In accordance with the provisions of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013, Mr Urpeth set out these concerns to Highways England and the DfT in a Prevention of Future Deaths report (dated 19 January 2021). The report states that the evidence during the inquest "revealed matters giving rise to concern", including the "obvious and foreseeable risk posed by the absence of a hard shoulder on smart motorways".