Not all road accidents are the same—time, place, conditions, damage, and why they happen are all factors that have a part to play. From weather and road conditions to other drivers and human error, no single car accident is identical to another.
Although most of us know what to do if we are involved in an accident, what happens after it occurs and the procedures that must be followed can be different when a company vehicle is involved. While the rules for driving a company vehicle may vary internally from one company to the next, what takes place after an accident often remains the same.
If you drive a company vehicle, whether it be a car, van, or something else, as part of your day job, it is important that you know what happens when a collision occurs in a job vehicle.
Just because it’s your company’s car does not mean that the company is automatically liable. It is the circumstances of the accident that will determine liability and, as these circumstances can vary greatly, the question of “Who’s liable?” is not so black and white.
However, accidents will generally fall into three different categories.
Imagine you are parked up at a red light and all of a sudden, somebody else goes into the back of you. In this situation, it is clear that the other driver is to blame and, therefore, you won’t (or shouldn’t be—more on this later) liable.
Now let’s switch things up and say you are the driver who goes into the back of another stationary driver sitting at a red light. If you weren’t paying attention to the road—maybe you were looking at your phone, for instance—you are to blame and could be personally liable.
The Road Traffic Act states that drivers are responsible for the ways they drive. Thus, you could be liable for a company car accident if:
You are not properly licensed and insured;
You were driving carelessly or dangerously;
The vehicle was unsafe, e.g. driving with unsecured cargo; or
If you do not follow your employer’s policies and rules for driving company vehicles.
Employers are not immune from liability, though. Using the same scenario, let’s say that you go into the back of the stationary driver because of a mechanical failure with the car that has been caused by improper maintenance.
In this situation, your employer may be held liable since it is not your own vehicle and your employer is responsible for ensuring that it is safe to drive on the road. In other words, they have not met their duty of care towards you.
A duty of care to you only applies when you are driving at work. As far as the law is concerned, you are only driving at work when:
Driving is part of your job you are carrying out that job; or
You are driving to somewhere as part of your work but outside your usual workplace (e.g. travelling for a meeting).
Note that this does not include the drive to and from work.
One of the biggest questions after a company car accident is which insurance company is going to pay out.
Again, this depends entirely on the circumstances. If the cause of the accident is a third party and this is proven, it is their insurance that will pay out. If the cause of the accident is the company car itself, your company’s insurance will pay out. If the cause of the accident is your own negligence, it depends—most of the time, your own insurance will pay out, but some companies and organisations have specialist insurance cover.
Although it is impossible to prevent the unpredictable, there are several things yourself and your employers can do to reduce the likelihood of vehicle accidents and limit liability.
It should go without saying that company cars should be fit for purpose, however, those that are used often and/or are kept at home by employees can slip the net.
Employers should go to great lengths to ensure that their vehicles are safe and fit for purpose. Regular maintenance and repair important, however, so is ensuring that the vehicles being used by employees are right for their jobs, that they are set up properly for employees with certain conditions and requirements, and that general reviews and walkarounds are conducted and properly documented.
Make sure to keep records of all vehicle checks, maintenance, repairs, and modifications so that you can use them as evidence should an accident occur.
The safety of a route depends heavily on the vehicle being driven. For example, cars, vans, and LGVs are more suitable for use on a B-road than heavier vehicles which should instead opt for the motorway where possible.
When picking routes, drivers should think about other factors that may come into play and make one safer than another. These may include:
Road and weather conditions;
The availability of service stations and rest areas;
Height and weight restrictions; and
The vehicle’s size.
By planning routes effectively, you are less likely to be involved in an accident caused by one of the above factors. You may also cut time off your journey and save fuel by planning a route that is shorter than the one you have been taking for the past few years!
Employers should ensure that they carry out due diligence and check all their drivers regularly.
At the start of their employment and throughout, check that your drivers’ licenses are still valid and for any penalty points, driving offences, or undeclared bans that may have been incurred. Other checks employees can have carried out are fitness to drive assessments, medicals, eye exams, and health check.
Depending on the nature of your employees’ work-related driving, they may also benefit from courses such as defensive driving, advanced manoeuvres, and road user awareness training.
Technology has worked wonders for both modern ‘smart’ and older, classic ‘legacy’ vehicles. Telematics, fuel cards, and dash cams are all examples of peripherals that can be installed and used in vehicles both new and old.
For commercial vehicles, we recommend using these three as standard for full protection against not only accidents and liability but also fuel-related fraud.
With dash cams fitted front and rear, a clear picture of liability becomes available should an accident occur. This speeds up the investigation process, allowing for a quicker resolution and makes insurance claims a lot easier and painless. Telematics and fuel cards, whilst not directly related to accident prevention, can help monitor driver activity and stop fuel-related fraud.
Employers should have and enforce their own specific policies and rules for driving company vehicles. This way, employers can limit their liability for the actions of bad drivers by creating a list of do’s and don’ts when they operate your fleet vehicles.
An example of this may be for drivers to take rest breaks every two hours, something that can be monitored through the use of telematics. So long as this and any other requirements you set are reasonable (for example, by ensuring journey target times allow for rest breaks every two hours) you will be protected if a driver chooses to ignore this requirement and then has an accident.
Far too many company car drivers incorrectly believe that their employers are wholly liable for their own vehicles and what happens in them—this is wrong.
When it comes to driving a company car, liability is a two-way street. Although your employers can be responsible when they breach their duty of care, it comes down to your own conduct, too.
If your employers look after their company cars and have put policies, procedures, and rules for driving company vehicles in place and you choose to ignore them and cause an accident as a result, you may just find yourself liable and picking up the pieces.