Reining in rogue goods vehicle operators

Rogue vehicle operators need to be held accountable for cyclists' deaths
CTC has been following two cases where lorry drivers were found guilty of killing cyclists and where questions were raised about the safety credentials of the goods vehicle operators that hired them.

In the UK, goods vehicles are involved in 18% of cyclist fatalities, rising to 50% in London. In cases where the behaviour of an operator may have contributed to a collision, Traffic Commissioners (TCs) investigate if their conduct breached safety regulations, but TCs - who can revoke operators' licences - are taking too long to investigate infringements. The long delays in taking action mean lives are potentially being put at risk.

Frys Logistics 

One of Frys Logistics' drivers, Robert Palmer, killed two men on the A30 in Cornwall in 2013. Palmer drove straight into the back of cyclists Toby Wallace and Andrew McMenigall as they rode from Land's End to John O'Groats. Sentencing Palmer, the judge said he should have known he was unfit to drive that day - he was extremely fatigued after doing back to back night and day shifts. Moreover, he had been involved in a subsequent collision, running into the back of another vehicle, whilst on bail.

One month after the fatal crash, the operator of the lorry involved, Frys Logistics (Operator licence number OH1096328) had applied to the Traffic Commissioner (TC) to move its operating base. This application was granted on 1st October 2013, without comment.

However in January 2015, nearly 18 months after the fatal collision, the Transport Manager of Frys Logistics, Mark Fry, was called in by the TC for a public inquiry. It is not clear whether this was related to the A30 crash. We do know however that Frys were given only a minor reprimand.

The Frys had come to the attention of the TC once before. Arthur C Fry, previously the Transport Manager of A C Fry Transport, had lost his licence to operate in May 2010, causing the firm to be closed. Yet an application was made that same month to set up Frys Logistics as a new operator, based at the same address and with Arthur C Fry named as its Transport Manager. The application was eventually granted in July 2011, although the TC took the unusual step of excluding him from playing any role in running the firm.

CTC is looking into whether further action could and should be taken against Frys in relation to Wallace and McMenigall's deaths. For instance, we are concerned that the company appears not to have recorded Palmer's breaches of drivers' hours regulations, and may have facilitated them by employing Palmer on a second day shift maintaining the trucks he drove at night. The company also appears to have failed to properly scrutinise tachograph records, which showed Palmer had regularly travelled at speeds well over those which his vehicle was in theory limited to.

Operators that don't ensure their employees are legally permitted to drive are as responsible for a cyclist's death as the driver and should be held accountable."

Rhia Weston, CTC's Road Safety Officer

Alan Drummond under investigation

The other case CTC has been following involved the death of Alan Neve while he cycled to work in London in July 2013. The driver that killed Alan, Barry Meyer, was not licenced to drive HGVs and had been banned from driving five times before. This raises the question: why was he allowed to drive the lorry that hit Alan Neve?

One month after Neve's death, the company that hired Meyer - Alan John Drummond (operator licence number OK1046680) - applied to move its operating base. Ironically this application was made 2 days after Frys Logistics had done the same thing following the A30 deaths. Like Frys, this application was granted without comment in October 2013.

However, following the trial and conviction of Barry Meyer, Transport for London alerted the Traffic Commissioner for London, Nick Denton. Denton summoned Alan John Drummond to appear at a preliminary hearing relating to the fatal crash on 4 June, together with his transport manager Colin Drummond. However they failed to show up. Denton has now called a public inquiry into their conduct, to be held on 24 June. Denton has meanwhile issued a public letter to Alan and Colin Drummond, warning them that failure to attend the public inquiry could have an adverse impact on the company's reputation, and hence its licence to operate.

Meanwhile in November 2014, a Hayley Caroline Drummond applied to set up a new operator, HCD London, based at an address very nearby, which was granted in March 2015. CTC has alerted the Traffic Commissioner, so that he can investigate whether they are linked.

Improving the monitoring of operators' safety

TCs are able to act quickly when they know of an alleged infringement, but it can take months or even years for them to find out about offences. When Transport for London alerted the TC's office to Drummond's apparent misconduct following Meyer's trial and sentencing, they started investigating it within two weeks. However that was nearly two years after Neve had died.

The fundamental problem is that the Traffic Commissioners lack the resources to effectively monitor operators and drivers; nor is there any standard process for alerting them to relevant incidents. They are also poorly supported in the delivery of sanctions.

There are a number of ways that reports can be made, but no standardised process for doing so. Incidents can be reported by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and other public bodies - as Transport for London did with A J Drummond. Members of the public could also report companies involved in collisions, at least in theory. However media reports of collisions rarely name the operator involved, and it can be a challenge to find it out who they are.

It is even harder for organisations such as supermarkets to check the safety record of operators, before contracting with them to provide freight services. CTC has joined other road safety groups in calling for Operators' Compliance Risk Scores (OCRS) data to be made public. OCRS data are collected by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, based on operators' records in MOT tests, roadside checks, Traffic Commissioners' findings and other sources. Publishing this data would enable clients to show due diligence by avoiding operators with poor safety records when contracting for haulage and other lorry services.

However the real solution would be to require the courts to inform the TC of convictions involving lorries - and indeed those involving buses and coaches. Moreover the police should immediately notify the TC of fatal collisions, so that these are on the public record. Whilst some police forces already do this under Memoranda of Understanding with their local TC's office, CTC believes this process needs to be standardised.

Finally, establishing a national body to regulate road use akin to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB), as recommended in a recent report by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), would be an improvement on the fragmented regulatory system in place now. There has not been a single passenger death on the trains since 2007 and very few railway staff deaths at work since regulation of the rail industry was tightened. The same could be delivered for the UK's roads, if the will was there.