Van and truck operators have been warned to tighten up on their risk management procedures after the Sentencing Council ramped up the penalties for companies whose vehicles are involved in serious accidents.
Mark Cartwright, head of vans at the Freight Transport Association, said the council, which advises magistrates and judges on what penalties should be given for various offences, had increased the level of fines and custodial terms – and he warned delegates at the Van and Truck event: "This is a real game changer and I don't think many fleets have got their heads around it yet. There are new guidelines for corporate manslaughter cases and they are designed to be so severe as to bring some businesses to their knees.
"They take away the 'wriggle room' the courts have as to how they impose penalties at present. Once a court has found a firm guilty they dial into a spreadsheet to get their penalties. Fines have been increased, the scale of fines will now be linked to company turnover and custodial sentences are more likely."
For example, for a company with a £50 million annual turnover, fines can be up to £10 million in the event of a prosecution under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
Cartwright pointed out that for a company to avoid prosecution as well as the driver in the event of a crash, it would have to prove that it had 'adopted a recognised industry standard' – and the only two standards recognised at present are the Fleet Operator Recognition scheme (FORS) and the FTA's own Van Excellence scheme.
Cartwright said: "It is imperative that fleets don't put profit before safety."
And he told delegates: "Think about they way this applies to your firm and how a prosecution would affect you."