Companies and fleet operators need to put driver safety front and centre through a robust proactive programme to improve driver behaviour says Emma Loveday, Senior Fleet Consultant at Volkswagen Financial Services.
There are more vehicles on the road than ever, and a huge number of those are being driven every day for businesses. However, driver safety and occupational road risk are sometimes overlooked, or not fully understood by companies, despite ‘driving’ being statistically the most dangerous work activity that employees undertake. If something goes wrong, the potential consequences can be devastating. As well as the risk to human life, road collisions can significantly impact the cost of managing a vehicle fleet, and negatively affect an organisations brand reputation.
The role fleets play on the road
There are more than 40 million cars and vans on the road in the United Kingdom. Around 14%, or five and a half million of these are registered to a company, and more than half (55.3%) of cars and vans registered for the first time in 2021 had a company keeper.
According to National Highways, nearly a third of road fatalities involve someone who is driving for work.
Businesses have a vast number of vehicles on our roads every day and employers have a duty of care to manage and mitigate the risks of driving for work purposes. In neglecting to ensure their drivers are legal and competent to drive and remain safe while undertaking work-related journeys, companies are opening themselves up to significant liabilities as well as failing their employees.
What could go wrong?
The potential consequences of failing to ensure your drivers are safe and competent on the road are significant and serious. Not only are you failing your workers morally, but there are legal and financial implications and your organisation’s reputation is at stake.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have the same duty to manage workers’ risk at the wheel as they do during any workplace activity. This doesn’t just mean making sure that your fleet vehicles are safe and suitably maintained, it means ensuring drivers have the proper training, are competent, as well as being fit and healthy to drive. The Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act 2007 means that an unlimited fine could be imposed upon organisations who fail to meet this duty of care requirement, and senior managers and directors could face prison if an employer is found negligent.
Injury to your driver, or other road users, or in the worst case, fatality, is the most significant risk. Vehicle collisions and not putting driver health and safety first has a financial impact as well. The cost of vehicle repairs and downtime, increased insurance premiums and employee absence can mount up and hit the bottom line.
A safe driver is also an economical and environmental driver. By managing driver risk, we cannot only prevent collisions but also reduce vehicle wear and tear. More responsible driving behaviour can prolong the life of brake pads and clutches, extend the life of your vehicles and increase their reliability. Encouraging drivers to avoid harsh acceleration or braking can also reduce fuel consumption, with fuel still one of the biggest expenditures for fleets.
Given the potential consequences, it’s vital you ensure anyone who drives on business is competent to do so. This means actively taking steps to educate, support and train them if necessary, and ensure they have adequate knowledge and skills to carry out the required driving activity.
Establishing driver ability
Maintaining vehicles and certifying they are safe to drive is the easy part. Ensuring the people who are driving them are doing so safely is a very different challenge.
The best starting point is establishing driver ability and what your areas of concern are. Checking driver licenses is the most basic requirement, but there’s a huge difference between passing a driving test and being a safe and competent driver. According to research from VWFS, only half (53%) of over 45s believe they would pass their driving test if they had to retake it, and over time drivers experience skill fade and tend to pick up bad habits.
Anyone driving for your business should be made aware of your Driving for Work policies and procedures and be regularly reminded of these. Set expectations on how your drivers should conduct themselves when out on the road in your company vehicle and the attitude they should demonstrate towards road and driver safety.
Carrying out a risk assessment to assess drivers’ skills, knowledge, attitudes and experience can shine a light on any potential risks or areas of concern. You may find you have a range of different driving attitudes and experiences within your workforce. You can also use telematics data to identify unwanted driver behaviour such as harsh braking or acceleration. Being armed with this knowledge means you can make sure your driver risk management programme is tailored to your business and driver needs.
Keeping drivers safe
It’s important to be proactive when creating a driver risk management programme. The aim should be to prevent vehicle collisions in the first place through education and training. Of course, incidents can still happen and if they do, you should be identifying the root cause and giving support such as training to address this following the event.
To be truly effective and have a real impact on driver behaviour, your driver programme needs to go beyond a compliance tick box exercise. Make sure it’s engaging, relevant and gets the attention it deserves from your drivers. Putting in place a robust and consistent programme and communicating it effectively throughout the organisation with a top-down commitment, will help its success and make a difference.
There are a number of solutions which can be incorporated, from education e-learning, training workshops and webinars through to in-depth on-the-road coaching. While the cost of training can be dismissed as an unnecessary overhead, particularly in smaller businesses, it’s absolutely crucial in meeting your duty-of-care requirements.
The grey fleet
Beyond workers that use company vehicles for business, fleet operators must also consider the safety of employees using their own vehicles for work-related journeys—typically called ‘the grey fleet’. Vehicles used by employees under cash allowance schemes are also considered grey fleet.
The grey fleet is still subject to the same duty-of-care requirements of a company vehicle and its drivers, including vehicle and license checks and driver safety education. Legally, there is no difference when considering driver safety and occupational road risk for your grey fleet, and it carries the same consequences if a vehicle incident were to happen. When implementing a driver risk management programme, consider how you can extend this to your grey fleet.
In conclusion, any business with employees who drive for work should prioritise driver risk management. The potential consequences, be it legal, financial, reputational, or social, are too significant for driver safety to fall down the agenda. VWFS can provide expert advice and consultation on how to best manage this vital area of fleet operations for your business.
Emma Loveday is senior fleet consultant at Volkswagen Financial Services, with more than 10 years’ experience both in fleet management operations and consultancy for a range of public sector and private organisations. She is the Deputy Chair of The Association of Fleet Professionals Risk and Compliance committee.