How much can you remember from the days when you first passed your driving test?   Chances are you breathed a sigh of relief when the examiner told you to turn the engine off, followed by a feeling of elation and excitement as he delivered the good news. As a newly qualified driver you were free to go anywhere with little restriction.

But then reality set in as you realised that there was nobody keeping an eye out for you, no-one to act as a back-up for what you might not have seen, and no extra advice for those ‘unexpected’ situations that had not been experienced during the lessons.  The first drive in the hours of darkness, the first trip in heavy rain or fog, the first exciting venture into unknown territory (probably without satnav), to say nothing of driving a different vehicle to the one used in your driving lessons.

It is not surprising that some examiners tell new drivers “now that you have passed the test, you are safe enough to allow out on your own and to really learn to drive.” Small wonder that the majority of new drivers have little idea of what was really meant by that very significant piece of advice.

Driving a motor vehicle on a road is by far the most dangerous activity that many of us will ever do. So much of our daily lives revolve around our ability to drive, we so easily forget the mistakes, the challenges, the near-misses that most of us experience along the way and survive to tell the tale. Others have not been so lucky.

As soon as variables are added to the basic journey, the chances of collision and injury are increased significantly. Bigger, heavier and faster vehicles; unfamiliar areas; time pressures; fatigue from longer trips or longer days at work are just some of the possibilities, and combining these sort of risks just multiplies the possible outcomes.  Given the opportunities to be let loose on the roads in a strange and faster car, inexperienced drivers will often say ‘of course I can do that’ whilst under the breath adding ‘I hope…’

As a new driver you are entitled to tow some trailers which may be quite sizeable with no additional training. Stopping on a hill, emerging from a busy junction or reversing for the first time in congested conditions presents unforeseen dangers to the inexperienced driver.  With no additional training how will a driver (especially a new driver) understand the pre-drive checks that should be carried out on a trailer?

Wearing your ‘health and safety hat you would never consider allowing an untrained teenager to experiment with a chainsaw or let an apprentice plumber fix a gas leak.  Such risks are apparent, so why do we see driving in such a different way?

When discussing the driving risks with managers who are responsible for allocating vehicles to staff for business use it is not uncommon to hear “he has passed his test, he has the licence to drive that vehicle”. This attitude is exactly why the Health & Safety Executive’s leaflet on Managing Work-Related Road Safety (INDG382) emphasises that ‘Simply holding a driving licence is not enough’ underlining the expectation that we need to do more to understand fully the risks, to identify who might be harmed, and to take action to minimise the risks to the employee, the public and the organisation.

When a driver is involved in a collision where somebody else is seriously injured or worse, as he/she is at the scene reflecting on the severity of the events and the unfolding tragedy around him/her, it is a natural human trait for that driver to start looking for factors to mitigate their actions:

  • It wasn’t my fault. (typically the first response in many collisions, but does that mean it is OK to crash?)
  • I had never driven that vehicle before.
  • It was too heavy and I couldn’t stop.
  • I’m not used to driving a van.
  • I didn’t load it; someone else did so I just had to drive it.

There are many more variables that we could use but I’m sure you get the idea.  So if the driver is seeking to deflect the blame away from himself towards A.N.Other who might be next in line for investigating officers to question to understand how the collision occurred?

The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations, and the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations apply just as much to driving as they do to any other area of risk at work. There’s a clearly defined responsibility to:

  • Identify areas of risk (with around 150 deaths in the workplace compared with around 600 deaths on the road involving business drivers annually in UK, driving IS clearly a risk).
  • Assess who might be harmed and how.
  • Seek to mitigate those risks (not letting unknown, or untrained & inexperienced drivers to drive for example).
  • Look closely at the common collisions and identify who it is that crashes, how those crashes happen, and what can be done to change events.  Many collisions are repetitive common events with some predictable sequences – a driver repeatedly hit from behind for example could well be unwittingly starting a sequence of events that pre-empt the crash.
  • Just as an untrained teenager with a chainsaw is at risk, so is an inexperienced driver with a fully laden vehicle in a hilly terrain – both need training to help them understand and control the risks.

Managing risks in the workplace needs a systematic and thorough approach. Every fatality is likely to lead to some searching questions to ascertain why it happened and what could or should have been done to prevent it.  It follows that on-road risks for businesses must be dealt with in just the same way to prevent collisions and injuries.

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