A dictionary definition of ‘experience’ is the process of gaining knowledge or skill by doing, feeling, or seeing things’ – which intimates that for us to be able to understand something we need to gain some level of exposure to it – with the best levels of ‘experience’ following on from in-depth exposure.  Consider:

  • In the winter months (say October through to March/April each year) there is a significant increase in the rates and severity of collisions – in some fleets it almost doubles.
  • 300,000 new car/van drivers pass their driving test each year.
  • Thus, almost a third of a million new drivers have not been involved in driving in any winter conditions yet (and probably more than that, with recent mild winters reducing the exposure levels).
  • In their first year of driving, most newcomers are much more likely to crash – that figure is additionally increased if the new driver is younger rather than more mature.
  • For so many newcomers the financial limitations on buying, insuring, running our ‘first car’ result in a driving exposure is limited to relatively short trips around the relatively well-known ‘home’ area, restricting further that ‘exposure to new skill or knowledge.  Understanding the real problems is very limited!

So we may well ask then, given that we seldom know anything about those who are in the vehicles behind or ahead of us on the road, on what basis do we judge the level of trust we should place in that driver’s skill, ability and awareness?  Can we fairly assume that the ‘other driver’ is at least as experienced as we are (whatever that level of ‘experience’ might be!).  Equally can we really assume that the newer members of our teams are as good as we or they think?

Driving particularly is one of those fields where the ‘experience’ includes developing the ‘feel’ of our vehicle – the development of a sense of knowledge and understanding of how the car behaves when it is braking, cornering or accelerating; and it takes some time to build up that internal ‘database’ of feelings.  Asked to describe ‘how do you know when a car is skidding’ a driver with a few tens of thousands more miles responded ‘When the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, certain parts of your body start twitching involuntarily and the car is starting to behave differently and not do what it normally would do’.  Very descriptive, and it accurately reflects the variation in ‘feelings’ – yet without a database of ‘normal’ the novice is likely to struggle to appreciate fully the absence of normal feelings, and the lack of appreciation of the early warnings is likely to lead to a crash.

It follows that for anyone being asked to drive on business there is a different level of risk exposure for the novice – yet for too many of us the feeling of invulnerability means that even we can ignore the unknown risks.  Even for the experienced driver, since we typically get into a state of ‘unconscious competence’ (where autopilot takes over and driving is a ‘by route’ activity) how can we understand the novice’s lack of awareness and understanding?  For example, how can a novice who has yet to drive in thick fog, appreciate the effects on vision and forward planning?  Our initial driver training is carried out largely in urban areas, where the new driver starts to build a sense of appreciation of how long he/she might need to stop the vehicle at urban speeds – but until that driver has been repeatedly exposed to open and much faster roads the realisation of the different stopping distances, and therefore the significance of greater forward vision, will compromise any safety margins.

In many fields ‘experience’ is gained by going through an event to develop the understanding of its finer points.  However, when that event is as significant as finding that you simply do not have the time to stop before crashing into the vehicle ahead, or running off the road into a field through excessive speed on a bend, can we afford to let that new driver be part of an expensive (and possibly life-threatening) collision to ‘learn the hard way’ and at company expense.

It is against that background that the wisdom of the health & safety legislation starts to make sense.  There is a simple logic in trying to pick out just what are the events that are likely to cause harm to people, to determine who is most likely to be affected by it, and to take some positive steps to eliminate, reduce or control the risks in some way.  It also follows that for self-protection there is a sound logic in documentary evidence of all steps that have been taken – if the worst happens, at least being able to show that the employer has attempted ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’ to mitigate the risk is more likely to lead to a better outcome in a court of law.  Driving in winter conditions is an increased risk that warrants extra steps.

Winter driving is an additional risk for all drivers.  That is especially so for those who are less prepared (and some drivers who might be seen as ‘experienced’ may in reality be much less prepared than you think!)  The smart employer recognises the value in preparing their drivers as best they can.

Do you tend to assume that drivers can cope adequately? Do you have plans for the new additions this year?  Who might still be at risk?

You can now assess your fleet risk free-of-charge with our online Fleet Audit. Answer a few questions about your fleet processes and receive a risk scored report with advice on what to do next for any areas where there is an opportunity to reduce your risk. For free access to the Fleet Audit click here

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