A growing number of fleets and industry suppliers are putting their drivers through Driver First Assist, a road safety programme that will arm staff with the necessary skills to react if they are first to the scene of a road traffic accident.
The not-for-profit initiative, which was launched in 2013, claims it could reduce road traffic collision (RTC) fatalities by up to 46%. So far, almost 1,000 individuals and more than 100 companies have signed up, while the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has suggested the course could become part of the Driver certificate of Competence (CPC) training.
Drivers taking part in the Driver First Assist (DFA) course are trained to administer first aid and to manage the scene of an accident before the arrival of the emergency services.
David Higginbottom, DFA chief executive, believes it will reduce the number of people seriously injured or killed by RTCs.
“Fifty per cent of deaths occur before the emergency services arrive on scene,” he said. “Death from a blocked airway occurs in about four minutes – and the target time for an ambulance to arrive at the scene is eight minutes.”
DFA is being sponsored by fleet supplier V Group International, which hosted an event at Silverstone on September 28 with the objective of raising awareness of the programme with its customers.
Among the companies already signed up are haulage firms TNT and Gist, Iron Mountain and Clugston.
V Group believes leasing and contract hire companies are “key channels” for DFA. Vicky Arnold, group sales and customer service director at V Group, said: “We engaged with a number of those, and they see it as part of their CSR policy to have such an alliance with DFA, not only for their own drivers but to offer it out to their corporate customers.”
Higginbottom expects DFA to become as prominent and high profile as first responders are now, as more companies and drivers sign up.
“If you look at the number of people who are on the road network where driving is part of their work that’s probably three and a half million, if not, more,” he said.
“We reckon that a reasonable percentage of that number would ultimately leave us with a membership of between 70,000 and 100,000 – that’s our aim.”
He also believes that the programme has added value in making drivers more safety-minded on the road: “An important by-product is that you do make people safer generally.”
Martin Nash, CEO of V Group, agrees. “As a driver you become more careful because you’re aware of the consequences,” he said. “That’s why police drivers are very capable.”
David Heath, head of logistics at construction, civil engineering and facilities management business Clugston, which has a fleet of cars, vans and trucks, has put his 34 drivers through the course.
He said: “I think the training would make drivers safer, by bringing safety back to the conscious part of the brain.”
The course costs £144 (including VAT) per person, but Higginbottom explained DFA can be flexible: “We’re happy to talk about price to suit the needs of the individual customer. That could depend on volumes, where the training is delivered and so on. Generally speaking, we’re flexible.”
Clugston has spent around £3,500 on DFA training so far. “The cost is not massive, and I think it’s worth the investment,” added Heath.
“You’re also adding to the life skills of your drivers. Some of them have families, and said they would feel much more confident about clearing a child’s airway for example, so it can help employee retention.”
The fee includes a toolkit, which comprises a ‘class three’ hi-viz jacket and first aid kit.
Drivers who take the course are trained by those with “frontline” experience, such as police officers and ambulance staff.
Higginbottom said: “We’ve got a very close relationship with the emergency services and there are a number of conditions that we have to continue to meet to retain that relationship.
“One of those conditions is that the training is always delivered by either serving emergency services personnel or those with previous frontline experience.”
The training is updated by the emergency services whenever they make changes to their own procedures to ensure it remains up-to-date with the latest guidance.
Higginbottom said: “An added value is that employees will know that their company is engaging in an activity that will make their work place safer, then that’s going to have appeal in terms of employees retention and future employee attraction.”
Rory Morgan, head of logistics support for Western Europe at Iron Mountain, has put 21 drivers through the programme and has taken the course himself.
“I would recommend the course for professional drivers, definitely,” he said.
“The course itself is a good one and certainly the drivers we have put through it suggest it’s very useful.
“Our only criticism would be that it is only valid for a year. Most first aid courses are valid for three. I know there’s a subtle difference with this course as it is coaching on what to do at the roadside but I can’t think that’s going to alter after one year.”
Morgan added: “I still carry the bag and vest in my car and have the sticker in the back window and would still react the same way should I be faced with an incident after receiving the training, so long term it is a very useful course.
“I’m not aware of any of our drivers having directly using the actions trained in a real life situation to date, but they are equipped if they were to come across an incident.”
Heath also said that none of his drivers have been in a position to use the training yet, but felt it was a matter of time until they were.
“Between them, the 34 drivers we have put through the course cover 2.4 million miles a year – on that average they are bound to come across an incident eventually,” he said.
There is also an option for fleets to use the programme for CPC purposes, according to the FTA.
James Firth, FTA head of licencing policy and compliance information, said: “One of the strengths of the UK implementation of Driver CPC was that it did not prescribe content therefore drivers and operators are able to tailor training to their needs.
“Driver First Assist is a good idea for companies to consider amongst their other Driver CPC training priorities.
“It is an example of the sorts of more imaginative uses of the training that some operators have been looking for once the ‘usual suspects’ of refresher training have worn thin.”
Morgan and Heath have already integrated the course into their CPC training.
However, Heath added that the course was voluntary. “We want to make sure the drivers we are putting through would want to act at the scene of a crash – not everyone is great with blood,” he said.
“It’s not for everyone.”