Peter Golding, Managing Director at software specialist FleetCheck, said that while he had no issue with Uber, which has an inspection regime in place for vehicles that are used as taxis, there could be a problem in the wider gig economy where some home delivery and courier companies have long operated outside of normal safety bounds.
He added: “There have always been some issues with people using their own unsuitable vehicles for business activity but, when this was limited to, for example, a relatively small number of pizza deliveries by teenagers using their old cars, the potential for issues was minimal.
“However, we’re now in a situation, partially prompted by the pandemic, where gig economy drivers are delivering millions of parcels every day and the courier companies who employ them often outsource the entire issue of safety to the driver.
“This demands the question – if the recent example of Uber means that those drivers are being brought under legally-required employment practices, why does the same not apply to legally-required safety standards of those vehicles that are being used on business?
“Every other company operating vans in the country has a responsibility to ensure that they are maintained in a roadworthy condition in accordance with recognised manufacturer standards in a manner that is fully auditable. These duty of care measures exist to protect their drivers and other road users and, if problems occur, employers can face prosecution and a range of very serious penalties. There is no good reason for this to be suspended anywhere.”
Golding added that making this point was not intended to target the drivers themselves but the gig economy employers who enforced these kinds of working practices.
He said: “These drivers are hardworking people who, especially at the moment, are proving important to keep the economy turning over and, in some cases, are helping to deliver services that are essential during the current crisis.
“However, that does not make the use of inappropriate vehicles right. For some home delivery companies, the only requirement is that the vehicle has an MOT and is insured for business use. I suspect we’ve all got our own horror stories about some of the vehicles that we’ve experienced courier drivers using, such as the 22 year old Volvo estate that I’ve seen.
“In a sense, those outlying vehicles are not the core issue. The point is that even the better vehicles being used are often not fit for purpose. For example, if you’ve got a hundred parcels to deliver, fleet norms on safety say that you should be using a van with a bulkhead.
“If someone has an accident with those parcels unsecured on the back and front seats of their hatchback, the chances of the driver being hit hard by something heavy moving at speed is massively increased. Companies employing people and their vehicles on this basis are dancing around what is acceptable in safety terms. Their drivers and other road users deserve better.”
Golding said that the fleet industry should look at ways of ensuring that these businesses start to adopt the same kind of everyday operational measures as other company cars and vans.
“Companies operating on this basis need to start to align to fleet industry norms on safety. These driver-owned vehicles are grey fleet and, as every good fleet manager knows, that means the employer has the same responsibilities as for company-owned vehicles.
“Home delivery and courier companies should, at the very least, be looking at driving licences, maintenance records, insisting on regular walkaround checks and ensuring that vehicles are fit for carrying their payload. These are safety essentials for every fleet as well as being a legal and a moral responsibility. ”