Driver training is integral to operating a safe and efficient fleet, but when should it be carried out? Ben Rooth finds out the key intervention points
It’s worth striking while the iron is hot, according to Tony Greenidge, business development director at IAM Roadsmart. “Established employees may grow less receptive to the suggestion of driver training as time moves on, seeing it as a form of criticism or an intervention.”
Providing training to new employees ensures each driver has a good understanding of road traffic law, as well as a competence and understanding of safe driving practice.
It also ensures they buy-in to the road safety culture of their new employer.
Indeed, employees who will be spending a large proportion of their time on the road, such as delivery drivers, should be tested before they are even offered the job.
“Our key recommendation is that new employees who will be engaged in training – either in company or grey fleet vehicles – should be made aware of the importance that their organisation places on safety at work and their duty of care to employees,” says Colin Paterson, head of marketing at DriveTech, part of The AA.
Training could also be triggered when an employee returns to work after long-term sickness, maternity leave or when they change roles.
“The aim for any new or returning employee is to understand if they possess the required level of driving ability,” says Andy Phillips, a director at Applied Driving Techniques.
“This can be achieved through an assessment, either online prior to starting or in-vehicle during the first week to ensure someone meets the necessary standards.
“There is also a requirement to educate any new starter on driving-related procedures – such as stress and fatigue policies, pre-journey vehicle checks and mobile phone usage – as well as gain buy-in to the organisation’s safety culture.”
A classroom-based induction course may also be required to communicate the corporate culture, support and processes, he adds.
Overseas drivers who are unfamiliar with UK roads may require specialised familiarisation training which should be based on their country of origin and cover rules, regulations and cultural differences.
Greenidge says familiarisation courses are “the most important training” for fleets.
“There have been too many grave headlines following incidents involving drivers unfamiliar with British roads,” he adds.
“The human cost can be very serious, as can the reputational damage to the employer, if they are found to have failed in their duty of care.”
Providing training after a driver has been involved in a collision has many benefits.
As well as addressing an issue which may have caused the incident, making it less likely that a similar collision will happen again, it can also prepare the employee for a return to driving duties if the collision has left them shaken.
But, before any post-collision training takes place, a debrief with the driver should be held to establish the cause of the incident.
“There can be a wide range of contributing factors – such as stress, fatigue, lack of skills – which need to be understood and addressed,” says Phillips.
“It is important to look beyond simply behavioural reasons and see if there are any cultural reasons for a situation occurring.
“Any training should reaffirm the safety culture and empower staff to challenge dangerous working practices and pressures.”
He adds: “Rebuilding someone’s confidence following a serious shunt, for example, will need a different approach to a low-speed collision as a result of poor concentration.”
Kelly Communications has a well-established process if one of its drivers is involved in a serious at-fault collision.
“They do not get back into that vehicle until one of my trainers has seen them, sat down with them, explained what could have been done to prevent that incident and what we are looking for to ensure that accident doesn’t happen again,” says Clare Cain, group insurance/risk manager at Kelly.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for a member of staff to be handed the keys to a new car or van and told to get on the road without first being familiarised with their new vehicle’s size, handling characteristics and technology.
There can be the perception that employees using a van are automatically safe to drive it if their licence includes category B, which means they are legally able to drive light commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes.
However, transitioning from a car to a van for the first time is a big step, says Andy Wheeler, business development director at TTC.
“Ask any employer recruiting home delivery drivers: they will no doubt testify that employees driving a van for the first time often struggle to get to grips with the extra width, height and general size of the vehicle, not to mention the ability to reverse safely with limited vision,” he says.
Basic vehicle familiarisation training or short courses based on areas such as parking and manoeuvring can reduce the number of low speed collisions.
E-learning modules can be an efficient and effective way to introduce familiarisation training, says Phillips. “But those modules then need to be followed by in-vehicle training,” he adds.
An increasing number of companies are adding hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles to their fleets and drivers can receive specialist training to ensure they get the most out of them.
Royal Mail, for example, has introduced 100 electric vans distributed across a number of its depots, with the relevant drivers each receiving two-hour familiarisation training.
“Fully-electric vehicles have quite different driving characteristics to the more traditional internal combustion engine types, often significantly quieter, with more immediate power delivery and no gear shift or clutch control requirements, for example,” says Paterson.
“This perceived subtle change should not be underestimated, and it does take some time to adapt and get used to the different on-road behaviours of an electric vehicle.”
DriveTech offers on-road electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid vehicle and real-world familiarisation courses which help drivers understand the technology.
Greenidge says one IAM Roadsmart’s most popular on-road courses is eco-driving, which provides drivers with the techniques required to achieve optimum fuel efficiency.
“Hybrid and electric vehicles require even more adaptation in driver behaviour to use them optimally, and we will shortly be launching an eco-driving course following on these vehicle types,” he adds.
Regular driver assessments enable fleets to take a targeted approach to maintaining standards, address any gaps in knowledge and protect against complacency.
“Risk assessments must be focused on the fundamental areas of work-related road safety: the driver, the journeys they make and the vehicles they use – along with the driver’s core competencies,” says Andy Price, director of Fleet Safety Management.
“These might indicate an area where the driver requires training as well as where management interventions are required.”
Best practice advice suggests that assessments should take place annually, with any appropriate training taking place soon afterwards as any areas for improvement are much more easily and meaningfully addressed in the immediate wake of the assessor’s feedback.
