A cyclist who was the victim of a terrifying road rage ordeal by a FedEx driver has accused the company of dismissing his concerns because his blog was not deemed high profile enough, after an internal email conversation discussing the incident - which happened days after a FedEx driver was filmed driving apparently asleep at the wheel - was accidentally forwarded to him by a FedEx Managing Director.
James Avery, who cycles regularly in London, says he was too scared to get back on his bike for five months after a driver in a FedEx branded van drove aggressively at him near Kings Cross station last August, an act he described as “terrorism”.
Avery chased FedEx for safety procedure and driver training information for more than three months before the company claimed it had investigated the issue, without answering specific questions. Road.cc also contacted FedEx about the incident at the time, to which they provided a general statement.
Cycling UK says the company's failure to respond to Avery's questions, in effect dismissing his concerns and hoping they will go away, disregards corporate responsibility. They say the company should, in such circumstances, examine its driver training systems and the time pressures placed on drivers. FedEx has not responded to further requests from road.cc for safety procedure information.
"Specialist website, not high engagement / very few comments"
FedEx provided a statement to road.cc on 24 August simply saying they hold their drivers to "stringent standards" and were investigating the matter, after which Avery continued to chase the company with ten questions* on safety procedures, from driver targets to training. When FedEx responded to Avery on 20 January, after five months of chasing, its Customer Services Managing Director, William Martin, claims “the matter was fully investigated and the appropriate action taken”.
However, Martin had accidentally forwarded an internal email conversation to Avery dating back to August, in which company staff decide not to answer road.cc’s and Avery’s questions on driver training because one or both were deemed “specialist website/not high engagement/very few comments”.
The conversation began with an email from road.cc journalist, Laura Laker, to FedEx on August 21 2016, following the incident, asking what training its drivers are given regarding vulnerable road users, and what action the company planned to take following the ordeal, which left Avery in shock and too afraid to cycle on the roads.
At the time Avery told road.cc: “It is very clear that this thug wanted nothing other than to intimidate. His actions were highly intimidatory, and they have achieved the desired effect of making me too scared to go out.”
FedEx Vice President describes two driver safety lapses within a week "social media incidents"
The accidentally forwarded emails reveal what was discussed between the road.cc email and FedEx's most recent response to Avery in January – and how the company decided not to disclose its safety procedures based on readership of those requesting the information, even though this appeared to have been the second major safety lapse that week, following what they describe as a “sleeping driver issue”.
Just days earlier a FedEx driver, who had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel was caught on camera driving on the wrong side of the road, narrowly missing an oncoming car.
On 22 August at 15.27 Senior Communications Specialist at FedEx Express Europe, Heather Wilson, forwarded an email query to Lynette Hay from road.cc, in which she described Laura Laker [the author of this article] as “a London blogger with a special interest in cycling.”
She wrote: “Laker is requesting comment on a video shared with her by a fellow cyclist claiming that a FX truck was aggressively tailgating him. The cyclist is threatening to go to the police with the video Wednesday. She has specifically asked the following question:
'Can you confirm what training drivers receive re driving [near] vulnerable road users and what Action you will take?'"
On 22 August at 15.56, in discussing a potential response Hay, whose email signature describes her as an External Communications Expert for FedEx Express Europe, mentions another incident which happened within the same week. She says: “We can draft a statement similar to the ‘sleeping driver’ issue highlight safety but to address her question about training our drivers can you please let us know what training drivers / contractors receive so we can include some bullet points along with the statement.”
At 16.38 that day, Senior Vice President Northern Europe Operations (FedEx Express & TNT), Trevor Hoyle, wrote: “Given we have had two social media incidents within a week it may be appropriate to re-issue expectations for conduct in public whether it be driving standards, procedural compliance etc.”
The company’s Lead Legal Counsel, Stephen Adnam, adds the incident was “not helpful off the back of the other recent issue”. He says: “Agree we may need to consider something in the light of the two issues”.
Emails reveal FedEx communications expert also requested driver training information
Hay chased information on driver training again. In an email sent at 09.45 on the morning of August 24 she wrote: “conscious we have to get back to the reporter by EOP today and I haven’t received info about driver training – can someone send this info to me so we can draft something.”
However, no training information was provided to road.cc by FedEx, nor were specifics regarding training mentioned in the email conversation. In a reply to road.cc later that day, a short statement simply referred in the abstract to “stringent standards”.
