Business miles are surging for smaller fleets, but duty of care knowledge is falling behind
New research released from leasing and mobility expert Alphabet (GB) has found that more than three-quarters (78%) of managers responsible for smaller fleets have noticed an increase in the amount of business miles being driven. Despite this uplift, there is still a lack understanding when it comes to their duty of care requirements – with the majority (59%) stating that uncertainty around this topic is impacting the running of their fleet.
Recent studies have shown that travel disruption and train strikes have led to higher preferences towards car usage and ownership. As people revaluate their travel options, Alphabet’s own research has found that business miles have increased across smaller fleets. Moreover, the research revealed that many employees are relying on their own car for work-related journeys, with 63% of fleet managers surveyed reporting a hike in the number of staff driving privately-owned vehicles for business.
With the growing trend towards car usage and favourable benefit-in-kind (BIK) rates set to remain for lower-emission vehicles, drivers are seeking greater support from their employers to facilitate travel and business miles. In fact, 66% of managers responsible for smaller fleets have seen an upsurge in employees opting into company car schemes. A further 67% said demand for salary sacrifice car schemes has also risen across their business.
Duty of care uncertainty
As business miles continue to ramp up, it’s crucial that companies operating smaller fleets are fully aware of their duty of care obligations. For fleet managers, gaining a solid understanding of vehicle and driver compliance is the first step in managing it effectively. However, according to Alphabet’s research, almost three-fifths (59%) believe duty of care uncertainty is impacting the running of their fleet. Any uncertainty around duty of care could result in businesses failing to take appropriate action to safeguard their drivers and members of the public, which can lead to significant legal, financial, and reputational consequences.
Employers are legally required to manage the risks and hazards associated with business travel and ensure vehicles are safe to drive at all times. This responsibility applies to any vehicle being driven for occupational purposes, regardless of whether it’s a company car, rental, or privately-owned vehicle.
Hidden costs of grey fleets
While privately-owned vehicles or ‘grey fleets’ may be a convenient and cost-efficient option for some businesses, particularly if staff don’t frequently travel for work, they also come with unique challenges to manage. Grey fleet vehicles tend to be older and may not be serviced as regularly, in comparison to company cars. Supervising them can prove difficult too, and they are more likely to be overlooked by fleet managers as a result.
The cost of living crisis is also presenting fleets with new concerns around private vehicle maintenance. A recent survey by Nationwide Building Society found that almost half (49%) of vehicle owners are putting off essential repairs to save money, and more than one in three are worried their vehicle may break down due to poor maintenance. Typical, but crucial, items falling by the wayside include MOTs, servicing, and breakdown cover.
If grey fleet vehicles aren’t properly maintained, businesses could be held responsible for any accidents or damages that occur when employees are driving for work. It’s therefore imperative that fleet managers are aware of the implications private vehicle use has on their business. Good record-keeping is vital and regular checks should form part of the risk management process to help ensure smaller fleets remain compliant and employees complete business trips in a safe and responsible manner.
Carol Burgess, corporate and SME manager, Alphabet GB said: “All companies are required to manage health and safety in the workplace and make sure policies and safeguards are in place to minimise risk. When vehicles are used for business, they are considered places of work. Consequently, employers are responsible for ensuring they are fit for purpose and properly maintained, taxed, and MOT’d. They also need to check that employees have business use insurance cover; hold a valid licence for the category of vehicle being driven; and receive appropriate training. A robust and proactive driver risk management strategy is key to helping fleet managers identify and mitigate potential risks.
“Unfortunately, our research tells us that the majority of managers responsible for SME and smaller corporate fleets don’t always feel confident when it comes to their understanding of duty of care. If a company requires its employees to use vehicles for business purposes, even if this is simply driving to an offsite meeting in their own private car, duty of care obligations must be prioritised and met. It doesn’t matter if a company has hundreds of employees or a handful, managers need to carefully consider how duty of care affects their fleet and take necessary steps to manage the risks associated with occupational driving.
“Staying on top of these responsibilities can feel like a big undertaking, particularly for smaller fleets that don’t usually have the benefit of a dedicated, full-time fleet manager. The good news is that support is available. Leasing providers can ease the burden by taking care of things like regular driving licence and documentation checks, risk assessments, and training. A little support goes a long way, and no matter the size of the fleet, experts are always on hand to offer guidance and provide much-needed clarity.”