It is widely accepted that blanket training for fleets is not necessarily the most cost-effective way of lowering accident rates in a fleet.
Several companies now offer virtual computer-based training, to eliminate drivers who are low risk, thus preventing firms wasting money by unnecessarily training thousands of staff members.
Communications giant British Telecom (BT) introduced an online driver assessment programme for about 20,000 of its 70,000 employees as an alternative to across-the-board training and slashed its accident rate by 30% during the past four years.
Dave Wallington, group safety adviser at BT, said: 'A conventional approach to defensive driver training is unrealistic for the number of drivers we employ.
'We needed something that could filter those drivers assessed as being at high risk. We can then look at the identified areas of weakness and tailor courses.'
Recent studies have shown that there is a distinct lack of training for fleet drivers.
Four out of five drivers polled in a survey carried out by Godfrey Davis Contract Hire, the corporate division of Bank of Scotland Vehicle Finance, have never been offered driver training.
The report, 'Company Cars – The Driver Perspective', also showed that 56% of companies had no policy on driver training.
Nigel Underwood, head of corporate sales at Bank of Scotland Vehicle Finance, said: 'There is a concern for companies with no training policy at all. 'Some companies may choose not to provide driver training for all but it is not difficult to pinpoint high risk drivers.
'I support policies which don't necessarily offer blanket training but decide who needs to be trained.'
The problems of blanket training were brought home to Fleet News when we sent three members of staff on a driver-training day.
Online assessments were not completed prior to the training but in a pre-training questionnaire, two of the candidates had misconceptions about driver training and thought they were going to be taught how to drive at speed.
An hour-long tutorial in the classroom with an instructor from driver training provider AcciDON'T showed the candidates hazards and risks which can be encountered on the road.
They were then taken out for a practical session behind the wheel.
Here, we describe how they got on during the day.
Driver 1 – Kate Batchelor
Kate Batchelor, Fleet News' editorial assistant, was hoping to gain confidence and get a few tips on how to be a better driver.
She said: 'I want to gain confidence in wet road conditions and learn new skills, which could make me a better driver. I feel I am generally a good driver and do not mind driving on any road or weather conditions.
'However, I do have faults. I find that I drive too close to vehicles in front of me, I sometimes drive too fast and rarely read the signs at motorway services showing where to park.'
Batchelor thought a day of driver training would offer a refresher course on the basic driving test, reliving the old 'mirror, signal manoeuvre' nightmares we all remember.
But she did find the training to be surprisingly handy. She said: 'The training was useful because it highlighted my faults when driving and showed that these faults are easily fixed.
'I learnt that if you give a larger space between cars in residential areas you have more thinking time and space to manoeuvre the car if anything dangerous happens.
'I was taught to think ahead, observe signs and be aware of why there are hazard signs and speed cameras at particular places on the road.'
In this case, across-the-board training was useful as it targeted a driver who needed and benefited from practical training and learned a new set of useful skills.
Driver 2 – Sara Farrelly
Sara Farrelly, a telesales executive on Fleet News' sister publication AM, believed the day of training would teach her how to 'drive fast but safely'.
She believes that one of her top driving skills is driving quickly and without taking risks but hoped the training would also build her confidence in unfamiliar areas.
She said: 'My top three driving skills are driving fast but safely, keeping a good distance and being aware of others on the road. However, I do get nervous driving in busy areas which I am not familiar with and one of my problem areas is reversing. I would like to tackle this in my training.'
After spending a day in training, Farrelly managed to remain within the UK speed limits but does not feel she benefited. She said: 'I did not find the training useful for me particularly. I did learn how to test the correct pressure of tyres, which was useful, but I did not discover any habits that I wasn't aware of.'
An example of how sending someone on training without an open mind can be a waste of time.
Driver 3 – Sallie Bradshaw
Sallie Bradshaw, a classified sales manager on AM, also wanted to learn how to drive fast but in a safe manner.
She ranked her top three driving skills as reverse parking, checking mirrors regularly and driving fast but safely. However, driving in strange areas caused some concern and Bradshaw was hoping to gain more confidence from the training.
She said: 'The day was not how I expected it to be at all. We drove a long way and took it in turns to drive. We stuck to all the speed limits, if not slower, and went back to basics, keeping our distance from other cars and looking out for hazard signs.
I expected it to be how to get to places faster but safely but ended up driving unnaturally. I didn't learn much as I expected it to be advanced driving, not learning how to drive again from the start.'
Misconceptions about driver training can lead to drivers ignoring useful advice – so they don't benefit.
The instructor – John Davidge
John Davidge, instructor with driver training group AcciDON'T, highlighted some of the problem areas confronted on the day.
He said: 'Often, they were driving too close to other people and because that involves concentrating on not hitting the car in front, it inevitably leads to not looking far enough ahead to give themselves time to plan what to do next.
'With encouragement, they found that by holding back it made for an easier and smoother driver all round.'
Davidge said the drivers were given a lot more information on the day than they all anticipated.
He said: 'There were things they had never considered such as where signs and special surfaces are used and how to identify high-risk areas.
'With parking, they tended to jump into the first available parking space without first thinking about how easy it might be to get out of that space or whether a better space was available. On dual carriageways, they had not considered the implications of sitting close to goods vehicles in a position where the driver might not be able to see them.'
Each driver was given an individual profile with specific comments on their driving, following the session.
Davidge added: 'In the shortened time available and bearing in mind the fact that we had three sharing the driving, not the usual two, they all appear to have picked up some important points that will, if practised, make them safer on the road.'