What is really needed is not new technology but more and better training that’s relevant to the driver’s working environment, says fleet expert John Davidge.
In the age of electronics, where a variety of telematics devices both simple and complex are making greater inroads into the market, where increasingly complex camera options are being deployed and where the ever-increasing desire for a quick-fix technical solution is seen as the way forwards, it is so often seen that the traditional in-vehicle (behind the wheel) driver training is no longer required.
It’s ‘old hat’, it is seen as ‘so last year’. ‘There must be a new way, a better way…’
But to dismiss the tried and trusted practical training is completely missing the point. Consider for a moment:
- Almost every driver is convinced that he (or she) always leaves an adequate following distance when driving. Yet the frequency of rear-end shunt collisions in so many claims histories confirms that is not always the case.
- Drivers will tells us that their overall ‘observation and planning’ is good – but the number of times that they hit or reverse into obvious fixed objects, or fail to see clearly visible speed cameras tells a very different story.
A collision (and insurance claim) analysis for a large client reveals that 800 out of 1335 collisions in just one year related to parking, reversing, low-speed manoeuvring collisions. A wide variety of telematics systems exist – but there is yet no telematics system in the world that will make a difference when the root cause of the collision pattern stems from the driver’s (lack of) observation and awareness skills, and where an obvious failing in awareness and planning is the real problem.
For years the UK driving test has required drivers to undertake certain fixed low-speed manoeuvres to assess the ability of the novice’s finer control skills – learner instructors usually cover adequately at best the novice’s ability to get by in just those ‘test’ scenarios – while failing to address the rationale behind the decision process on where to park, why and how, which is far more important.
If we look at the abilities of van drivers this scenario is aggravated by a driving test that completely ignores the different consciousness that a van driver needs daily – reversing alone is hugely compromised by visibility issues, and the significant visibility of another vehicle which is travelling alongside the van in its blind-spot routinely contributes to lane-changing collisions .
This is never covered effectively in learner training – and why would it be when the car driver just seeks a licence to get on the road in a small runabout. So why should we be surprised when the novice in a van takes a swift crash course (no doubt having asserted to his employer ‘of course I have driven vans before – loads of times’). Should we really take his word for it? Perhaps this is why legislation expects the employer to undertake a ‘suitable and sufficient risk assessment.’
What that really means is ‘so you have driven vans before – can you show me what you can do?’ Let’s take this van out for a short drive.
Over the years your drivers have been conditioned by insurers to believe that if somebody runs into the back of your vehicle, it ‘wasn’t their fault’. However when a driver has several ‘hit from behind’ collisions, shouldn’t we ask the question ‘who is the common denominator here’? Of course it is assumed that the following driver’s insurance ought to be picking up the tab for repairs – but what about the other, less defined hidden costs? The missed sales, the failed deliveries, the rising insurance premiums etc.?
Fitting forward-facing in-vehicle cameras might help you understand why a driver collided with the vehicle ahead – but how much will it tell you about what your driver was doing just before the crash from behind happened. A crash might be the trigger to review footage to analyse the lead-up, but will it tell you how many times a driver makes those common errors and by luck alone, ‘just got away with it.’
Yet taking the time to help the driver to understand the common mistakes that lead to collisions can make all the difference.
Without question the basic ethos behind all health and safety training is to carefully identify the risks – and actively do something to mitigate that risk.
The burden of proof – “how will we know that we have done enough?”
At this point there is another aspect you might not have considered. When a driver is to be taken before a court for careless driving, for example (a common charge) and many minor transgressions, the onus is on the prosecution to provide proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ of the driver’s failings in order for the case to be found guilty. All it takes is for a defendant (or his representatives) to convince the court of some element of ‘doubt’ for the case to be dismissed.
Health and safety legislation is very cleverly worded in a different way. The requirement that the employer ‘shall so far as is reasonably practicable, ensure the safety, health and well-being of others’ means that as soon as there is death or serious injury resulting from the employers activities or lack of them, because the death or injury has actually occurred, the employer now has to argue convincingly to the court as to the actions that he/she took to ensure the safety, and to persuade the court why their actions were good enough – despite the outcomes. There is an automatic inference that “whatever you did was not enough – because death/injury actually occurred”, which is obviously an uphill struggle.
It is never enough to say that ‘this driver has never had a crash before’ and even the Health and Safety Executive guidance leaflets state clearly ‘merely holding a driving licence is not enough.’
Driving lessons and the driving test earn a driver a basic licence to drive, and nothing more – there is simply no good substitute for on-road in-vehicle training where expert trainers can enlighten drivers and help them avoid common simple repetitive collisions with sound advice. Driving to pass a test, and driving to avoid common collisions in theory should be the same but in practise are worlds apart!
Do you really know what your three most common collisions are? And do you understand the regular failings behind those patterns? Once we start to educate drivers to know why these events keep happening and what not to do, you’ll see a change in collision stories.
The reason why on-road training for business drivers is still offered is simple.
It still works – and is still very relevant!
This article features in our recently released magazine Cardinus Connect. You can download it at the link above.
This article was written by Head of Technical Fleet, John Davidge. You can find him on LinkedIn here.