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Fleets get vehicle maintenance warning after death crash jailing

13 December 2009

Drivers are ignoring vehicle maintenance warning signs - particularly in relation to tyre and brake wear - that could result in a fatal road crash and land themselves and their bosses in court.

The warning comes after a driver and his business partner were jailed for the manslaughter of a couple who died in a road crash after crucial vehicle maintenance was ignored.

The court case highlights the impact that a failure to ensure that vehicles are maintained in tip-top condition can have when police are investigating serious road crashes.

While police and legal advisers to Fleet Support Group, which is a supporter of the Driving for Better Business campaign, are urging fleet decision-makers to ensure that, despite the recession, vehicle maintenance remains a top priority, company chairman Geoffrey Bray says businesses may have established maintenance policies outlined in driver handbooks but they are frequently being ignored by employees.

Video evidence from FSG’s Masterview inspection system technology reveals how company car and van drivers abuse their vehicles and has uncovered a ‘chamber of horrors’, according to Mr Bray.

“We have many examples of evidence filmed by members of our garage network of employees who have ignored clear signs that maintenance is required on the vehicle they are driving,” he said.

At Leeds Crown Court last month, coach driver Robert Oughton was sentenced to five years and three months in prison after he admitted charges of causing death by dangerous driving and gross negligence manslaughter. His business partner in travel firm 1.4.You Coaches, John Lote, who pleaded guilty to gross negligence manslaughter, was jailed for three years.

The coach was involved in a crash with a car on the A64 near Scarborough in September last year. The couple in the car died instantly from their injuries and passengers on the coach suffered minor injuries.

An investigation by North Yorkshire Police, working with the Vehicle and Operator Service Agency, concluded that the cause of the crash was acute brake failure due to poor maintenance.

The coach’s maintenance history showed that the two men had repeatedly failed to act on warnings to fix faults with the braking system. Officers also discovered that Oughton had ignored passenger complaints about the smell of burning during the journey.

Leading health and safety lawyer Michael Appleby, of Housemans in London, who is an adviser to FSG, said: “Not too long ago the police would have only prosecuted the driver in this case. However, it is clear that his partner was complicit with the maintenance lapses."

When investigating road crashes the police want answers to three questions: the purpose of the journey; the condition of the vehicle; and the condition of the driver.

Mr Appleby added: “The onus is on drivers to identify a potential maintenance problem and to ensure that it is then investigated and rectified. This court case highlights the disastrous chain of events that can occur if maintenance issues are ignored.”