Human error is a factor in at least 90% of road crashes so, argue road safety experts, changing driver behaviour is key in any occupational road risk management strategy.
Historically, driver training for all was viewed as the mechanism for reducing the number of work-related road crashes. But while that approach works ‘temporarily’, it does not change behaviour and driving skills for life.
A more scientific approach is now being advocated to improve driver behaviour underpinned by a robust driver licence checking regime, supported by psychometric testing, which is viewed in some quarters as superior to online assessments, driver, vehicle and journey management programmes and telematics.
Online driver assessments initially showed that typically 25% of an employer’s drivers were deemed to be ‘high risk’. But a greater awareness of occupational road risk management, coupled with legislative changes to combat crash risks, means the number of ‘high risk’ drivers is now estimated to have reduced to about 20%.
According to data from the Department for Transport, in 2010 LCVs were involved in 12,242 crashes (2% fewer than in 2009). Those accidents resulted in 169 fatalities (3% fewer than in 2009), 1,666 serious injuries (4% fewer than in 2009) and 15,106 slight injuries (3% fewer than in 2009).
The number of van occupant casualties in 2010 was 5% lower at 4,494 than in 2009 (4,793) and 32% lower than the 1994-98 average (7,424). Deaths among van occupants reduced to 34 in 2010 from 36 in 2009, which represents a 48% decrease compared to the 1994-98 average (65 deaths).
The decline in casualties comes at a time when light commercial vehicle traffic increased 1% in 2010 to 42 billion vehicle miles – 44% higher than the 1994-98 average (29 billion vehicle miles), according to the department.
“Ninety per cent of accidents are as a result of human behaviour,” Sgt Gareth Morgan, supervisor of South Wales Police Driver Training, told the recent annual conference of fleet operators’ organisation ACFO.
He advocates psychometric profiling as a successful method to enable drivers to self-evaluate their behaviour on the road and organisations to develop and implement at-work driving risk management strategies.
“Fleet managers must ask if the at-work driving risk management processes they have in place will withstand scrutiny from the police service,” said Sgt Morgan.
“Psychometric profiling encourages drivers to reflect on their thoughts and change their driving behaviour. It delivers behavioural and attitudinal change and by coaching and mentoring, improvements can be benchmarked that are recognised by the courts.”
Sgt Morgan is a recent graduate of Cranfield University’s specialised Driver Research Unit. The Fleet Driver Risk Index product was developed by Cranfield with input from fleet driver training provider Peak Performance.
Company managing director Richard Hill said: “In the early days many customers were sceptical about any form of psychometric testing, but that attitude is slowly but surely changing.
“It’s proved time and time again to be highly accurate, enabling us to target appropriate training, so that customers avoid wasting money on training that isn’t needed.”
However, Graham Hurdle, managing director of E-Training World, argues that assessing drivers online not only provides a risk rating but delivers an immediate improvement to their behaviour by encouraging them to think more about their own driving.
A greater focus on changing driver behaviour is also advocated by Navman Wireless, which has 6,000 customers. Monitoring and improving driver performance when embedded in a safety culture that places greater or at least equal emphasis on driver performance as it does on vehicle condition, has the potential to greatly reduce human error and therefore greatly reduce the number of road traffic accidents, says the company.
Steve Blackburn, European vice-president of Navman Wireless, said: “The commercial fleet industry, working together with technology/software providers, can help prevent these needless casualties by making a driver behaviour focused safety culture a corporate social responsibility priority.
“Driver behaviour is a key factor in crashes. We need to place the emphasis on monitoring and improving driver performance in order to eliminate ‘at risk’ driver behaviour. We may then see a reduction in the so-called ‘big three’ incident types, which include rear-end collisions, intersection crashes and lane change/merge collisions.”
It’s a view shared by Adrian Walsh, director of RoadSafe, which manages the Driving for Better Business campaign. He said: “If a company starts to manage its crash damage then improved driver behaviour will follow and the business will be more effective.
“Crash damage is a bigger indicator of occupational road safety than the number of people killed and injured – not all crashes involve personal injury – and bent metal costs businesses money.”
Of course, ensuring a van is fit for purpose is a key part of any road safety strategy, as highlighted by Tracey Scarr, Fleet News Award-winning fleet and road safety manager at Arval (see panel).
Although an increasing number of vans include a wide range of safety features as standard, electronic stability control (ESC) is billed as the most significant life-saving feature since the introduction of the seat belt more than 50 years ago.
Since November last year all new commercial vehicles models must be equipped with ESC, which is also known as electronic stability programme (ESP), and from November 2014 the technology will be mandatory on all new models.
RoadSafe is a supporter of so-called eSafety technology and Mr Walsh said: “There has so far been a low take-up of Adaptive ESC (ESP), but it is essential because it compensates for any shift in load when a vehicle is on the move.”
Iron Mountain, which helps business organisations around the world reduce the costs and security risks associated with information protection and storage, has won a number of awards for its occupational road risk management, including one from Fleet Van, sister publication of Fleet News.
The company, which started its drive to cut road incidents in 2008, operates 290 light commercial vehicles within an overall fleet of 430 units and employs five dedicated driver trainers across the country.
Its national logistics general manager Rory Morgan, an ex-lorry driver, said: “Our driver training links everything together. When a driver comes for an interview they go through a stringent process of training and vetting. The probation period is accompanied by assessments and further training in all aspects from driving to customer interaction. We also carry out refresher training, reactive training if drivers have had an accident, proactive training and courses to keep driving efficiencies and savings.”
But the company has also introduced GreenRoad technology, which uses in-vehicle software to deliver improved driver performance and at-work driving safety by measuring a wide range of so-called ‘risky manoeuvres’ such as speeding, harsh braking and acceleration, cornering and lane changing. An additional spin-off benefit is improved fuel economy.
The company’s joined-up approach to driver safety has seen a 65% incident reduction in the three years to the end of 2011, a 60% reduction in own-damage costs and a 38% fall in third-party premiums. Last year, Iron Mountain achieved a 14% reduction in its insurance premium, which has been frozen for 2012.
Morgan calculates its raft of measures has delivered – including a near-10% fuel saving – a £1.9 million saving to Iron Mountain’s bottom line. Most recently, Iron Mountain has introduced GreenRoad’s speed zone element which monitors drivers’ speed and has witnessed a 95% reduction in the number of speeding violations in 2012.
Blackburn argues that objective data from telematics systems can significantly heighten awareness of unsafe driving habits, and provide impetus and direction for taking actions to improve. The secondary benefits, such as reduced fuel and maintenance costs, also make for healthier company finances.
RWE npower, which operates more than 1,200 vans in its Energy Services Division, introduced Fleet Support Group’s online RiskMaster programme 14 months ago. It has at its heart licence checking and a Driver Operating Life Report with telematics now available following the company’s acquisition late last year by Automotive Resources International.
Anthony Marcou, RWE npower’s supplier performance manager, said: “RiskMaster has changed the mindset of drivers who are behind the wheel of RWE npower vehicles, and that is not only making them safer, but is delivering financial benefits to the company and improving productivity due to reduced driver and vehicle downtime.”