Make sure any drivers from abroad in your business are trained to deal with the peculiarities of driving in Britain.

The European Commission recently released European road safety statistics for 2014. On the face of it, the figures show that British drivers are among the safest in the EU, along with Sweden.

UK road deaths have been steadily falling for a good number of years and having reached a very low level in proportion to our growing population, the numbers are levelling out. The original EU countries seem to fare well, whilst some of the newer EU countries are prominent near the top of the tables.

Every single road death represents a huge tragedy for the family concerned and whilst the rate of deaths is improving overall, there are some exceptions. In Latvia and Lithuania fatalities fell from 2010 levels only to rise again over the last year and both of these countries have totals three times higher than UK figures.

You might ask why this should be the case. These Baltic states tend to be much less densely populated than some parts of the UK so perhaps the relative absence of other tra­ffic leads to some drivers taking chances that would be less likely here. It could also reflect a driving style where cultural differences in those countries come into play.

The absence of very large cities like Manchester, Birmingham or Leeds results in drivers being less experienced in UK-style city tra­ffic. And on rural roads in some of the former communist countries, drivers do not enjoy the consistently high standards of road layout and surfaces that we take for granted here in the UK, leading to slower rural driving abroad in some places.

It has to be said that good conditions in the UK result in relatively positive and decisive driving styles. This is great when other drivers ‘fit in’ with that style but for an overseas driver, taking to the roads in the UK for the first time the experience will be very strange. Other road users may not be prepared for the mistakes and inexperience shown by drivers from abroad.

Roundabouts especially will be a challenge for the newcomer since much of Europe doesn’t have the complex and varied layout of roundabouts that we have. The ‘magic roundabouts’ that we have in some towns (a cluster of inter-linked mini-roundabouts) are confusing to our native drivers for the first few times but present significant additional challenges for visitors with relatively little experience of simple roundabouts.

One large UK roundabout I have in mind has six exits, two of which are motorway exits, with the remainder all relatively major roads with a major international airport within minutes; the roundabout varies between two and five lanes wide and most of the exits are traffic light controlled. The traffic varies between very heavy in peak periods and very fast otherwise. All of this is very challenging for the unwary.

Against this background it seems bizarre to think that a driving licence issued as a result of passing a driving test in any EU country is valid for the life of that licence across the EU. It strongly underlines the principle that merely holding a valid licence is definitely not a testament to the ability of the holder to drive safely in any country.

In the first few weeks and months here in the UK, the risk of such a driver being involved in a collision is substantial – although most such collisions are likely to be relatively minor, the costs of vehicle repairs is not. A driver coming from such a driving background may even not recognise or admit to knowing the risks.

It is quite possible that a driver may judge his or her skill levels as very good on the basis of their ability to drive in rural Greece. But in central Manchester there is simply no relevance.

There’s a clear link here to the principles of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which require employers ‘to take account of their employees’ capabilities’ before entrusting them with tasks, and to ‘provide adequate health and safety training’.

It is clearly accepted both in legislation and in practice that driving on business in itself skills needed for a newcomer to the UK to be able to drive safely. In the event of a collision resulting in serious injury or worse, the decision not to invest in training for the new driver could be a decision to be regretted in the ensuing investigation and could lead to a prosecution where a failure to take account of the obvious risks is identifiable.

Even taking on a new driver in the UK has its risks. Learning to drive in quiet rural Lincolnshire simply does not prepare a driver for the complexity and activity in Bristol peak period traffic. Carrying out a ‘suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks’ followed by, where appropriate, ‘providing adequate health and safety training’ not only minimises the risks to the employer, it also sets a clear message for the new starter as to this company’s safety expectations from the outset at a time when the new employee is at their most compliant and keen to impress.

Driving is a clear risk. Managing that driving risk effectively is a key part of any business’s strategy for safety and for protection. Any professional and ethical business will want to take good care of all its employees whilst on the road.

In-vehicle driver training is universally recognised as the single most effective way to reduce driver related incidents especially with drivers new to the UK. Cardinus in-vehicle UK Familiarization training will help your foreign drivers gain an understanding of the rules and habits that they will encounter on UK roads. Call 020 7469 0200 or email [email protected] for more information.

This is one of the many interesting articles from the summer edition of the Cardinus Connect magazine which brings together contributions from fleet,safety and risk management experts. If you haven’t already done so, request your free copy here.

You can now also assess your fleet risk free-of-charge with our quick and easy to use online Fleet Audit which provides guidance on the management of employees who drive on company business, and the vehicles they drive. It covers all aspects of fleet risk management and may include areas of risk you haven’t considered.

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