Fleet News

Risk management: the danger in your drivers’ loved ones

YOU operate a fleet of company cars. You train your drivers to run them safely, responsibly and within the law. You are mindful of your cost base and want to cut your exposure to risk to the minimum. You allow your employees’ spouses and partners to drive their company cars…

And suddenly you realise there is a whole area over which you have no control. You might have undertaken a licence check but the likelihood is you have no idea what kind of driver may be taking the wheel of your employee’s company motor ‘out of hours’.

The company will not be liable for duty of care responsibilities if the car is being driven on private mileage by the employee’s spouse.

But it still spells potential risk as any own-fault accident damage may well have to be claimed under your fleet insurance policy – and that could jeopardise your position when it comes to negotiating next year’s cover. So what to do?

The concept of spouse driver training is not new but it could pay dividends if it is incorporated as part of your risk management programme. It could even form part of your company’s employee benefits package, providing a highly worthwhile real-world advantage to both parties which would reinforce a company’s ‘caring’ image.

Most driver training companies operate a spouse driver training programme and, according to David Richards, marketing director of DriveTech UK, it is an expanding part of the business.

He says: ‘We are finding more and more companies are taking an interest in this form of training.

‘There is an identified risk involved when a company car driver allows his or her spouse to take the wheel of a company car. There is evidence to show that, apart from a licence check, most fleet operators have little or no knowledge of a spouse’s driving experience or ability. When there is a potential insurance claim at stake, it is cause for concern quite apart from the personal ramifications in the aftermath of a crash.

‘We have trained many spouses, some of whom are women,’ continues Richards, ‘and we often include a module on personal safety and security in the programme. This gives valuable advice on, for example, best practice on approaching and leaving a parked vehicle and precautionary measures that can be taken to prevent opportunist theft.’

To test Richards’ theories, we undertook a day’s spouse training with DriveTech. Our two candidates for the day, Jennine and Pauline, are both experienced drivers of long standing with accident-free recent driving histories. Both regularly drive their partners’ company cars but neither has received any formal training. What can they learn from the experience?

Our trainer, Kevin Isaacson, explained that most people approach a training session with some degree of scepticism. ‘Everyone likes to think they are the best driver in the world,’ he says, ‘but we usually find that, by the end of the day, their attitude has changed and they go away wiser and more informed – and very appreciative.’

There were no such claims made by our two candidates: both were keen to learn any tips and advice that might make them safer drivers.

Sobering statistics

ALTHOUGH road casualties for 2005 fell overall compared with 2004, the statistics for deaths and serious injuries still make sobering reading. Department for Transport statistics show that, although traffic volumes remained at about the same level in 2005 as in 2004, the overall casualty rate per 100 million vehicle kilometres was 3% lower than in 2004.

Key statistics are:

  • 32,155 – people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in 2005.
  • 1,675 – deaths among car users in 2005.
  • 3,472 – children killed or seriously injured in 2005.
  • 671 – pedestrian deaths in 2005.
  • 24,824 – two-wheeled motor vehicle accidents in 2005.
  • 198,735 – road accidents involving personal injury in 2005.

    On the road: When common sense comes to the fore

    FOLLOWING the classroom session, both drivers took to the road for at-wheel training.

    The agenda for this followed DriveTech’s established guidelines, with a risk assessment for each driver compiled from a series of practical assessment grades. These included the following:

  • Use and timing of mirrors.
  • Use of brakes.
  • Use and timing of signals.
  • Steering technique.
  • Use of clutch and gears.
  • Dealing with junctions.
  • Appropriate use of speed.
  • Effective use of positioning.
  • Safety margins/following distance.
  • Parking and manoeuvring techniques.
  • Awareness of hazards and risks.

    Following the individual assessment, an overall risk rating for each driver is deduced, which also gives advice on any further training requirements and key areas for improvement.

    Both trainees were impressed by the sessions. They felt they had learned useful tips that increased their awareness of the driving environment and how to react to specific scenarios.

    Specifically, speed awareness in urban situations was highlighted as an area of concern.

    Isaacson suggested that common sense tips such as opening a window to create more of an impression of the vehicle’s speed or selecting a lower gear to keep speed down would achieve the desired effect.

    Similarly, maintaining optimum road positioning ensures maximum visibility both for the driver and other road users.

    Above all, the training points out that most roadcraft skills boil down to one thing – common sense. Maintaining awareness, observing speed limits and revisiting your own assessment of your driving will pay huge dividends to your personal safety and that of others.

    Classroom session: Introduction to roadcraft

    THE initial classroom session – which takes about two hours – precedes extensive tuition on the road and serves as an introduction to roadcraft and speed awareness.

    The classroom session is interactive and includes video footage of scenarios designed to illustrate how to, and how not to, cope with certain situations.

    For example, video demonstrations of the effect of speed on braking distances provided a thought-provoking few minutes: there is an on-line simulator on the DriveTech website (www.drivetech.co.uk) that shows how devastating it can be to exceed the speed limit in a restricted zone.

    Just 2mph over the 30mph limit, for example, can result in serious pedestrian injury or even death on a pedestrian crossing.

    A police-compiled graphic reconstruction showing an infamous Hungerford M4 crash in 1991 gave useful insight into the reasons for the accident and how the behaviour of the involved drivers contributed to the catastrophic results. The crash involved 51 vehicles and killed 10 people.

    Case study: Dow’s commitment goes back 40 years

    SCIENCE and technology company Dow has had a comprehensive driver training policy in place for over 40 years, and part of its agenda involves a committed spouse training programme.

    The result is an accident rate that, in 2005, reached just five low-speed moving motor vehicle incidents among the 200-plus drivers entitled to a company car.

    Julie Wicks, UK fleet co-ordinator at Dow, champions the occupational road risk programme which ensures employees receive driver training every year, with non-company car-driving staff and spouses trained every two years.

    The annual training leads to employees taking the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advanced driving test. However, drivers who achieve high marks from trainers can be fast-tracked.

    About 150 drivers have so far passed the mandatory RoSPA test at gold, silver or bronze level.

    ‘Duty of care is very important to us and has been for over 40 years,’ says Wicks.

    ‘As we are gradually migrating from company cars towards a cash allowance-based car scheme, this policy is key to our overall safety culture.

    ‘Employee health and safety is at the heart of Dow’s business. Irrespective of whether employees continue to drive a company car or have moved to a cash allowance, they are subject to the same driver training programme.’

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