Thursday, 27 October 2011

Raising the speed limit – a faster future?

Will a raised speed limit make any difference?
Image Creds: LeasePlan
Earlier this month, former transport minister Philip Hammond announced government plans to raise the upper UK speed limit from 70mph to 80mph. After a period of consultation, the new limit could be introduced as soon as 2013.

But what (if any) impact will this change have upon fleet managers and drivers? The new limit is designed to reduce journey times and, for drivers that cover thousands of business miles each year, any reduction should come as a welcome relief. Despite this, the extent to which this increase in maximum speed will reduce journey times is up for debate; some of Britain’s most congested roads can be at near-standstill for almost 12 hours per day.

Fleet drivers should also consider the cost of driving faster. As highlighted in a previous post, travelling at 80mph uses around 10% more petrol than travelling at 70mph. With petrol prices remaining high, the increased usage could put further strain on already tight budgets.

Despite these concerns, it currently looks likely that this new limit will be introduced. As a result, driver training will become ever more important as business drivers will require the ability to handle both the increased speeds of their own vehicle, whilst compensating for the reaction times and high-speed manoeuvres of those on the roads around them.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Business drivers should be concerned by the demise of the filling station

Are drivers facing increasing rural fuel challenges?
National newspapers have long carried articles about the declining presence of various institutions around the UK, particularly focusing on those that serve rural communities. In years gone by, the Post Office was the most frequent recipient of this concern, with hundreds of column inches being dedicated to the closure of yet another village outlet.

Now, there is another threat to many rural communities. While perhaps they are not seen as central to communities or indeed as emotive, the growing rate of closure for rural petrol stations should be a cause for concern. The number of forecourts in the UK has halved in under 20 years. There are now 11,000 fewer filling stations across the country, and the squeeze is being most acutely felt in rural areas furthest from major thoroughfares.

Petrol station closures are, in part, the result of greater fuel efficiency in modern vehicles – a positive development for business drivers and the environment. Nonetheless, with fuel prices still at exceptionally high levels, the knock on effect of forecourt closures is driving prices even higher in rural communities. Business drivers are also likely to be affected by the closures. They often have to drive in unfamiliar rural areas, where the chance of being caught between stations is becoming ever more acute.

Journey Times Affected

GPS systems have gone some way to alleviate the problem of finding the nearest filling station, but the continuing decline is likely to result in less price competition and lengthy detours to refuel. Fleet managers and business drivers alike should be concerned about the potential additional miles, time and cost this could add to journeys.

It remains to be seen if the government will act on the problem. While there have already been several discussions in parliament about some sort of rural fuel rebate, nothing has yet been agreed and the UK’s crucial network of filling stations is set to shrink further. Maintaining this infrastructure remains important when trying to ensure that business is still practical across the length of the country and to stimulate economic growth outside of major cities.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Local councils should use electric cars

One of Dumfries & Galloway's Nissan Leafs being recharged
Image Creds: D&G Council
They reduce carbon emissions, keep the environment pristine and are also financially viable – what is there to not like about green cars?

Writing in the Guardian, Dumfries & Galloway Council and Automotive Leasing explain how electric vehicles can be a viable option for public sector fleet – if targeted funding schemes are used effectively.

The Council leased four all-electric Nissan Leafs and a sweeper from Automotive Leasing, becoming the first Council in Scotland to add electric vehicles (EVs) to its fleet. Special funding arrangements agreed with Automotive Leasing and Transport Scotland made it possible, allowing the Council to lease EVs at no extra cost and with no additional risk compared to petrol or diesel vehicles.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Tribunal ruling on NICs for business motoring allowances

Image Creds: HMRC
Fleet managers who oversee ‘grey’ fleets on behalf of their employers should be aware of a recent tribunal ruling concerning NICs (National Insurance Contributions) for motoring allowances paid to business drivers.

Employees who are paid this allowance for the use of their private vehicles for business purposes will now need to demonstrate a clear link between the actual business use of the vehicle and any lump sum payments. This is to ensure that any payments for these private ‘grey’ fleet vehicles are classed as “relevant motoring expenditure” (RME) and exempt from NICs.

A key point arising from the tribunal was that an allowance linked directly to the acquisition or ownership of a vehicle would not be sufficient, on its own, to classify the payment as RME.

While this decision is subject to an appeals process, in its current form, the ruling would mean that where the link between the business and the usage of the vehicle cannot be established, the employer will be liable for Class 1 NICs on the motoring allowance payment.

