The Insider: Driven to distraction
Investing in safety tech is useless without driver eduction, reckons The Insider.
It doesn’t seem to matter how much safety-related kit is installed in new cars, we continue to suffer from careless accident damage. It costs us many thousands of pounds each year, all of which could be much better used investing in new business lines. Even though our fleet policy allows us to take a significant deduction from salary for all incidents where there is no known third party, we still collect two or three each month. And of course, the amount collected is nothing compared with the repair damage and associated hire car costs paid out. The exasperating fact is that our overall safety record is actually quite good, with very few major claims, and the regular knocks and bumps are mainly niggling irritations which shouldn’t be happening.
Cars come fitted with systems which brake when they detect the car in front is too close, avoid unwanted lane changes, give us night vision and make headlights work around corners. We can insist on parking sensors being fitted to all our company vehicles. All of this should help reduce accidents to a minimum, but only if the driver is concentrating.
Our latest fleet policy update is that everyone must now reverse into car parking spaces. We had a couple of near misses on site, one of which I was unfortunate enough to witness but from a distance where I was powerless to stop it, which scared me witless at the time. A member of staff, who later admitted she was in a hurry, reversed out of a space without checking her surroundings thoroughly, just as another employee walked behind the car. Had one reverse parked, and the other stuck to the pavement, both of which were common sense, the incident wouldn’t have happened; but neither was concentrating.
As part of my work role I sit on our Health and Safety Committee. As I walked around Head Office the other day, it struck me how many signs we had saying things like “walk, don’t run” and “caution – hot drinks”. These will have been appropriately placed following a reported near miss. Yet many near misses are the result of a person not taking responsibility for their own wellbeing in the first place. They simply were not concentrating on the task at hand.
And it’s the same in the vehicle. All these safety-related extras we may specify can’t prevent damage, or an accident, if the person who should be controlling the vehicle isn’t paying sufficient attention, if they are distracted. Driving seems to be viewed as something incidental which everyone does in an effort to get where they should have been ten minutes earlier. It’s an inconvenience and so that time must be doubled up to do other things at the same time – phoning, texting, whatever. A well known fleet personality starts his presentation, aimed at van fleets, by asking “what do you do for a living?” Invariably the answer is “I’m a plumber” or “I’m a florist” but never “I’m a driver”. Driving, as an activity, isn’t seen as a primary part of the employee’s role, even in his or her own mind.
Perhaps we need to spend more time educating the driver, rather than simply providing them with the correct tools for the job? And that won’t be the odd bit of training here and there. It will have to be a constant drip feed of information repeated over and over because people have short memories. Maybe our company induction process will include a vehicle handover which includes tuition on the additional safety features on the car supplied. Remember when the popular view was that ABS braking meant you could brake later? We might budget for an advanced driving course, at the least a handful of e-learning modules. In subsequent months we could incorporate driving safety as regular subject matter within team meetings.
I’ve come to the conclusion that although we may provide a car to the ultimate safe specification, until we start to promote the importance of driving as a work activity, we are largely wasting our money.