Evidence suggests that fleet drivers are not fully attentive up to 66% of the time – yet it is extremely hard for fleet managers to address this problem head on.
It is impossible to accurately assess how many collisions are caused by driver inattention, as police forces vary in their recording methods and, often, more than one contributory factor is recorded – for instance, use of a mobile phone and speeding.
However, common sense dictates that a lack of driver awareness of driving behaviour and hazards must contribute to almost all collisions.
While the causes of driver inattention are easy to categorise – visual, cognitive, biomechanical or auditory – preventing them is much harder from a managerial perspective.
Drivers can spend up to 50% of their time only seeing objects not pertinent to the driving task; technology can occupy hands and minds; and cognitive impairment from continuing a conversation with an unseen participant, whether on hands-free or handheld phones, is a significant distraction.
Dr Nick Reed, senior researcher into human behaviour at the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), was a keynote speaker at a seminar on driver distraction last week orgainsed by the road safety charity Brake.
He believes the biggest problem for fleet managers is that people cannot easily be trained out of inattention.
“Advanced driver training does not always work because people can then believe they are a more skilled driver and take more risks,” he said.
Rick Wood, head of training at Rospa, added: “Concentrating fully all the time is impossible. Fifteen to 20 minutes in the hour is the most we can manage. So the trick is to train people to be selective and pay attention to the correct things – such as road warning signs.”
He says managers should look at where the greatest number of collisions and fatalities occur.
Motorways have 4% collisions and 6% of fatalities, rural roads 25% and 54% and town centres 71% and 60%.
There are key hazard spots. Warning signs on rural roads often indicate dangerous intersections. Bus stops, pubs and open spaces in urban areas are particularly prone to pedestrian incursion onto the road.
Wood says drivers should be able to identify and pay particular attention to these blackspots.
Technology is probably the easiest form of distraction for managers to mitigate, as they can lay down clear policies about the use of such tools.
Many fleets now have a complete ban on the use of mobile phones in-vehicle; however, Reed suggests that phones, which have similar comms protocols to tracking devices, are instead switched to telematics mode, channelling speed warnings and navigation.
“You can switch the function to one which supports driving rather than detracts from it – but it has to be clear that answering calls or sending texts is unacceptable.”
Both men agree that the key is attitude.
“If you can achieve a cultural change, everything else falls into place. People will self-police,” said Reed.
Drivers need to be encouraged to drive intelligently, not reactively, and to move away from the rote responses they were taught when first learning.
Wood said: “We want people actively working out what the next step is – is it better to engage first and keep your foot on the clutch, or slide into neutral with the handbrake on?”
Not only are there times when the test-approved methods aren’t the safest, but thinking about the task keeps drivers focused. Encouraging commentary driving can help – drivers literally talk themselves through hazardous or boring sections of journey.
“Relaxed and aware, and definitely not in autopilot – that’s what we’re aiming for,” concluded Reed.
Author: Louise Cole