“While many businesses will subject drivers to an initial assessment when they are first employed, carrying out regular assessments and refresher training, where appropriate, can be a good way to help drivers maintain safe driving behaviour over time,” says Greenidge.
“Regular assessments can also help to position training as an integral part of procedure, removing the perception that training is something given only to bad drivers.”
A driver could be identified as high risk for a number of reasons. It could be their incident history, the mileage they travel, the number of penalty points on their licence, their attitude or data from a telematics driver behaviour system.
“Some of these factors can only be adequately addressed through real-life driving training with an expert who can pinpoint the key areas for development,” says Greenidge.
If they are identified as high risk, they should be removed from driving duties immediately until either an investigation or retraining can take place, adds Wheeler.
“To leave an employee on driving duties when deemed a high risk is a recipe for disaster for both the individual and the employer,” he says.
Case study: Rhodar
Specialist asbestos removal company Rhodar has launched driver training aimed at two groups of employees.
It ensures that every young driver receives on-the-road training soon after joining the company, as well as targeting employees who may not be experienced in driving larger vans.
Steve Haigh, group transport manager at Rhodar, says: “Over a period of time, we’d had quite a few unnecessary and avoidable prangs and at-fault collisions which had financial repercussions for us.
"There was a clear link between avoidable prangs and colleagues who had little or no prior experience of driving 3.5 tonne vans.
“Similarly, younger drivers were also responsible for a disproportionate number of these incidents.
“After getting the buy-in from the senior management team, we’ve been targeting these two groups over the past 18 months.
“Avoidable mistakes like reversing into posts, parked vehicles and barriers have now virtually disappeared.
“Initially, it was deemed to be an expensive exercise, but our accident rate has come down and that’s brought insurance premium savings which have more than paid for the training.”
Haigh believes that on-the-road tuition is of fundamental importance to ensuring the success of driver training.
He adds: “I think that online risk assessments can work for many businesses, but you do have to have buy-in from your employees.
“Many of our drivers are slightly negative about the concept of training initially – but this attitude changes when they’ve got an experienced trainer at the side of them who clearly knows what they’re talking about.
“That’s when they see the value of it – and the senior management team start witnessing tangible benefits and financial savings.”
Case study: Northern Powergrid
Energy network company Northern Powergrid has implemented an ongoing training strategy which sees each driver complete a new online course every two months.
Driver safety and performance manager Chris Charlton says: “These new courses shine a spotlight on how importantly we take safe driving within Northern Powergrid while simultaneously ensuring that drivers’ skills are consistently checked and refined.
“Safe driving within our organisation is of paramount importance.”
Sitting within the safety, health and environment team, Charlton manages road risk across the company’s fleet of 1,900 vehicles – consisting of more than 800 cars, 750 vans and 4x4s and 65 heavier commercial vehicles.
In addition to the regular online courses, Northern Powergrid also provides all newly recruited drivers with classroom-based training sessions.
“The safe driving workshops colleagues receive when they start here set the tone about the high standards expected from them,” says Charlton.
“They then receive an on-road assessment to ensure they have the requisite driving skills and competencies.”
At regular intervals, each driver receives mandatory online training courses which focus on topical subjects such as reversing and manoeuvring, space management or the use of inappropriate and excessive speed.
In addition, other bespoke courses are run for drivers who are involved in collisions, identified by telematics data to be ‘at risk’, or the subject of a complaint from a member of the public.
“These courses can either be classroom-based or on-the-road, but they’re always bespoke and tailored to meet the specific requirements of a colleague and take place in the geographical area they work in,” says Charlton.
“In my view, you do need to approach driver training with laser precision if there’s a need to remedy specific problems.”
Charlton says the driver training regime has led to improved safety performance.
He adds: “This includes fewer vehicle collisions with an associated reduction in costs and fewer complaints from members of the public.
“The combination of our commitment to helping our people be safer drivers and getting the right training provider – that translates our requirements into engaging training – in place remains key to our success.”
By Colin Paterson, head of marketing, DriveTech, part of The AA
Summertime makes driving so much easier, or does it?
The wintry, wet and icy months are surely behind us, for a little while anyway. What better time to ‘get your motor running’ and take to the roads? Ok, so it’s not that spontaneous for your drivers who, in the main, drive necessarily for their work – whatever the weather conditions.
The clearer, brighter days might make for a sense of safer, drier, more clearly visible roads, but don’t let season changes fool you or lull you into a sense of more “relaxed” driving.
Those of you informed enough to appreciate that good driving is a fundamental and vital skill for life (and who have a definite professional training commitment to provide your employees with a duty of care, and ensure your fleet drivers are legal, safe and responsible on the roads) will acknowledge there is no real time to “relax”.
For sure, the roads may seem potentially safer, but with changing seasons comes changing challenges on the road – it might not be snow and freezing temperatures, but dazzlingly bright sunlight, excessive heat and sudden rainstorms that can turn dry roads into greasy skidpans.
And watch out for those occasional (and sometimes foreign) holidaymakers on the roads and make sure you plan and anticipate other road-user behaviours when they show less familiarity with your well-trodden routes.
Make a holistic driver risk management plan a core commitment to your organisation’s social responsibility and a proven way of keeping your own business safer and more efficient, whatever the season.
Check out the range of DriveTech helpful articles on our website – from fleet efficiency savings, to driver behaviour white papers, to advisories including ‘summer driving’ and ‘Ramadan fasting risks’ – there’s some great and
informative summer reading ahead to help keep your drivers (and everyone else) safe on the roads!
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