Lightfoot’s Tony Harbron asks if the industry should be focusing on engaging with drivers – rather than just finding ever-increasing ways to restrict and control them – to make a real, rapid and sustainable impact on accident rates.

We have several significant problems on our roads and in our fleets. Most significantly, and despite increased safety standards in our vehicles, there are still more than 22,000 deaths or serious injuries each year in the UK from road accidents. In addition, air pollution from our vehicles’ emissions is claimed to be responsible for 25,000 premature deaths each year. We are also wasting £billions because of unnecessarily poor fuel economy.

None of the above is going to be news to anyone working in the fleet sector and we know policy makers are very active in looking for solutions. However, the approach taken all too often seems to focus on more restrictions, more control or more monitoring of drivers. For example, stricter penalties have recently been introduced to deter people from using a handheld device behind the wheel to limit distraction, and we are all familiar with telematics devices which track and monitor increasing numbers of fleet drivers. The result of all this is that drivers are often positioned as the problem.

And if it is not the drivers getting the blame it is their vehicle or engine types. First, diesel was seen as the saviour and it’s now being condemned as the bad guy. Of course, the science is more nuanced than this but it’s little wonder consumers and fleet drivers alike are left feeling confused and unsure of how on earth they could make even a small difference to these ever-growing issues.

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Time for another approach?

Despite the stricter penalties and harsher punishments, road accidents are still far too common. And despite incentivising cleaner engines, much of the country resides within zones where the legal air pollution limit is breached to a dangerous extent. So, what can we do instead?

Well, it just so happens that there is something every one of us can do, and if we choose to, it could make a huge difference: the kind of difference, for example, that might mean our Government isn’t taken to court for breaching air pollution limits. It would also reduce accident rates and cut the amount of fuel we are wasting. What is this solution? In a word (or two) it’s smoother driving.

Driving in a smoother, steadier style can quickly reduce risk, lower emissions and cut waste. In other words, it is the common denominator that can simultaneously address all three of the major challenges we are discussing. What’s more, it works immediately and makes a difference in any vehicle type.

At the end of last year, NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) published a draft guideline about air pollution and suggested smoother driving could be a potential solution. However, the report struggled for any credible, practical suggestions in terms of how the widespread adoption of smoother driving styles could be facilitated. For example, their most eye-catching suggestion was to remove speed bumps because they cause drivers to accelerate and decelerate harshly.

So how can we take smooth driving mainstream?

Technology that helps to tackle issues around inefficient driving is vital. But, I believe it needs to fit around three key components to deliver the best results.

First, and perhaps most obviously, you need to be able to tell whether the vehicle is being driven efficiently or not. However, this information only illuminates the issues with inefficient driving; it does not solve it. That’s because the way we drive is a deeply ingrained habit and changing behaviour like this cannot be achieved by retrospective analysis – it needs to be addressed in real time.

The second key element to delivering change is meaningful, real-time feedback for the driver at the exact moment they need to adapt their driving style. We have found the human voice is extremely powerful and gives drivers a verbal nudge precisely when they start to leave their engine’s most efficient sweet spot. We have also learned that it pays to leave the driver in control – for example, a ‘three strikes’ approach is appropriate.

Getting these first two elements in place is hugely powerful and can help deliver significant benefits as drivers rapidly adjust their driving style for the better. However, it is the third element where we believe the real opportunity exists.

Drivers as the solution

The key? Driver engagement. Drivers can be the solution if we enable, recognise and reward them for good driving. Instead of backing them into a corner, restricting their freedom and demonstrating a lack of trust in them, we need to empower them, offering them the tools to change themselves and the incentives to make them want to. So, the third element to delivering real change is providing drivers with incentives to act as motivation, encouraging them to adopt and maintain a driving style that is better for the environment and less likely to lead to an accident.

For example, in February, we launched,a driver of the week scheme. This isthe first ever initiative to reward fleet drivers for driving well. Each week, every driver who meets their company KPIs is entered into a prize-draw, and the winner receives a prize, such as experiences like supercar track days, mini-breaks and gadgets.

But it doesn’t stop there. We are always working to expand our range of prizes on offer for our drivers, and have been lobbying the government, pitching our proposition that it makes perfect sense to provide safer, more efficient drivers with rewards such as reductions in congestion charges or Vehicle Excise Duty.

The bottom line is that we believe drivers should be seen as the solution rather than the problem. Let’s work with them, give them the right tools and make them want to do a better job by making it worth their while. And if this sounds a bit lovey-dovey, just consider the impact it can have. Leading insurers analysing fleets using the driver behaviour systems (based on these principles) are seeing their insurance claims drop by as much as 60%, alongside increased fuel economy, reductions in wear and tear and a lowering of harmful emissions. This is a win for everyone and the idea of working with drivers is a far more sustainable solution than ever- increasing attempts to control what they are doing.

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Tony Harbron is marketing director of Lightfoot and a regular speaker on the principles of reducing road risk by rewarding better driving. He used to run the marketing for Red Bull and now wants to make smooth driving the next big thing!

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