In a statement, FedEx said: “Safety is a core value and something that we take extremely seriously at FedEx.
"We hold our drivers to stringent standards and they are required to abide by all road traffic laws and conduct themselves in an appropriate and courteous manner at all times. We are investigating this incident and are taking the appropriate action."
On the morning of 5 September Hay referred to a road.cc article, written by Sarah Barth, in which she says she feels "letting said driver go" was all the action required, despite this apparently being the second incident within a week.
Hay said: “Please find a piece below regarding the tailgating incident on road.cc. Given the thorough statement provided, I feel no additional action required. Necessary action has been taken in the form of letting said driver go.”
Later that day Customer Relations Manager, Matt Griffiths, referred to an email sent on 3 September by Avery chasing a response on driver training and safety monitoring within the company.
Griffiths asked Hay if they should “engage any further with this individual or leave it at this point?”
FedEx decide not to engage further with Avery
Hay replied: “After reading his article (below) my recommendation remains the same and not to engage with him any further. This looks like a specialist website, not high engagement / very few comments.
“Do you all agree?"
Avery continued to chase the matter with the company’s customer experience Managing Director, William Martin, for another four months.
On 14 January Martin wrote: “I will check with Matthew to find out who followed up on the incident, to ensure the appropriate action has been taken.”
A final response was sent from Martin on 20 January, when he wrote: “Dear Mr Avery, further to my email of the 14th January I have reviewed the matter with the team. The matter was fully investigated and the appropriate action was taken. Safety is integral to everything we do at FedEx. We understand and take seriously our responsibility to operate in the safest possible manner.”
There is no mention of safety procedure investigations in the email conversation seen by road.cc.
In January Avery told road.cc he feels FedEx “dismissed answering my own questions as I’m 'not very important – not high engagement'.
“They also revealed that the driver was sacked, but they still refuse to answer any of the core questions I’ve asked them about driver safety," he said.
“The incident caused me very serious distress, and I have only started cycling again (very hesitantly) on UK roads this week.”
Avery reported the incident to police at the time, and the driver was sent on a driver awareness course by the Metropolitan Police.
Cycling UK: FedEx response "disregards corporate responsibility"
As the law currently stands, anyone with a driving licence can operate a commercial vehicle of this size, and no additional training is required by law. However, campaigners say the rapid increase in commercial traffic, thanks in part to the growth in online shopping, means more stringent safety standards should be expected from companies operating commercial vehicles, and FedEx's failure to respond to safety questions is to "disregard corporate responsibility".
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Senior Road Safety and Legal Campaigns officer said: “There has been a huge increase in the number of vans on our roads in recent years. These vehicles are not subject to the operator licence regulations that apply for instance to HGVs and can be driven by someone who has just passed their driving test. Cycling UK believes employers who operate and manage commercial van fleets should adopt a similar approach to work related road safety as we now expect from responsible HGV operators.
“In this particular case, we would expect FedEx to be examining their own systems for driver training, the time pressures their drivers are placed under and also they respond to road safety concerns raised with them by vulnerable road users. Just dismissing such concerns and hoping they will simply ‘go away’ is to disregard corporate responsibility, not to mention poor customer service.”
Avery's questions to FedEx
FedEx has still not responded to the following questions from Avery, nor has the company responded to a further request from road.cc for comment on the emails and its driver safety procedures:
Was there a dash cam installed and running? If so, could I please see the footage.
Is there an interior camera in the cab to monitor driver alertness?
Does the van use a “black box” – ie telematics, to monitor driver behaviour?
How does your recruitment process screen out potentially dangerous drivers?
What sort of ongoing training is provided for your drivers, and is this mandatory, or only post-incident?
Was this driver a direct employee of Fedex, an employee of a subcontractor, or a freelance operative?
Are Fedex signed up to safety reporting initiatives, such as FORS or CIRAS?
What expectations are placed on your drivers in terms of the number of deliveries or pickups they are expected to make each day?
Are drivers either penalised or rewarded for late or on-time delivery performance?
What specific training is given, in a city such as London, towards driver awareness of more vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians?
FedEx's corporate brochure contains a section on road safety, which says: "We use our expertise and resources to protect communities by supporting pedestrian and road safety initiatives. For example, we help Safe Kids Worldwide bring pedestrian safety programs to over 200 U.S. cities and 300-plus cities in nine countries worldwide.”
This article was updated on 13 February to include that the driver was sent on a driver awareness course by the Metropolitan Police.