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How risky are your drivers?

By / 7 years ago / Features / No Comments

Bad reputation

It has been approximated that up to a third of all road traffic accidents in the UK involve somebody who is driving for work. The Department for Transport (DfT) estimates this may account for as many as 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries every week – a statistic the fleet industry is working hard to bring down. But could operators be doing more to make roads safer for their employees and the general public?

As is to be expected with such a litigious subject, there is a great deal of contradictory evidence about the cause of accidents. Some analysts argue that the statistics stem from reckless driving behaviour and poor management, while others maintain they are a tragic, but unavoidable, consequence of increased exposure to risk.

Higher average skill level

First, the good news. Research carried out by IAM Drive and Survive suggests that drivers who use a vehicle as part of their job are consistently involved in fewer serious accidents than drivers who use a vehicle for ordinary commuting purposes or in their own time, possibly due a higher average skill level resulting from many hours at the wheel.

According to IAM, KSI (killed or seriously injured) casualties for drivers who commute to/from work but do not drive for business were 30% higher in 2012 than for drivers who use a vehicle during the working day.

The number of KSIs involving business drivers also fell consistently every year from 2007 – despite an increase in the number of cars on the road.

Although evidence suggests KSI rates may be lower for business drivers, the number of overall incidents involving those driving for work is still worryingly high; ‘Company drivers who drive more than 80% of their annual mileage on work related journeys have more than 50% more accidents than similar drivers who do no work related mileage,’ reveals Helen Fisk at ALD Automotive.

But when you consider that, on average, business drivers cover around 20,000 miles a year (with van and professional drivers covering considerably more), compared to a private driver average of 10,000 miles, it brings these figures into perspective – the accident rate is elevated because exposure to risk is so much higher.

Pressure of deadlines

In a recent study conducted by MiX Telematics, a global provider of fleet and mobile asset management solutions, 63% of all drivers surveyed admitted to speeding while driving for work, with more than a third (34%) admitting to speeding every week.

Drivers overwhelmingly cited “pressure to meet schedules” as the main reason for speeding, with a number of respondents even admitted to taking risks on the road in order to meet deadlines.

As well as being an indicator of poor management and a lack of duty of care towards staff, it is claimed that employees who regularly break the law by speeding are an indicator of insufficient driver training policies. Drivers who are not coached are considerably more likely to be involved in an incident on the road, causing significant financial, legislative and human impact.

According to TomTom Business Solutions, 71% of UK companies do not provide regular training for drivers. Could more could be done by the industry to educate drivers about the risk factors involved?

Driver training

One of the greatest barriers to education is the sense of elitism some fleet drivers feel on the road – the idea that covering higher annual mileage somehow means they have more experience behind the wheel than the “average” driver and are less likely to be involved in a collision.

‘It is not that simple though – consider that one of the few things that humans do consistently is to make mistakes, and those business drivers are exposed to the mistakes of others for far longer and are therefore more likely to be involved in a crash,’ explains John Davidge, head of fleet technical at Cardinus Risk Management.

‘In truth, few drivers in the UK learn to drive – practically, they learn to pass a test. Learning to drive comes later as they start finding out how much they simply don’t know – often at an employer’s expense!’

As well as increasing their accident risk, drivers who have not been trained often incur a number of “knock-on” expenses including tyres and brakes needing to be replaced more often, more end-of-contract vehicle damage and more speeding fine.

‘Manufacturers spend huge amounts of time and money designing much more efficient vehicles, but so much of the possible improvements are wasted if the driver cannot match the technology of his vehicle – education and understanding is the key,’ concluded Davidge.

Corporate responsibility

Despite the serious implications that a road accident involving an employee can have, many fleet managers are worryingly unaware of the scope of what constitutes death by dangerous driving and the penalties the offence can carry.

So says Allianz Commercial, who recently launched a White Paper document aimed at educating corporations about the importance of their staff being alert and law-abiding while driving for business.

Under sentencing guidelines, a driver can face up to 14 years behind bars for death by dangerous driving. A survey carried out in conjunction with the White Paper revealed that not only did 46% of fleet managers and company car drivers not know what legally constitutes dangerous driving, over 50% said they did not know the penalties for this offence.

Lili Oliver, head of motor prosecutions at DAC Beachcroft – with whom the White Paper document was co-ordinated, explains: ‘It is crucial that drivers understand that criminal law will hold them responsible for the decisions they make behind the wheel. It is particularly true when using electronic equipment which has a potential to distract them and affect their driving because court considers this as increasing the culpability and the severity of any driving offence.’

Oliver added that death by dangerous or careless driving offences face one the highest rates of conviction by trial by jury, second only to child offences.

Reputational damage

The report also highlighted that only 16% of fleet managers are aware of the business implications if an employee was involved in an accident.

