Are drivers really dummies?
Latest figures show that road deaths have increased for the first time in a decade, but the scale of serious injury might be under-reported, especially in work-related driving.
Last year there were 1,901 deaths on UK roads, up 51 from 1,850 in 2010. Serious injuries rose by 513 from 24,510 to 25,023. But John Davidge, head of fleet technical at Cardinus Risk Management, believes these figures could be just the tip of the iceberg and that the real numbers are much higher.
Davidge says: ‘We’re pretty sure we know about all the deaths on our roads but hospital figures alone reveal that there are injuries not reported to police, and therefore not in the stats. Despite all the hype about whiplash, there are genuine cases not felt until days later, which are seldom officially recorded.’
The Department for Transport reports 203,950 documented injuries on UK roads last year but Davidge thinks there could be more than three times that number.
‘An educated estimate is that there are around 700,000 injuries on UK roads yearly,’ he says. ‘Even the official figures underline that there’s no room for complacency at any level, but what none of the statistics measure is the individual level of grief attached to each of these incidents – potentially 700,000 families who have had lives changed, in some cases for ever.’
Meg Munn, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, questioned the Department for Transport figures on work-related road deaths and injuries, adding that accidents are not counted as workplace deaths and injuries, and that a full picture is not being provided.
‘We do not know enough about why and how people at work die on the road, or how many members of the public are killed by people who drive for a living,’ Ms Munn said.
So what exactly is the level of accidents among company car drivers? And are they really as bad as claimed when it comes to driving standards and the number of crashes?
Graham Hurdle, managing director of E-Training World, doesn’t believe that company car drivers are worse drivers than private ones – it’s just a contextual issue.
He explains: ‘Every company car driver is also a private motorist and no-one gets up on a Monday morning determined to be a worse driver during the week than they’ve been over the weekend.
‘What is different is the expectations surrounding company drivers during working hours, as this impacts their mindset, the pressure they are under, their decisions and ultimately their driving.
‘We talk constantly about driver error and attitude being the cause of accidents. Vehicles don’t crash on their own! We also explain to companies that their own culture, and the pressures and expectations they place on their drivers have an impact on their accident statistics.
‘This is less to do with whether company vehicle drivers are better or worse than private motorists and more to do with the factors influencing drivers when they are behind the wheel.’
Total Accident Management, which provides a range of accident management services to over 300,000 company motorists, has analysed its database of nearly 25,000 incidents and discovered just 6.36% of all accidents (1,071 cars) result in the car being designated as a total loss – a tiny fraction of the 450,000 accident-related write-offs recorded every year.
This suggests that the vast majority of accidents company car drivers are having are smaller, less intensive ones. Interestingly though, there is a disparity between male and female business drivers.
Out of all accidents recorded by Total involving women drivers, 36 out of every 100 accidents (36%) were deemed as their fault or partly their fault, while just over 44 out of 100 (44.5%) of accidents were non-fault. By comparison, nearly 41 out of every 100 incidents (40.9%) involving male drivers were proven as their fault or partly their fault, while just over 43 out of every 100 (43.1%) were non-fault.
A separate survey of high mileage company car drivers, undertaken between April 2011 and May 2012, revealed that just over half of the recorded accidents (53%) took place in clear weather while accidents in adverse weather conditions, such as rain, snow and sleet accounted for just 4%.
Most accidents were recorded on major A-roads (20%), with B-roads (11%) in second place and minor A-roads (9%) in third place. Only 2.27% of accidents were recorded on motorways, reinforcing their relative safety compared to A and B-roads.
Nearly 10% of accidents happened in car parks, which are also likely to be the most costly to fix overall. Although vehicles are travelling at slower speeds, drivers have to deal with many other factors as well as maintaining their own concentration. When looking at accident circumstances, 17% involved a driver hitting a parked vehicle, while 15.2% were the result of a driver hitting a vehicle in the rear, and 11% involved a vehicle colliding with an object or property.
Penny Stoolman, Total’s managing director, says: ‘Company motorists are professional drivers, some covering tens of thousands of miles on company business each year and generally their standards of driving are very good. But we do believe that regular assessments and driver training will benefit company car drivers, particularly when they are driving a car for the first time, as well as helping fleet managers bring down their accident rates and all associated costs.’
Martin Haggarty, managing director of Accident Claims Scotland, says that business drivers’ collision rates are significantly higher than private motorists, and in his experience, by a figure around 25-30% more. However, while many automatically assume this is a result of them being worse drivers, there are a number of factors that should be taken into account, he claims.
‘It is to be expected that someone who drives 15,000 miles in a year is more likely to be involved in an accident that someone who only drives 5,000 miles,’ Haggarty explains. ‘In addition, many business drivers face more challenging conditions, for example, they are often subjected to long periods of driving in the dark, and are on the road more frequently when rapidly changing weather conditions occur, which can ultimately lead to more accidents. The collision rates are also influenced by the type of vehicle being driven, as larger commercial vehicles, often driven by fleets, will present far more challenging issues to a driver than a family hatchback.
‘Another factor to consider, and one that has frequently been argued, is that business drivers do not take as much care of the vehicle because they do not own it and consequently don’t have to pay for its upkeep and repair. However, we have found no evidence that this is the case, and of course, company vehicles tend to be newer and better maintained in line with legal requirements.’
Graham Hurdle disagrees: ‘A company car driver reverses his car into a post on a stressful Monday and has to explain that he has slightly dented the bumper to his boss. His boss tells him not to worry and to let the fleet manager know who will sort it out. That driver feels no personal “pain” from what has happened.
‘In the evening, that same driver takes his wife’s new car to the supermarket, and when he comes out of the store someone has opened their door and left a dent in the door. That driver is furious, concerned about how much it will cost, then has the hassle of dealing with the insurers, sorting out the repair and suffering the pain of the excess. It plays on his mind for days and he vows never to park too close to anyone again.
‘Many fleet managers will recognise these scenarios and nod in frustrated agreement that all too many drivers do not care enough for their company vehicles. At E-Training World we recommend companies adopt a zero tolerance to any type of vehicle damage, however small.’
John Davidge of Cardinus Risk Management, says: ‘Clearly there is an increasing desire for more thorough investigations into fatal or serious work-related collisions. More-enlightened employers have long-realised that actively encouraging safety and requiring higher standards from drivers leads to significant cost savings and a programme that pays for itself in many ways, and those business that do not understand the benefits and the advantages are missing out on opportunities.’
Sarah O'Sullivan, who runs NYK Group Europe’s fleet, doesn’t believe fleet drivers are dangerous as such. She says: ‘Overall, there are some pretty bad drivers around, but I also believe that employers are extremely aware of their duty of care towards company car drivers, in particular driving safety.
‘Many employers provide advanced driving courses, driver handbooks and so on in an endeavour to get their drivers to drive more safely and efficiently. And, the public can give feedback if they see a bad fleet driver by way of signs saying “am I driving well, if so call this number etc”.
‘I think fleet driver perception is improving overall, probably since the introduction of all the Duty of Care obligations. At least, I would like to think this is the case.’
Hurdle says: ‘Behaviour tends to change when it’s being watched. We also recommend engaging with many middle managers. Ensuring middle managers buy into the concept of zero tolerance, ask questions from their drivers as to how accidents happened, what had the driver been doing, and referring the issue formally to the fleet manager placing the driver under internal investigation, will have an important impact on the process of accident reduction.’