Licensing and declarations: Ensuring safety at the wheel

Radd Seiger, Partner at Kennedys looks at licensing and driver self-declarations.

The fatal accident inquiry into the Glasgow bin lorry crash heard that the driver was unconscious when his lorry veered out of control, with the driver’s health central to the inquiry. This incident raises important issues for fleet owners and drivers’ employers, especially in light of the alarming statistic that around 25% of all road traffic accidents involve somebody who is at work at the time.

All drivers must confirm to the DVLA that they are medically fit when applying for their first driving licence. Fleet drivers must meet more stringent rules, depending on the size and weight of the vehicle and the time spent at the wheel.

However, this is done through self-declaration, with employers relying on the driver’s honesty. Sadly, the true medical history of the Glasgow lorry driver – who had suffered from fainting episodes since 1976 – was not known until the inquiry.

Employers must ensure fleet drivers are safe to drive. So what more can an employer do to protect itself and the public?

Tools include:

  • The Access to Medical Reports Act 1988 permits employers to request a report from a medical practitioner (normally the GP) on current or prospective employees. The medical practitioner is obliged to reveal relevant medical information.
  • Independently verifying any declaration of good health from a prospective employee. The employer may require the candidate, whether recruited directly or via an agency, to complete a health checklist that includes confirmation of any medical history that might affect their ability to drive. This might be a ‘fitness to drive licence’, signed off by the candidate’s GP, in advance of any job application.
  • Making job offers subject to a satisfactory medical report, which should be obtained through occupational health teams and within a specific period. This reduces delays in the recruitment process, ensuring that the employer is fully aware of any conditions before the successful candidate takes to the wheel.
  • Introducing regular health checks into the company’s ongoing health surveillance and training policies. The frequency would depend on the driver profile, type of vehicle and size of fleet involved.

It is crucial for a joined-up approach between occupational health, HR and management towards these responsibilities. For example, in obtaining a medical report, an employer must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, while the Equality Act 2010 prevents discrimination against potential and/or current employees based on a ‘protected characteristic’, which includes disability. 

The occupational health profession has been in decline for a number of years now. Most companies now outsource this function to providers who may not have bought into the business’s ethos. Incorporating medical checks into the recruitment process and enforcing regular health assessments will give companies greater control and certainty that employees are fit to drive. Such action should be approached in a positive manner – not only to support employees but also to ensure, as far as possible, the safety of members of the public.

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