07/06/2022 · 10 minutes read
The transportation industry operates in an evolving risk environment, and the first half of 2022 has consequently seen a number of new developments in existing road traffic law and practice. Updates to the Highway Code, changes to mobile phone legislation, and the increased uptake of electric vehicles are creating additional responsibilities for fleet managers, whose task it is to ensure that all employed drivers — whether in personal vehicles, company cars, or heavy goods vehicles (HGV) fleets — are aware of how these developments will affect their usual practices and behaviours. While some of the new rules concern changes to the law, other guidance may be trickier to enforce. It is essential that clear and well-documented guidelines be in place, against which drivers can regularly refresh their knowledge. We have detailed below the three key areas of change seen so far this year, offer considerations of how each of them may affect fleet management, and suggest follow-up actions.
On Saturday 29 January 2022, the UK Government updated 10 sections of the Highway Code, resulting in 50 new or amended rules that have created a new hierarchy of road users. Motorists have always borne the burden of responsibility when considering collision between vehicles and vulnerable road users, and the following changes confirm that view will continue.
The Highway Code has introduced a hierarchy of road users, in which the most at-risk of serious accident are placed at the top of the priority ranking.  Full changes can be found here. The main adjustments to driving practice are as follows:
In addition, motor vehicles should not turn at a junction if this would cause a cyclist, horse rider, or horse drawn vehicle to stop or swerve. Where applicable, they should stop and wait for a safe gap in the flow of cyclists. This includes when cyclists are:
Cyclists are now recommended to:
These recommendations also affect motorists, as it may become increasingly common to see cyclists further to the right of the lane. Cyclists following these guidelines will increase their visibility and presence, but may require drivers to encroach onto the oncoming lane when overtaking. Rules 129 and 163 dictate that:
The updated Highway Code also offers guidance on safely exiting vehicles with recommendations to use the “Dutch Reach” method, which requires vehicle operators to open doors using their hand on the opposite side to the door they are opening, e.g., using their left hand to open the right-hand side door. The “Dutch Reach” forces the vehicle occupant to turn their head and look over their shoulder to check that there are no upcoming pedestrians or cyclists whose path would be blocked by the opening door.
The above changes are not updates to road traffic law, but rather a reflection of good driving practice. Courts may therefore take elements of the Highway Code into consideration when deciding liability in the event of an accident, but the breach of a rule itself does not trigger a criminal offence or grounds for a claim. Fleet managers should impress upon drivers that they bear a heavy burden in terms of protecting other road users, and so it is crucial that they maintain awareness at all times. Managers should advise drivers on avoiding unnecessary distraction and on proper vehicle maintenance, while procuring vehicles with good driver visibility ratings. Fleet managers should make their drivers aware of the Highway Code’s changes and encourage them to take care especially when turning into junctions, where there is a greater risk of serious accident. It is worth reminding drivers that they may face personal consequences as a result of incidents, thereby encouraging good driving behaviour and diligent adherence to company rules, guidance, and recommendations.
Since 25 March 2022, it is now illegal to use a handheld mobile phone, satellite-navigation (satnav) system, tablet, or any device that can send or receive data, while driving or riding a motor vehicle. The definition of “use” now includes taking photos or videos, scrolling through playlists, or playing games.
The legal change closes a loophole where “use” had been limited to “interactive communication”, such as using the device to call or text. Instances where drivers had used a handheld mobile phone to perform other tasks, for example, taking photographs or videos, accessing any applications, or checking the time, had escaped prosecution. The expanded definition of “use” also applies in the following scenarios:
This law creates a potential trap for those supervising leaner drivers or traveling with drivers who ignore the ban. It also raises the question of culpability for those that would telephone drivers mid-journey, particularly if they suspected the driver would respond without use of a hands-free kit. The restriction continues to apply even where a driver is:
Exceptions exist only in the following limited circumstances:
As with the recent updates to the Highway Code, it is essential for fleet managers to make drivers aware of these changes. Behaviour and practice are the key areas of focus, and managers should remind drivers that breaches of the law would carry personal consequences: anyone caught breaching the new mobile device law could receive six penalty points and a £200 fine. Furthermore, drivers who passed their test in the last two years could also lose their licence. There are, however, currently no plans to ban hands-free use, despite evidence indicating that the UK legal limit for alcohol blood level carries the same amount of distraction, if not slightly less, than a hands-free call.
Organisations have often pushed back on outright bans on mobile phone use whilst driving, often citing operational necessities. However, there is clear evidence as to how mobile phone use impairs driving ability, and employers must consequently take into account the risk it creates. We suggest that fleet managers undertake a careful review of how drivers communicate whilst on the road. At the very least, we recommend that any conversation with a driver be limited to essential notifications and kept as brief as possible. Managers should encourage drivers to find a safe place to stop should they be required to meaningfully engage in long conversations or meetings, even if communicating hands-free. The case law on this offence is still developing, but the provisions relating to those who supervise, or cause or permit drivers to use a mobile device whilst driving should be of concern to those travelling with or managing drivers and consequently provide an incentive to enforce meaningful sanctions against drivers who flout the rules.
Statistics show that in 2021, new car registrations for battery electric vehicles (BEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) increased by more than 58%, and registrations for mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV) increased by more than 64%. Fuel cost increases may be pushing motorists away from traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, but there are still headwinds due to concerns over charging infrastructure and electric vehicle purchase costs.
As fleets become increasingly electrified, there are a number of opportunities to consider, including:
However, the fleet managers must balance the rewards against the risks:
Meanwhile, the development of autonomous vehicles also raises the possibility of increased safety performance. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, no manufacturer has conclusively perfected this technology for fully self-driving vehicles where no user input is required, i.e., level 5 of The Society of Automotive Engineers ratings. Legislation and guidance will need to be updated to address this technology as it develops. The Automated and Electric Vehicles Act 2018 is already in force, but the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Commission have only just recently published, in January 2022, the findings of their three-year review on the legal and regulatory framework necessary for the safe introduction of self-driving vehicles. This set out 75 recommendations to be addressed as part of the framework necessary to permit and authorise widespread autonomous vehicles on UK roads.
Electric vehicles managers will need to review current training and driving instructions to make certain the information pertaining to electric vehicle usage is current and covers the following points:
Senior Management Lead, Risk Consulting
Transportation Industry Practice Leader for UK & Ireland