The gig economy has seen increasing numbers of self-employed drivers on our roads. But campaigners warn this increase along with pressure to make deliveries on-time poses a serious safety risk.
Growing safety concerns
UK van traffic reached a new peak last year largely thanks to the growth in online shopping and home delivery. However, there are growing safety concerns over vehicle maintenance, driver hours and training.
Most online delivery vans are under 3.5 tonnes which means they:
- are not subject to the operator licence regulations that apply to larger vehicles
- can be driven by anyone with a standard driving licence.
Siwan Hayward, deputy director of enforcement and on-street operations at Transport for London, believes there aren’t sufficient vehicle safety and driving standards for non-HGV drivers.
In support of their safety concerns, campaigners refer to incidents involving the delivery companies FedEx and CitySprint.
An anonymous self-employed CitySprint driver reportedly said he didn’t earn enough to regularly service and maintain his vehicle. And CitySprint livery on his van meant he couldn’t work for other companies.
CitySprint claims to pay its couriers – all of whom are self-employed – some of the best rates in the industry. They also claim they maximise driver earnings using smart technology.
But Jay Parmar of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association says many operators:
- use the MOT as a diagnostic tool
- do the minimum to pass
- do little or no maintenance for the next year even though working vans typically do over 20,000 miles a year.
A cyclist involved in a traffic incident with a FedEx driver recently asked FedEx questions about its safety procedures including what driver training it provided. While FedEx forwarded the questions in an internal email, staff decided not to answer them as the cyclist reportedly wasn’t considered “high engagement” enough.
Worryingly, in the email, FedEx staff apparently discussed how to tackle what a senior manager described as “social media incidents” rather than safety breaches.
FedEx says it expects everyone working for them to fully comply with traffic regulations and that the subcontracted driver involved in the cycling incident was dismissed.
But Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s road safety and legal campaigns officer, said the concern is not about staff being disciplined but whether they are trained to avoid future safety breaches. Just dismissing such concerns in the hope they’ll simply “go away” was, he said, to disregard corporate responsibility.
Driver training catch…
Organisations are not legally required to train drivers classed as self-employed.
But organisations providing training risk drivers being reclassified by HMRC as employees and will be liable for holiday and sickness pay!
Safety’s a state of mind
David Davies, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, believes safety isn’t so much about being able to handle a vehicle. He says “it’s more about your state of mind, the pressure you are under, your professional attitude and those are things that are quite difficult to train: they are part of the company culture”.
Davies thinks it’s more important that organisations actively manage the safety of their drivers.
Campaigners say the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) needs to accept greater responsibility for incidents on public roads and investigate and prosecute negligent employers.
The HSE though is reluctant to do so. It says the police or Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) are responsible.
Yet as Dollimore says the DVSA deals mainly with tachograph offences. And as Davies says the “[Police] won’t think: was this guy tired, was he under unrealistic pressures to make delivery slots? If the police refer it to the HSE, they might investigate but they are very unlikely to investigate in a proactive way”.
Campaigners conclude there’s a gaping hole in tackling corporate road safety failures.