Used by a multitude of firms all vying for fleets’ business, the term encompasses a wide range of approaches, from blasting a car round a track to ensure drivers can handle a car in an emergency to office-based statistical, skill and psychological analysis.
Often, as far as fleet managers are concerned, the line drawn between different approaches is difficult to discern. How does one decide which approach is right? And is there a solution that suits everyone best?
Dr Will Murray is a research director at road safety software firm Interactive Driving Systems and also specialises in fleet safety as a visiting fellow at the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety in Queensland, Australia.
Murray believes safer company car drivers are not always created behind the steering wheel.
He said: ‘Driving is only one element of a safety programme, which should also focus on management culture, vehicles, journeys and sites.
‘Advanced driving techniques are not relevant to avoiding crashes, some researchers say, and they have condemned the benefits of performance-based driver training, because driving is about more than car control.
‘Health, well-being, lifestyle, attitude, knowledge, hazard perception, attention to detail, hand-eye co-ordination, concentration, anticipation and observation are all important.’
Murray believes good drivers rarely find themselves in a situation where techniques for emergency or skid control would be an advantage.
He adds: ‘Up-skilling a driver in preparation for a split-second event they might experience once every few years is worthless, and people can develop a dangerous level of over-confidence because of the training.’
Driver trainers that don’t carry out a detailed risk assessment, looking at excessive fuel consumption, tyre usage, collisions or repeated infringements should be avoided, Murray claims.
Even fewer trainers focus on travel management and minimising risk exposure through alternative ways of working and travelling, he believes. Fleet managers should also be aware of the danger of being blinded by statistics. Training firms’ claims of how they improved other clients’ crash records need to be fully understood.
He said: ‘Few training firms allow for ‘regression to the mean’. In other words, most companies introduce training after a spate of crashes or a high cost incident. The following year the claims rate drops.
Driver training is given the credit, even though it may only have dropped to the average of previous ‘normal’ years. When another bad year emerges, the customer goes back to the training provider who naturally recommends retraining.’
Many firms are concerned with wider issues than just driving skills, including vehicle ergonomics, noise, lighting, vibration, fatigue risk management, drug and health issues.
But Murray reckons the practicalities of work, such as deadlines, tend to override many health and fatigue programs.
Instead, good trainers complete an assessment of a client’s crash profile, policy, vehicles and operational environment.
Courses are tailored to a firm’s needs and rarely involve skid control or other advanced techniques unless there is a need to train drivers in how to recognise and avoid skidding: firms operating at mine and quarry sites would be good examples of where skid control is an important part of a package.
Questions to ask
‘DRIVER training has got to be targeted. Training for training’s sake is a waste of time. There’s no point in throwing money at driver training and just saying ‘job done’. Most of our drivers know how to drive, it’s about refining their techniques. Sticking them on a skid pan creates an artificial environment.’
Nick Purkis, UK fleet risk manager, Pickfords
‘I’M a great believer in in-car training where appropriate – the ‘sheep-dip’ approach of the same for everyone is not the right way.
We use on-road training. Some off-road stuff is certainly of value – to experience ABS properly in a safe environment is invaluable. But driver training should be about what my drivers are likely to face every day.’
Nigel Trotman, central services manager, Whitbread
‘WHATEVER driver training you do, the practical element should be done in some environment in which you will do your driving every day. We assess not only vehicle skills but attitude as well. A combination of practical time and attitude assessment is important, changing the way people think about driving.’
Dermot Coughlan, fleet manager, Kelly Communications