Fleet News

Fleet safety: Tackling carnage head on

A round a third of all accidents on the road involve people who are driving for work accounting for about 1,000 deaths each year.

Many more are seriously injured.

This is a stark reminder that these are people we clearly need to target if we want to tackle the carnage that takes place on our roads every day.

The challenge for us is that “driving for work” covers so many diverse groups.

Consequently, this may not be an easy message to communicate.

However, even if the scale of the challenge is daunting, we have to do our utmost to push the message that driving for work can, and should, be managed like any other part of business.

Apart from anything else, companies have a legal duty to look after the health, safety and welfare of their workers and the driving element of the job is no exception.

So as you might imagine, some of the major fleet businesses have already embraced the concept.

Big oil companies or insurance groups, for example, analyse risk across all parts of their operation, including vehicle transport and driver safety.

But I firmly believe that we can persuade a lot more people to go a lot further.

One of the most high-profile campaigns on driving for work is being carried out through the Department for Transport’s Think! road safety programme.

There are three million vans on the roads today and that number is rising, with about 320,000 new registrations each year.

Several of the messages we created cited the real dangers that arise from distractions such as eating and drinking, reading maps or talking on a hands-free phone while driving – although from the launch of the new Highway Code you might think that smoking is the only distraction that people care about.

That’s why we’ve used the campaign to show that proper journey planning can cut out a lot of these distractions, for example by making time for proper breaks.

The same theme will also be vital during the next phase of the campaign.

This time, we are targeting company car drivers and we are already at an advanced stage in developing specific adverts for this target group.

I know full well that in the commercial world there are pressures to rush between appointments or work through the fatigue that can creep up over the course of a long working day.

But I also know that the price is not worth paying.

So when this phase of the programme launches in March next year, I want to spell out to employers and employees that there are more effective ways of getting the job done than by risking lives.

After all, people who are driving to jobs when they are stressed out or being distracted by calls from head office are not only a danger to themselves and other road users, they are also going to be less effective at doing their job.

So far, the results from the first part of the campaign show that the message is getting across.

Another weapon in our armoury comes in the guise of the Act on CO2 campaign.

Here, we are urging drivers to accelerate and brake more gently as one of our safer driving tips, saving money and contributing to a cleaner environment at the same time.

The Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving programme (SAFED) also highlights for employers the scale of the cost savings that can accrue from taking this seriously, such as van fuel consumption reductions of 10%.

But the benefits of paying close attention to road safety and driving techniques extend much further than that.

That’s why I am very optimistic about the prospects for one of the most innovative campaigns we’re promoting under the overall Driving for Work banner.

The “Driving for Better Business” programme is being carried out in partnership with RoadSafe and uses peer groups to get the message across that driving more safely is a win-win situation.

The Business Champions programme is designed to get businesses talking to each other about the benefits of a proper safety regime.

This has two important benefits. On the one hand, it ensures that the campaign is not dismissed out of hand as yet another worthy public information message.

On the other, businesses are more likely to value the credibility of their fellow competitors and business leaders when it comes to explaining the gains on offer.

RoadSafe has already made great strides in bringing on board key businesses and local authorities.

When Tesco introduced the scheme at one of its depots, the operation went from running 40 vans and suffering eight dents per week to running 80 vans but only incurring four dents a week.

Needless to say, the company was delighted. Not only are staff spending less time filling out insurance forms, but premiums are down and the business is operating more efficiently.

One thing to note here is just how simple it was for Tesco to make that apparently massive improvement.

Firstly, they took far more care about the people they recruited for driving jobs.

Secondly, they made sure they received proper driver safety training once they were in the job.

And thirdly, the board got behind the safety scheme and since accident reports had to be sent to senior management, middle managers took the project seriously.

Another Business Champion – Chelmsford Electrical – managed to cut accidents by a quarter when it started doing driver training.

At the same time, insurance premiums dropped from £1,350 per vehicle to just £483.

As more companies spread the word, more businesses are going to get on board.

And, as the scheme creates more and more Business Champions, each company will be in a position to spell out the gains to sub-contractors, partners and associates across the supply chain.

Each and every company that embraces safer driving gives us a better chance of reducing the 20 deaths each week associated with driving for work.

I am positive that the Business Champions scheme will be able to build on the great success we‘ve seen to date. But as always, there is more to do.

For example, the Department for Transport is being very active in ensuring that vehicles that use our roads meet the appropriate safety standards.

VOSA – the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency – has done a lot of work in this area, especially with foreign-registered lorries.

Equally, we also have road safety officers on the front line doing their bit to keep the casualty numbers on a downward trend.

I can assure you that cutting the number of deaths and injuries on our roads is at the top of our agenda.

Wherever possible, we will be doing whatever we can to provide the leadership, encouragement and, where necessary, the powers of enforcement, to tackle this issue.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the breath test. We have come a long way since then in terms of education, enforcement and engineering.

We’ve also generated a cultural change that has pushed drink-driving firmly onto the list of socially irresponsible behaviours.

But every single death from drink-driving reminds us that we still have a long way to go.

As indeed does every other needless tragedy on our roads.

That is why I hope that everyone here can support us in our efforts to get the road safety message across.

Today’s message is simple: Driving for work should not be a deadly occupation. By working together, I believe we can make a difference.

  • This is an edited version of a speech first given to the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety
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