Changes to licensing and DVLA medical guidelines needed to avoid another Glasgow bin lorry crash

There needs to be changes to driver licensing legislation and DVLA medical guidelines if a repeat of Glasgow's fatal refuse-truck accident last year is to be avoided, the sheriff that oversaw the Fatal Accident Investigation has said.

Sheriff John Beckett QC outlined eight “reasonable precautions” which, if taken, could have prevented the accident that saw six people killed by the out of control HGV nearly a year ago. He also made 19 recommendations to a series of regulatory bodies to stop it happening again.

His report, released today (7 December), followed a five-week hearing into the incident earlier this year. Its predominant finding being that the incident could have been avoided if the driver, Harry Clarke, had not lied about his medical history prior to passing out at the wheel on 22 December last year - a finding that prompted Backhouse Jones to emphasise the importance of operators having a health disclosure clause in drivers' contracts.

Beckett's recommendations include calling on local authorities to consider retrofitting refuse vehicles with advanced emergency braking systems (AEBS).

He also called on the DVLA to address whether its section on the loss of consciousness/altered awareness in its “At a glance” guide is clear enough to medicalprofessionals who have to make professional judgements on the information. The report also questions if it gives enough weight to early symptoms of illnesses that could cause blackout further down the line.

Beckett also suggested that the secretary of state for transport should consider a legislative change around the information the DVLA is provided with when making fitness to driver licensing decisions.

Although it was not included in the sheriff’s official recommendations, he also made a case for annual checks on drivers’ health, especially for older drivers.

He said: “From the age of 45, a group-2 licence only has to be renewed every five years and much could change in a driver’s state of health in that time. Employers ought to be alert to that.” 

The General Medical Council recently issued draft guidelines to doctors informing them they had a duty to report concerns in regards a driver's health to the DVLA.

Image: Press Association

Non-UK registered HGV offences on the increase

More foreign operators and drivers were found to be committing traffic offences last year, while roadworthiness standards for UK and non-UK registered trucks stopped in random checks improved.

According to the DVSA’s latest fleet compliance check report, the number of UK-registered vehicles issued with a prohibition for a mechanical defect, as a percentage of those checked, fell from 10.2% to 9.3% in the year to April 2015. The number of vehicles stopped at the roadside and checked dropped to 2,575 from 2,694, in the period.

The prohibition rate for domestic trailers fell from 12.5% to 9.8% in the same period, while the number checked decreased from 1,441 to 1,375.

Roadworthiness standards for non-UK registered trucks have improved. The vehicle prohibition rate fell from 17.7% in 2013/14 to 15% in 2014/15, and prohibitions issued for trailer defects dropped from 22.5% to 20.9%. The number of checks reduced to 2,534 from 2,660.

However, the number of non-UK vehicles sanctioned for traffic offences, such as breaches to drivers’ hours and tachograph rules, rose from 13.8% of the 2,682 checked in 2013/14, to 16.3% of the 2,574 checked in 2014/15. The DVSA said this was due to the HGV Road User Levy introduced in April 2014.

The traffic offence rate for domestic vehicles dropped from 9.5% on 2,703 checks to 8.1% on 2,581 checks. The percentage of non-UK vehicles issued with a warning for a traffic offence dropped to 1.4% from 2.5%. For UK-registered trucks, 2.2% received a warning.

DVSA head of enforcement Gordon MacDonald said: “The DVSA takes the safety of all road users seriously. These results are encouraging and show that the majority of drivers and operators are following the rules and playing their part in making roads safer.

“Anyone who fails to meet the standards or comply with the rules is putting themselves and other road users at risk and faces prosecution.”

Earlier this month the government set out plans for changing the way the DVSA’s enforcement activities are funded (CM 19 November).