Due to the complexities of managing ‘grey’ fleets, employers may wish to consider taking specialist advice on restructuring their car allowance provisions to ensure future NIC exemptions are secured. As demonstrated by the recent benefit in kind (BiK) taxation changes, this area of business motoring continues to be a focus for the government. Expert support can help businesses take advantage of available benefits, even as the tax regime evolves.

Further information on this tribunal and its wider implications for business car drivers can be found on the HMRC website.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Understanding Speed Cameras

Do speed cameras deserve to be criticised?
Image Creds: Stock.xchng
Speed cameras rarely garner much positive press. There have been ongoing debates into the effectiveness and the real motivations for their placement. Advocates cite lower accident figures, while anti-speed camera campaigners often highlight the level of revenue generated by fixed-camera sites.

Speed cameras featured heavily in the headlines last year when Oxfordshire council announced that cameras in the region would be switched off due to budgetary constraints. These measures led to one road safety group claiming that speeding had increased by 88% in their absence.

To help justify the ongoing placement of cameras, 75 English local authorities have published some or all of their information showing accident and casualty rates as well as speeds at camera sites before and after the introduction of speed cameras.

Increased Transparency 

This level of transparency should be welcomed, helping motorists understand the reasoning behind the placement of cameras. However, it should be noted that speed cameras should not be seen as the only solution to speeding. For fleet managers, effective training and awareness campaigns could be the most effective way of ensuring that their drivers remain safe and on the right side of the law.

Another welcome side effect of controlling speed is an effective reduction in costs – travelling at 80mph (10 mph above the legal motorway speed limit) uses around 10% more petrol than travelling at 70mph. Therefore, drivers can save money by obeying the law, both by avoiding costly speeding tickets and reducing overall fuel consumption.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Care workers and community drivers benefit from red tape cut

Announcement set to benefit community-minded drivers
Image Creds: LeasePlan
After we highlighted the Department for Transport’s pledge to cut red tape in a previous blog post, we were interested to see a further announcement from transport minister Norman Baker which looks set to continue this trend.

His statement, released on the government news distribution service offered new guidelines to end confusion created by minicab laws that were implemented in 2006. Under these laws many parents and carers were being classified as minicab drivers, and as a result had to register as such before the council could allow them to provide lifts.

Norman Baker said; “Clearly parents helping out at a play group, or carers getting people to the doctor are not minicab drivers. I hope that by publishing this new guidance today these people will be able to get on with their vital activities, without the hassle or cost of getting a minicab licence.”

The government guidelines outline that the following groups should be exempt from having to license their vehicle:

•    Private ambulances, including emergency vehicles and vehicles which operate as part of a formal patient transport service;
•    Volunteers who share their car or provide lifts as part of their voluntary duties;
•    Care and support worker services, including those who care for adults in their own homes, in community settings or in residential or nursing care homes;
•    Childminders who carry children as passengers as part of their duties;
•    Rental car companies and garages offering ‘courtesy lift’ services for customers, for example whilst their car is in for repair.

For fleet drivers, the continued government focus on cutting the red tape associated with motoring should come as a welcome process, and we look forward to further developments as a result of this initiative in the coming months. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Drivers Remain Key to Accident Prevention

Can less serious accidents be prevented?
Image Creds: LeasePlan

At the end of last month  the Department for Transport  announced that road deaths in the UK have dropped below 2,000. Based on the figures for 2010, the figure of 1,857 fatalities over the course of the year represents the lowest total since records began in 1926.

This is a remarkable statistic given that there are now over 31,000,000 cars on the UK’s roads, compared with just over a million in 1930. The steadily declining fatality rate owes much to technology; the introduction of simple measures such as ‘cat’s eyes’ and compulsory seatbelts were key developments in ensuring a steady drop in fatalities throughout the latter years of the 20th century.

Technological Progress

Continuing advances in the field of safety is something that manufacturers often pride themselves on, and with the developments of airbags and electronic stability programmes, cars are certainly safer than ever before. Interestingly, despite these developments, there has been relatively little research into whether drivers themselves are safer than in years gone by.

Human error still accounts for between 90-95% of all car accidents, and it would seem that in-car innovations are not necessarily preventing accidents from happening, but instead are reducing the after-effects. For this reason, it would seem logical that drivers are trained to higher standards.

Over the past few years there have been various suggestions that the driving age should be raised to 18, that older drivers should be retested or that speed limits should be changed. Any one of these measures would have proved contentious, but with regard to safer driving, fleet managers have an opportunity to ensure that their staff are amongst the best educated on the roads, without attracting such controversy.

With around 10% of UK traffic being made up of company cars, and approximately 1 in 3 involved in an accident annually, increased training could help to lower these statistics further and help to re-define business drivers as the safest and greenest drivers on the roads today.