This frightening portrayal of Britain’s company car drivers has been put together by academics at the University of Nottingham’s School of Psychology, who undertook an in-depth study of work-related traffic accidents. The results do not make happy reading for fleet executives responsible for road safety, illustrating the culture of bad behaviour and indifference to danger that permeates at-work driving.
The research team looked at 2,111 accident cases from Midlands police forces between 1996 and 2004. All ages of driver were included, and each case was summarised on a database.
The report concludes that drivers of company cars are more likely to cause a fatal crash than to be a victim of someone else’s bad driving, usually due to excessive speed. Alcohol is also often a factor. Van drivers were blamed for accidents where they simply failed to be aware of their surroundings.
The findings back up a long list of studies into traffic accidents at work, which are the single biggest cause of employment-related deaths in the UK.
The TUC says the annual cost of workers killed or injured on the roads is £3.5 billion, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) claims that work-related drivers who cover average employment miles are at similar risk of death as miners and construction workers.
Who’s to blame
Researchers, using police reports, assigned a level of blame to each case – either ‘to blame’, ‘at least partly to blame’ or ‘not to blame’.
Ratios were given for each of six types of vehicle – lorry, van, company car, emergency vehicle, taxi and bus – based on the number of accidents where the driver was in some way to blame, divided by the number of accidents caused by all other factors. A ratio of 1.0 meant the driver was equally likely to cause an accident as to be the victim of one.
The results showed that lorry, van and company car drivers were more likely to be to blame for an accident than they would not be to blame. Lorry drivers were the worst offenders, with a ratio of 2.48, followed by van and company car drivers with ratios of 2.08 and 1.18 respectively.
However, looking at only fatal accidents and taking blameworthiness into account showed that in more than half of all accidents the lorry driver was not to blame. Company car drivers and emergency drivers emerged as being more likely to cause a fatal accident than to be involved as a blameless participant.
Half of all fatal company car accidents involved excessive speed on the driver’s part.
Time of day
According to the report, drivers of company cars tend to crash at two peak times of the day.
The first was between 8am and 9am during the morning rush hour and the second was between 8pm and 9pm. The morning accidents tended to be slight – shunts and right-of-way violations. But the evening accidents were generally more serious, with a higher proportion of rural crashes involving excess speed and risk taking.
Van accidents peak between 7am and 8am, showing similar types of shunts and collisions as the morning company car peaks.
> The researchers looked at background factors and behavioural factors when examining each case.
The results among company car drivers showed that slippery roads and consumption of alcohol were the two biggest background factors, while poor observation and excess speed were mostly to blame in terms of driver behaviour.
In van accidents, there were no significant background factors, but poor observation was an overwhelming behavioural factor, often because they failed to take into account their restricted view. In many cases, heavy or queuing traffic had blocked the driver’s view of other vehicles.
The researchers found evidence that at-fault drivers were significantly more likely to hit the same kind of vehicle as their own – lorry drivers hit other lorries, company car drivers hit other company cars. This could be explained by the commonality of use with vehicles of various types that puts them in the same situations.
However, surprising statistics revealed that company car drivers were more likely to hit cyclists than chance would predict, usually because the driver failed to see the cyclist. Vans were often in collision with motorbikes, often because they failed to give way to the bikers, it claimed.
Company car drivers were especially to blame for accidents on rural unclassified roads, usually in accidents caused by losing control on bends due to excessive speed. The average driver in such accidents was aged 30, younger than the average age of company car drivers involved in all types of accidents, which was 36. This tied in with a study in 2002 that found younger drivers were more likely to lose control on rural bends.
Accidents involving van drivers peaked on urban unclassified roads, rural B roads and rural unclassified roads.
On urban unclassified roads, half of accidents were caused by right-of-way violations, usually turning right in front of a vehicle that had right of way. A quarter were rear-end shunts and the rest were pedestrian or reversing accidents, or insecure loads.
On rural roads, the top problem was again right-of-way violations, followed by loss of control on bends caused by excessive speed. However, unlike company car drivers, the average age of van drivers losing control did not differ from the average age of all at-fault van drivers.
The statistics showed that the majority of drivers involved in work-related accidents were male. However, females did feature in company car-related accidents – 100 compared to just under 400 males.
The age distribution showed no real surprises. The most involved age group was between 26 and 30, closely followed by the 31 to 35 age group. The frequency of accidents decreased as the age increased.