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Practice what you preach: The IAM’s David Batten

By / 12 months ago / Interview / No Comments

As one of the UK’s highest profile road safety charities, the Institute of Advanced

Motorists (IAM) has a commitment to making Britain’s roads a safer place to be by improving the skills and understanding of the people using them.

With up to 7,000 drivers and riders engaged in IAM courses at any one time, it is vital that the charity’s dedicated teams of volunteer tutors and examiners are well supported as they take to the roads to educate fellow drivers. It’s a case of being able to practice what it preaches.

As you might expect from a road safety charity, IAM’s purchasing and facilities manager,

David Batten is rigorous about driver behaviour as well as the condition of the charity’s company vehicles and substantial UK‐wide grey fleet.

“Everyone who drives on IAM company business has to be within our road traffic management system, and follow the direction provided within the IAM’s Car and Driver Policies Handbook,” Batten reveals.

“Staff using grey fleet vehicles also have to provide a copy of their car or motorcycle insurance policy, and we check road tax and and MOTs, as appropriate. It is impossible to overstate how important road safety is to our organisation, and it’s important our employee and volunteer driving standards reflect that. We’re asking others to behave responsibly on the roads, so it is vital that we are seen to do the same.”

The IAM has also taken steps to achieve exterior accreditation, achieving IS39001 level for Road Traffic Safety Management for three years in a row.

“Even though we felt we were doing everything right from a roadsafety perspective, we wanted third‐party auditing just to make sure and encourage continual improvement,” Batten says.

“All our drivers have to achieve the advanced test within one year (unless they drive less than four times on IAM business per year), so they are highly skilled and qualified drivers. Everyone who drives on IAM business must complete the online training and have a licence check every year, as well as undertake an on‐road observation at least once every three years. We believe that is the gold standard, having the on‐road observations with the online system and licence checks providing back‐up.”

 

Data overload

Many of the IAM’s examiners are involved with the police or other emergency services and see the impact of unsafe driving first‐hand.

Batten believes that the passion for their work and the high standards the IAM requires of its employee and volunteer drivers negate many of the reasons to invest in costly telematics units to monitor their behaviour behind the wheel.

Tests of some units have been undertaken by the company, lead by standards officer Mark Lewis, who is himself an ex‐Police class 1 driver and head of the police driving school at Hendon. “They have not found one yet that they think will add to what we do currently, but obviously the systems do have their advantages and can be useful in certain circumstances,” Batten explains.

“One of the things that we have found is that there is so much information generated, and how much of that is really relevant? The only things we’d be looking for are if our drivers are speeding, if they’re breaking too hard and perhaps the ability to locate where they are going for various reasons. For us the systems just generate so much information we’d never look at – we’d almost need to assign someone specifically to look through all the information!

“I do recognise that the units can be a useful tool though, and if we found a good system that was cost and time‐effective, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t adopt it.

As a charity we need to be careful with our investments, but road safety is always our key concern and if an offering could really support that, then of course we’d be interested,” he adds.

 

Logistics and problem solving

That perennial problem for businesses operating in London – parking – is alleviated slightly by the 21 private bays situated to the back of company’s offices, but there can still be a scramble for a space in the morning; “It’s a first‐comefirst‐ served scenario, our staff tend to get here by 8am to secure a spot, some are even here shortly after 6am,” he explains.

“We do ask staff to use alternative means of transport if they can, as parking around the Chiswick area can be a challenge when all our bays are full.”

It’s a glimpse of some the day‐to‐day issues Batten must address in his role as purchasing and facilities manager for the charity, of which fleet is one of his many responsibilities. “Obviously when you have 22 vehicles in the fleet, there isn’t a dedicated fleet manager, and especially with a charity you have to wear a lot of different ‘hats’ and fulfil a greater number of roles than you might have to in a private company,” he says.

“I was not fleet trained when I took on this role, but I have been driving since

1978, so I have a lot of on‐road experience.

Our CEO at the time when I took over responsibility for fleet was Simon Best, and he came from the fleet industry.

He was able to provide me with a lot of background information which was very helpful and there were a number of other people within the organisation I was able to call on for advice.”

 

Achieving the right mix

The IAM’s mixed fleet includes Volvo V40s, Nissan Qashqais and a Mitsubishi PHEV, driven by Batten himself. These vehicles are used by office‐based employees as well as the regional quality managers who are tasked with auditing the near‐300 volunteer examiners stationed across the country to ensure they are operating to a consistent standard. Company cars are also assigned to sales people driving on business for the charity’s commercial subsidiaries, who provide on the road and online training for companies such as BP to coach some of their drivers.

 

Safety specifications

The company’s vehicles are leased, and Batten specifies at least a 5‐star Euro NCAP safety rating for the model to be considered.

He also insists that tyres be changed if the tread dips below 3mm, despite the SMR standard being 2mm for a change.

“I read a report that found that between 3‐2.5mm there was a drop‐off in stopping distance in the wet, but between 2.5‐2mm this drop‐off was significant,” he says.

“Below 2.5mm there was a major performance negative and we want to give our drivers the safest possible environment when they’re out on the road.

“Our Driver Policy and Handbook outlines the routine maintenance tasks that our drivers should carry out on all areas of the vehicle, and we also carry out spot checks on the tyres of our company cars.”

 

Changing times

A stalwart in the industry, I asked Batten what he considers to be the biggest changes in the way fleets have been managed and regulated over the last decade. “Legislation is the biggest thing – particularly corporate manslaughter,” he says. “Awareness has definitely been raised and we welcome that, but there’s still more to do ‐ I talk to lots of people when I’m out and about visiting companies and they regularly have staff driving to events who I know do not have business cover, for example.”

He also comments on the way car technology has developed to incorporate more safety and environmental features as standard; “Technology is also a big difference – when I took over administration of the fleet CO2 of 150g/km was quite common, whereas now we try to get below 100g/km. There’s really no comparison for how much the engine technology has moved on in that sense, and we now have electric‐hybrid vehicles on the fleet.

“Autonomous braking and safety features have also come on in leaps and bounds,” he adds. “There has been a huge improvement in car design and how technology is being applied to them; safety features have moved on every time our cars have come to the end of their three year lease cycle, and as a road safety charity that’s really great to see.”

Katie Beck

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