On 22 May 2019, Mike Hayward, Charlotte Hunt, Jane Anderson and Nathan Taylor-Allkins of Woodfines’ Crime, Regulatory and Transport team presented a mock Crown Court trial, highlighting the possible criminal implications of driver distraction and mobile phone use, to the delegates of Brake’s Global Fleet Champions, Fleet Safety Conference 2019 in Birmingham.
The theme of the conference was ‘Simply the best – prioritising fleet safety’, and the event brought together leaders of the UK fleet industry to share best practice in managing work-related road risk. The team were delighted to have the opportunity of presenting to fleet safety managers and those involved in managing road risk on how a seemingly perfectly legal task, such as driving whilst using a hands-free mobile phone, can lead to driver distraction which can then have dire and fatal consequences – as was the case in the fictitious trial of Mr John Doe presented by the team.
The delegates, acting as the sworn members of the jury, listened intently to the evidence presented by the prosecutor (Mike Hayward) regarding the fatal collision caused by Mr Doe and on the alleged offences of causing death by dangerous and death by careless driving. The jury then heard from the defendant (Nathan Taylor-Allkins) and his advocate (Jane Anderson) before being advised on the law by the Honourable Judge (Charlotte Hunt) and then being asked to retire to consider their verdicts.
The trial raised various issues that were hotly debated by the members of the jury, such as whether the defendant’s actions gave rise to any criminal culpability at all, or whether the standard of driving was said to have fallen merely below or far below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver (i.e. careless or dangerous driving).
Once the verdict had been returned (guilty to death by careless driving) and Mr Doe sentenced by Her Honour Judge Hunt, the team were able to advise the delegates on best practice for fleet managers and for those responsible for managing and reducing road risk. A central point of discussion focused on how Mr Doe’s fleet manager and employer could have reduced the risk of the fatal collision occurring and whether any corporate manslaughter or similar charges would arise for each respectively.
Following the Conference, Mike Hayward said: “It is an honour and privilege to be asked to present at such a prestigious event. It was an excellent opportunity to address the delegates on the criminal implications of driver distraction and how proper road risk systems and management of those systems can reduce the risk of a collision occurring and potential criminal liability associated with it. The focus for a company director or fleet manager is ordinarily on the insurance or civil implications. However, as recent cases have demonstrated, a collision involving a fatality can and will lead to sentences of imprisonment being imposed. It can also lead to multi-agency investigations (Police, HSE, HMRC) and action against the company, its directors and managers. We hope that the delegates found the mock Crown Court trial informative and helpful in identifying ways that road risk can be reduced to promote safety for all road users.”