Manslaughter conviction follows from brake failure

Manslaughter charges can folllow failure to brake test properly

Manslaughter charges can be brought against vehicle operators. They do not have to be the driver.

Time to Test the Brakes

In December 2016 two men were convicted of manslaughter following an avoidable brake failure that resulted in the deaths of four people, including a young girl. It may surprise you that neither of the men drove the vehicle, but they were responsible, as the haulage boss and mechanic. One was sentenced to 7 ½ years, the other to 5 years and 3 months imprisonment.

Duty of care owed by vehicle operators

The case provides a stark reminder of the duty owed by vehicle operators.  We believed that the case  would change behaviour. Unfrotunately the situation has not improved as expected. The Traffic Commissioners for Great Britain this week asked operators to change their approach to brake performance testing. They said:

‘…despite the clear lessons from the Bath manslaughter case, operators are simply paying lip service to brake performance testing. In many cases, there’s too little recorded on the brake test to offer a meaningful assessment. In others, no information is recorded at all.’

A problem across the board

Testing of vehicles has revealed that these failures not limited to a specific type of licence, size of the operator or a particular sector. It is across the board. Accordingly the guidance makes clear that every safety inspection must include a metered assessment of the braking performance of vehicles and trailers. Guidance adds that a road test method to assess the brake performance for all planned safety inspections will usually be inadequate. Do not take the lorry for a drive to test the brakes. It should be done on a metered  rolling road as used in the MOT test.  If it is not done and evidenced as done then,  if  brakes fail a manslaughter charge may be brought.  If the only issue is faulty brakes then the operator will be charged and not the driver.

Where deficiencies in brake performance are identified, either during use of the vehicle or trailer or at the safety inspection, a measured brake efficiency test must be carried out. The efficiency test must confirm the brakes are performing satisfactorily. Only then can the vehicle or trailer can be considered roadworthy.

What you should do now

Operators should carry out an urgent review of their brake testing regime. This should include an analysis of safety inspection records over the last 15 months. They should look at whether the type of test and the information recorded is sufficient. Operators must make sure their brake tests are planned in line with DVSA guidance.   As a result they  must  satisfy themselves that all the vehicles and trailers running under their licence are roadworthy.

Do you need help?

We can assist with any road traffic issue. If you need assistance in understanding your obligations, representation before Traffic Commissioners or a criminal court, contact Jamie Ritchie or Keith Hollywood on 020 8986 8336 or use the contact form below.

Jamie Ritchie partner in crime department

Jamie Ritchie one of our Road Traffic and crime experts

Keith Hollywood, Solicitor, Moss & Co

Keith Hollywood one of our Road Traffic and crime experts

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