A significant number of fleets are failing to keep their drivers safe, according to the boss of a leading road safety charity, who claims employees are being needlessly killed or injured because employers don’t recognise their duty of care responsibilities.
“The statistics show that one in three accidents involve somebody driving for work – there’s clearly a problem,” says Nick Stonard, the acting chief executive of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).
“I still don’t think there is a realisation in the corporate world of the potential liabilities and duty of care they actually have. For some large and well-known companies it’s just not on their radar. It’s our job to change that but, even with legislation like corporate manslaughter, there are many organisations failing to recognise their responsibilities.”
The issue is not only borne out in road accident statistics, IAM’s own research has discovered that only 30% of commercial drivers have ever been offered driver training.
Stonard says: “There are all sorts of good business reasons for training drivers – including reduced fuel consumption and a reduction in accidents. The benefits are obvious, but why aren’t people tapping into them?”
The charity regularly contributes to the road safety debate by conducting and commissioning research, the findings of which it uses to lobby Government and to shape its own product offering.
However, the IAM’s own research has shown that it isn’t well-known for the work it does.
“Only a very small percentage of people have heard of us,” says Stonard, who admits there is also perhaps a wider malaise. “I don’t think there’s an appetite for road safety –everybody thinks they’re a good driver.”
Either way, it’s an issue for a road safety charity that must work hard to have its voice heard above other road safety organisations, charities and commercial operators.
But Stonard is confident about the charity’s future prospects: “IAM is a well-kept secret and we need to stop being such a well-kept secret,” he says.
That could involve the rebranding of the organisation, which was originally formed in 1956 by a group of people who wanted to improve their driving.
A name change, however, isn’t on the cards.
“If I’m honest I don’t like ‘Institute’; ‘Advanced’ is a bit elitist and I struggle a bit with ‘Motorists’,” admits Stonard. “But I don’t think we can afford to change our name.”
Many fleets, not necessarily familiar with the charity, will more than likely know its business arm.
IAM Drive and Survive – previously IAM Fleet Training – was founded in 1986 and as a commercial subsidiary helps fund the charity’s wider work.
It’s an occupational driver risk management provider, which helps companies reduce on-road incidents, minimise costs and look after their drivers.
It offers a range of training programmes and assessments, including online risk assessments, e-learning modules, seminars and workshops and on-road and on-track driver training.
Its risk assessments have changed over time and now, as well as looking at driving habits, they evaluate the psychological state of the driver.
That enables the assessors to predict how a driver will react in certain situations.
Stonard explains: “The earlier forms of assessments resulted in drivers trying to second-guess and provide the answer they thought was wanted, whereas these types of questions are much more difficult to manipulate.”
But if a fleet road risk strategy is going to stand any chance of success, boardroom buy-in is crucial.
“Who holds the purse strings will determine what is spent in this area,” Stonard continues.
A fragile economy has seen training cut in the belief that it is not essential: “Our message is, it is and it’s cost-effective,” he says.
Stonard should know. He’s a chartered accountant, who learned his trade in London at Price Waterhouse in the 1970s and 1980s, before it merged with Coopers and Lybrand.
He joined the IAM as finance director on an interim basis in February 2008, before joining the charity on a permanent basis in February 2010.
Today, he oversees an organisation with just over 90,000 members and 200-plus affiliated local volunteer groups. The IAM has had more than 100,000 members within its ranks in the past, but Stonard says membership is on the up again.
To become a member, you need to pass the ‘advanced test’, which was created by the IAM shortly after it was formed.
A version for motorcyclists was developed in 1976. During 2014, up to 5,000 motorists will take the test. That compares to a peak of up to almost 9,000 in the 1990s.
“We are slightly below where we were, but then there is more pressure on people’s time,” says Stonard.
Still, the IAM hopes to have the ear of Westminster’s political parties with the launch of a road safety manifesto to coincide with next May’s General Election.
It is calling for urgent support from all political parties to promote driver and rider improvement on UK roads.
One of the more radical ideas in the IAM manifesto, which is designed to cut the number of road deaths and injuries annually, is a call for high-speed rural roads to be part of the driving test as well as for road safety to be part of the schools national curriculum.
It’s also asking the Government to play its part by making sure that companies applying for public sector contracts have road-risk policies in place.
Stonard says: “Whenever you tender for any public sector contract these days there are various stipulations, so why shouldn’t ISO 39001 be one of them, where it’s relevant to the contract?”
The IAM manifesto also calls for continuous learning for motorists, but prefers a voluntary approach rather than compulsory re-testing.
“There is evidence from overseas that if you introduce post-licence training you reduce casualties,” explains Stonard, “but I don’t think we want to go down the road of re-test – we need to do something for people to refresh and remind them.”
Speaking at the IAM’s annual lunch earlier this month, when the manifesto was launched, charity chairman Alistair Cheyne said: “In the last five years, more than 5,500 young people have been killed on our roads or had life-changing injuries. Every one of those crashes was avoidable. We need legislation, we need campaigns to nudge people towards better driving behaviour and we need more training.”