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Improving the Road Safety of Goods Vehicles: What can Employers do?

Scania HGV truck on the road at night with headlights on

The statistics relating to road accidents are frightening. According to the charity Brake, 1.3 million people die each year on the World’s roads. The annual cost of at work road crashes in the UK is estimated at £2.7 billion. If you are operating Heavy Goods Vehicles, or even a few vans for local deliveries, safe and careful driving should be the top priority.

In both of my books, I look at ways to reduce accidents on the roads. Let us look at some of the steps which can be taken.

Recruitment and Training

The first step is to make safety an important part of the selection process. When recruiting, assess attitudes to safe driving, either through structured interviews or psychometric testing.  Take up references, making sure that you ask relevant questions, and obtain a health declaration from all candidates. If someone has a poor accident record, they are not the right driver for the job.

Instil a road safety culture throughout the organization. This applies equally to everyone, whether the Sales Director is visiting a potential customer or an artic driver is delivering to a supermarket RDC. Posters and intranet messages can help, but word of mouth is the most important communication method. Prepare a Drivers’ Handbook and update it regularly. It should include all relevant information from legal requirements to instructions for serving particular customers. 

Before they start actively working, give suitable training to new drivers as part of their induction. 

Driver Monitoring

There are lots of very good optional extras to improve vehicle safety, but in my opinion the most useful is telematics, which allow the real time transmission and monitoring of vehicle-related data, especially that relating to driver behaviour. Typically, data is transmitted to the vehicle’s home base or head office. This is then used to generate reports which permit a clear and easy analysis. Bad driving habits such as speeding, or harsh acceleration, braking and cornering, can be identified. The driver may be given instant feedback, with an alarm indicating that an event such as harsh braking has just been detected; or more commonly periodic reports are generated for each driver. Some systems use this data to give each driver a “Driving Score” which is an easily understood indication of the standard of driving for each driver.  Hints and tips can be provided to enable a driver to improve. Some systems also include technology for detecting collisions – combined with camera systems this can be highly beneficial. It is estimated that the cost of installing such systems is on average recouped within a year.

Driver health should also be monitored, for example by insisting on eye tests every two years.  Encourage drivers to report and seek treatment for health problems that affect driving (such as sleep apnoea), and support them, if necessary, with alternative duties, whilst they do. A policy which results in immediate dismissal will most likely result in their continued driving despite the dangers. A firm but fair and constructive drug and alcohol policy is also important.

Fatigue

Falling asleep at the wheel is one of the most dangerous things a driver can do. It causes no less than 16% of road accidents, and this does not include those caused by the slowing of reactions due to tiredness.

Perhaps the most obvious step is to enforce drivers’ hours regulations: get tachographs analyzed and follow up with drivers. In the UK, a lot of employers do not even know that there are legal limits on driving hours for van drivers, as well as for HGVs. Even where this is not the case, don’t encourage excessive driving. Do your managers arrive home at 10pm completely exhausted?

Adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking before night driving – one drink might not put a driver over the legal limit but it will make them more likely to fall asleep. Also think about medication, for example some night-time cold remedies cause drowsiness. Consult a doctor or pharmacist if in doubt.  

Make sure that a comfortable bunk is available for drivers away from base overnight. You might save a few pounds by specifying a narrow bunk or thin mattress but this is a very poor way to treat your drivers.

Finally, give advice on sleeping at home for shift workers. Being woken by light coming through thin curtains, a partner hoovering the other bedrooms or kids excitedly jumping on a sleeping parent when they get home from school will not help.

Distraction

It goes without saying that any driver must give full attention to the road. That can be difficult enough, but there is no need to make it harder still by causing unnecessary distractions.

For example, the use of hands-off phones might still be legal in some countries, but they are a serious distraction. Drivers should always pull over before using a phone, especially if they have to use an app e.g., for managing proofs of delivery.

Unauthorized passengers should be banned: indeed they are not covered by many insurance policies. This should include family members – I have known young children to wander unaccompanied around transport yards, and have never understood why any parent would let them do this. If passengers have to be carried, such as a driver’s mate, make sure they don’t distract the driver: a heated argument about politics or football will not aid concentration.

Eating, drinking, shaving, applying lipstick or make-up and smoking have no place at the wheel.

Finally, road rage. This is one of the most difficult aspects to manage – most people have encountered drivers who are bad enough to make them angry. My best advice to pass on to drivers is to take the moral high ground – don’t sound your horn, don’t swear or make gestures, and most certainly don’t drive deliberately badly, cutting up another vehicle or blocking a lane. Ignore such behaviour from other drivers, and if necessary slow down to allow them to speed off ahead and get out of your life forever.  

Safety isn’t the responsibility of individuals

Let us not forget that road safety is not all down to the driver. Traffic Supervisors should route vehicles effectively; sales personnel should not make unrealistic promises to customers; finance should not impose unrealistic productivity targets which can only be met by driving dangerously fast; and senior management should play their part by instilling a safety culture.

In short, reducing accidents does not just concern the driver – it concerns everybody.

Make sure your company does not add to those million annual deaths.