Employers must take responsibilities seriously and do more to protect the safety of exhausted drivers

Employers must take responsibilities seriously and do more to protect the safety of exhausted drivers

By Jane Woodcock, head of personal injury at Hudgell Solicitors

Talk to any lorry driver about what life behind the wheel is really like and the first thing they usually tell you is that it’s exhausting.

When you take into account the current Working Time Directive laws, which allow drivers to be ‘on the road’ for 10 hours in a maximum working day of 15 hours, this tiredness is wholly understandable.

Legally, a CV driver is only required to have a nine-hour rest period before they can start work again for a consecutive two-day period.

However, the fact this ‘rest’ time is often spent at the side of the road, trying to grab some peace in a layby or in a service station car park, it’s no wonder drivers admit to feeling tired behind the wheel.

Last year, Unite the union revealed a shocking set of statistics showing that 109 drivers or passengers of HGVs have been killed in road traffic accidents in the last five years – an average of 22 each year.

But, when most lorry drivers can recall a close encounter that they’ve experienced because of dangerously high fatigue levels, is this really a surprise?

Strict limits must be observed

As any professional driver will know, staring at the open road for a long period of time can become monotonous and have a hypnotising effect. Slapping yourself on the legs, opening a window or drinking lots of coffee or energy drinks can help you stay alert.

But should employers really be driving their staff to such high levels of exhaustion?

Should an officer worker fall asleep at work, the worst that can happen to them is being reprimanded by their boss. If a lorry driver falls asleep at work, their life is at risk. So too are the lives of other innocent motorists and their passengers.

At the moment, HGV and LGV drivers are subject to the European driver’s hours and tachograph regulations and must comply with the Working Time Directive, which both impose strict limits on the amount of time drivers can work.

Should an employer fail to enforce these rules, the company could be prosecuted for breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act or face a corporate manslaughter charge. Individual managers and directors could also face a charge of manslaughter.

An employer could also be found liable if a driver is involved in an accident where fatigue was a contributory factor. To successfully defend a compensation claim, the company must prove they took every reasonable step possible to prevent exposure to the risk of harm.

Sadly, drivers affected in this way often don’t seek the justice and compensation they deserve – either because they no longer work for the operator or because the incident happened years ago.

However, if you’ve been forced to take time off, lost earnings or suffered any physical or psychological injuries as a result of fatigue, it may be a good idea to seek professional advice from a legal expert.

There’s no excuse for driving whilst tired. The larger the vehicle, the more emphasis there needs to be placed on health and safety, both by drivers and their employers.