These could include investigation into working hours and conditions to determine corporate liability for the incident; encouraging sales people to take calls while driving between meetings, for example. Organisations risk reputational damage, an investigation by Health and Safety Executive and, potentially, a charge of corporate manslaughter if judges rule that poor management had a hand in the cause of an incident.

Speaking about the findings, Jonathan Dye, head of motor at Allianz Commercial, says: ‘Over the last few years we have seen a clamp down on dangerous and careless driving and the introduction of harsh new penalties.

‘What our report highlights is the lack of awareness of the changes amongst fleet managers and business owners. For that reason, fleet managers must properly educate drivers and ensure they have procedures in place to protect not only those individuals but also members of the public and other road users.’

Legal support

According to TomTom Business Solutions, 39% of companies do not have systems or procedures in place to manage driver fatigue, and almost a quarter admit that they are not fully aware of their exact requirements for managing road risk.

This leaves corporations open to the threat of legal action in the event of an incident involving an employee, as well as putting drivers at risk when out on the road.

Richard Hill at AA DriveTech adds: ‘The annual risk of dying in a road accident while driving for business reasons is significantly greater than the risk of dying as a result of all other workplace accidents, and as such it is imperative that driver safety is taken seriously.’

There are an estimated three million company cars on the roads and roughly one in three will be involved in an accident each year.

It is therefore imperative that employees are supported in the event of a collision – and Allianz advises that companies provide an emergency contact point, either within the organisation or through an insurer. Having legal advice is not admission of fault, but support from an experienced solicitor can make a significant difference to the outcome of an incident, both for the driver in question and their employer.

Surveillance

While it is important to have procedures in place to support drivers if the worst should happen, telematics and surveillance technologies can help to ensure things never get that far.

Only 36% of businesses polled by TomTom monitor driver performance as a means of assessing and reducing risk, with less than a quarter of those (22%) using technology to do so.

‘Duty of Care can often be viewed as a complex issue but that does not need to be the case, especially given the variety of tools available to identify and manage risk factors,’ explains Giles Margerison, sales director at TomTom Business Solutions.

‘Fleet management technology, for example, provides access to a wealth of actionable data which allows management to quickly identify areas of risk and take action to implement best practice.’

Technologies designed to monitor driver behaviour are offered by a multitude of risk management specialists, and are either hardwired into the cab or moved between vehicles as a portable device. These systems monitor a range of factors to build up an accurate picture of a drivers’ behaviour behind the wheel, and are designed to help drivers improve their driving style, fuel efficiency and, crucially, safety behind the wheel.

Using the telematics data gathered from these systems, fleet managers can pinpoint the drivers most at risk of being involved in a collision, perhaps due to their penchant for speeding or late braking, and arrange for driver training sessions to lower the exposure to risk.

Will cars save more lives than training in the future?

Since traffic accidents are overwhelmingly a result of human error – as much as 90% according to some estimates, autonomous safety features have logically become a R&D focus for automotive engineers.

Manufacturers have produced a raft of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) programmed to monitor driver activity; including Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Warning Systems, Road Sign Recognition and even autonomous parking – all designed to reduce the potential for human error and support motorists in the event of an incident.

Building trust in autonomous technologies is a challenge, however. According to KPMG’s 2012 report – “Self driving cars: The next revolution”, when Antilock Braking Systems (ABS) were first introduced, negative publicity and poor consumer education delayed mass-market adoption. Similarly, when Electronic Stability Control (ESC) systems were rolled out, consumers did not fully understand how to make use of the technology. On the road, however, these systems delivered a clear, quantifiable reduction in fatalities.

In its 2009 analysis of the effectiveness of vehicle safety features, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that four-wheel ABS and ESC reduced passenger car collisions by an average of 14%. Run-off road collisions fell by 44%, and culpable involvement with other vehicles fell by 28% for cars using the safety features.

Once consumers understood how these systems worked, widespread adoption of ABS and more effective use of ESC followed.

The Safe Road Trains for the Environment project (SARTRE), led by Ricardo UK Ltd and funded by the European Commission, aims to take things even further, offering a vision of autonomously driven vehicles linked up to “driving trains”. Whilst the proposal sounds futuristic, SARTRE claims these systems could be ready to launch on European roads within five years.

The “driving trains” would involve a professional driver leading a vehicle platoon, for instance in a truck. All the following vehicles would be driven autonomously at speeds of up to 60mph – in some cases with no more than a four-metre gap between them – thanks to a blend of present and new technology. This would result in the near eradication of the risk of human error, it is claimed, and allow employees to conduct business conversations or catch up with emails behind the wheel in a safe and risk-free environment.

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Katie Beck

Katie joined Fleet World in 2012 as an editorial intern, following the completion of an English and American Literature BA from the University of East Anglia. She accepted a full-time position as an editorial assistant at the end of the internship period, and was promoted to the role of features editor in 2014. She works across the magazine and website portfolio, and administrates the social media channels.