Ensuring drivers have the correct attitude at the wheel has a major bearing on company accident prevention performance.
But a surprising number of businesses have yet to grasp the financial potential of activities that are designed to prevent staff from slipping back into bad habits long after official driver training programmes have been completed.
Firms that fail to follow up training risk a return to previous incident rates that can result in staff being away from their jobs for long periods to disrupt both operations and income streams.
“There is no doubt that training interventions suffer from decay over a period of time and something needs to be done about it.
Two words are important in minimising this decay – communication and involvement,” says RoSPA driver and fleet solutions head of training Rick Wood.
“Companies would do well to get their drivers involved in what they are trying to do in terms of road safety.
"They should be talking about how the training has worked out and what should happen as the next step.
“But you can’t solve problems that you know nothing about. For instance, firms running delivery fleets should be aware of the delivery points that present difficulties and ask drivers for ideas on how to tackle the issues so they can pass on best practice.
“Getting people involved means driver training will stay alive. Hitting it only once means it will not last long.”
According to Wood, following up training with topping-up activity is as important as the initial course.
However, he says it has to be based on evidence and data so it’s important to assess existing performance and how it can be improved.
“The starting point for firms is to recognise where they are at with driver training via benchmarking,” says Wood.
“Then they need to use communication and involvement as part of the ongoing programme.
“Insurers like to talk about fault and non-fault, or blame and blameworthy.
"These are emotive terms that can make people go on the defensive and the result is that you miss data because no-one wants to be held to be blameworthy or at fault.”
Wood says the terms ‘avoidable’ and ‘unavoidable’ are preferable alternatives.
“Some things are impossible to avoid,” he says, “but because 95% of accidents involve the human factor, you could say these are avoidable. Examining incidents on the basis of them being avoidable or not, it is vital to get people at ground level to make the judgements – they will then look for an intervention that will help prevent these situations arising again.”
Everyone tends to be lazy, says Kevin Packer, managing director of Bristol-based UK Road Safety.
“If there was a five-yearly driving test and you knew yours was due, you’d read the Highway Code and maybe go out with a local driving test instructor.
"Then you’d take the test, pass it and simply forget about it again until next time. But incentive schemes can play a big part in changing this situation.”
Drivers retain some, if not all, the techniques taught in training because they have such a profound effect, says AA DriveTech’s Steve Johnson.
Quality of delivery
“General standards in our industry are better than they were in the past but still differ.
"This kind of training requires a special technique and it is all about the quality of delivery from those who are good at communicating and engaging with customers.
“The secret is to make people feel at ease and avoid approaches that tend to belittle drivers who are experienced and have never been involved in collisions.
It’s understandable that many drivers feel they have no need for the training we offer because they have never had a crash but the point is that we’re trying to stop the crash that has not happened yet.
“We are all teaching people to take a new mental approach behind the wheel.
"There’s a misconception that people drive badly because they don’t know the facts and figures behind the Highway Code and while that is an element, poor driving really comes from lack of concentration.”
Johnson agrees that communication is the key means by which employers can maintain the momentum of driver training and DriveTech provides a monthly newsletter for its customers.
“The trick is to make use of constant communication about the issue of safe driving and pass on all manner of hints and tips.
"Our publication features updates on legislation and includes seasonal time-change reminders to make sure drivers are aware that road conditions are likely to be different.
“People are the biggest asset to most organisations and if a road accident prevents them from being at work for several weeks, their absence and the alternative arrangements that have to be made can add up to big income stream problems.
“Continuing to communicate about driving brings staff into the fold. Carrying it out is a regular reminder that you care for their welfare.”
Johnson points out that maintaining the momentum generated by training programmes bring benefits in the form of reduced insurance premiums, improvement in fuel economy, reduction in wear and tear costs and higher residual values because vehicles have been better looked after.
Make sure driver training isn’t a waste of time and money. Read Steve Johnson’s blog