Real-world budgets mitigate against the costly investment of training all employees who drive on business, and the truth of the matter is that not all employees may need training.
Furthermore, more sophisticated risk management techniques are analysing accident data to identify where real risks lie, and adapt training courses to suit. There's no point training on a skid-pan when the insurance claims show that the vast majority of accidents occur while drivers are manoeuvring in car parks.
Yet identifying drivers in need of training is not a straightforward task, and some employees may be the proverbial 'accidents waiting to happen' even if their claims records are unblemished.
Add into the equation the increase in home working and the difficulty of fleet decision- makers assessing the relative risks of drivers based around the country and it's clear that tools which can identify higher risk drivers from a remote location have a potential role to play. Step into the frame the growing proliferation of CD-ROM-based training tools designed to assess a driver's behavioural and attitudinal approach to driving.
The advantages are costs at a fraction of the fee for a full day's training (which may not be required anyway), and are a limited mechanism for identifying higher risk drivers if budgets.
Risk, of course, is all relative, but computer-based assessments at least allow employers to identify the 20% of their drivers most at risk, if their budgets will only extend to training 20% of drivers.
Answering questions on a PC is also a less confrontational approach than being quizzed by your line or risk manager, and anecdotal evidence at least suggests that drivers are inclined to be more honest to a computer than their employer. And merely answering the questions raises drivers' awareness of the risks they face.
So Fleet News decided to put its editorial staff to the test by completing DATA (Driver Assessment and Training Aid) Programmes' CD-ROM training, which consists of a series of questions, some personal (such as accident histories, experience of defensive driver training), some based on video clips, and some based on the Highway Code.The questions have multiple choice answers and the assessment takes between 20 minutes and half an hour.
DATA Programmes is part of The Fleetsafe Group, which also comprises driver training firm DriveTech and risk consultancy Risk Answers, but operates as an individual entity so fleets that already have a preferred driver training firm can use DATA Programmes with no obligation to train their drivers with DriveTech.
The process threw up some interesting results. Certain drivers within the office known to have a greater thirst for speed turned out to have lower risk assessments, while more apparently cautious drivers received higher risk ratings.
But the exercise did prompt much discussion of the merits and flaws of computer-based training, and made everyone aware, temporarily at least, of the risks they face in everyday conditions on the road.
Jonathan Manning – editor
THERE'S something galling about looking at a question, knowing the right answer but also knowing that it's not the honest answer. I was coasting through the assessment when up cropped a question about what I thought about while driving: with a black mark hanging over the response related to thinking about work and the meeting I'd just had in the office. I know I should have selected the answer about concentrating on driving, but playing 'honest injun' I ticked the truthful box, and sure enough my risk rating was 'low to medium'. Never having had an accident, I consider myself to be safer than that, but the CD-ROM did expose a certain wooliness about the Highway Code. Should I undergo a defensive driver training course? Probably not. Should I think more about my workload pressure and how that affects my driving? Absolutely.
John Maslen – managing editor
I AM a big fan of computer-based training and have seen a number of systems in action in the industry. At the beginning of the session, drivers are told they are not undergoing a test. Instead the company is trying to help them, so answering questions truthfully is vital. Answers are on a simple point and click basis and although some are very basic, I felt I had come away learning something. Some parts of the programme include video which show typical situations where accidents can happen. Although as seasoned hacks we may have found the questions rather basic, I believe it offered a valuable insight into different aspects of your driving style. Even if you don't answer the questions honestly you will still be made more aware of where your faults lie. After the assessment I was categorised as being in the low risk sector – not a surprise to me.
Simon Harris – road test editor
BEING a tedious pedant I find no trouble in recognising the errors of others, but shy away from subjecting my own behaviour to scientific test. However, it would have seemed churlish not to agree to the assessment when everyone else in the office was going to try it. The temptation is often to cheat by looking for the response that might give you the best score, but with as many as six options in the multiple choice going along this route is not as easy it might appear. It is also unlikely to do you any favours if it means you will not receive the right level of training or advice and fails to prevent an accident. And as well as asking for responses in hypothetical situations it sneaks in a few Highway Code questions. So how did I feel when I achieved a 'low' risk rating? Not too smug, a little surprised and relieved that my own actions do not make me much of a risk for other drivers.
Steve Moody – reporter
LAPTOP simulations such as this are fine as a first step to improving your driving skills, but no more. At most it will highlight the very high risk drivers who are ignorant of road safety and have no chance of bluffing their way through. But driving is about the only activity where a large percentage of the population regularly and knowingly breaks the law. There is also a fair amount of calculated risk going on and drivers often have a pretty good idea of the bad habits they have acquired, and choose to ignore them. Why should they suddenly become honest in front of a laptop when the results will end up in front of their employer? By their very two-dimensional, static nature simulations are not representative of actually being on the road. But despite their limited nature, they can at least point out hazards, and give drivers the chance to think about likely situations they could encounter in real life. Mike Roberts – news editor Fleet News Europe
APPARENTLY I'm a medium risk driver and I'm not too sure how I feel about that. I'm glad I'm not high risk, but I'm disappointed that I'm not a low risk driver. Was it my honesty that gave me an unfavourable rating? I don't think so, not with my boss sitting just two desks away. I'm not suggesting that my driving is flawless. But I believe those flaws, rather than answering questions on technical knowledge or how I would react in hypothetical situations, would be better highlighted sitting alongside a professional driver in a car.
Having said that, the programme stresses that it doesn't intend to teach you how to drive but merely give you new ideas 'which are intended to promote your safety' and I can't argue with that. My one gripe is that the print-out I was given after the test informs me that I'm medium risk but doesn't outline any areas which need attention.
Jeremy Bennett – editor Fleet NewsNet
A DRIVER training programme based around a computer will always be undermined by human nature. Tell me I'm to do a test on my driving skills and immediately I'm on the defensive no matter how willing I am for it to make me a better driver. In the same way that you become the perfect partner when meeting the in-laws, I will become the equivalent of the Queen's chauffeur when asked to do a road safety test. You become what you think you should be and influencing every answer to the questions in this programme was the temptation to say what I think I should say rather than the honest answer. But get me behind the wheel and the pressures of urban driving make it much harder to 'fake it'. And as such I will come away humbled by my deficiencies and more willing to mend my ways. What I learned from this was that I'm of 'medium risk' on the road. I prefer to drive thinking of myself as high risk – and everyone around me as downright suicidal – in order to get me home safely.