Fleet News

Fleets warned against wasting cash on unproven road safety measures

Companies are spending money on road safety strategies, with little evidence of whether they are actually producing results, research suggests.

Currently, between a quarter and a third of all road traffic incidents involve somebody driving for work, with an estimated 200 workers killed or seriously injured every week on the UK’s roads.

But a leading road safety expert has warned that companies could be pouring money down the drain by introducing unproven measures.

“There is a perception that most things are proven, but most things are not,” said TRL principal road safety researcher Shaun Helman.

“Our review has shown that we actually have very little evidence to suggest which of the strategies companies are using to reduce work-related RTAs are actually working and by how much.

“Although there are some promising approaches, companies may be spending a lot of money stabbing in the dark, using a range of interventions that are as-yet unproven.”

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) commissioned TRL to carry out the review of research into the effectiveness of measures to improve work-related road safety (WRRS).

“We think that some companies are achieving results, but we want to encourage businesses across the UK to take a long, hard evaluative look at whether what they’re doing is simply ticking boxes, or actually yielding results,” added Helman.

“We need well controlled evaluation to show us what works, by how much, and why?”

The review revealed some of the methods that show promise include fitting in-vehicle data recorders, incentives for safer driving, group discussions around safer driving, and training giving drivers an insight into their limitations - rather than training on vehicle control skills.

Helman told Fleet News that, while most employees are proficient drivers, they would need massive amounts of training to effectively improve the way they controlled a car. He also claimed there was no evidence that driver training had an impact on road safety.

“If you’re introducing any sort of road safety intervention you need a control group – a group of people within the company who do not receive the training,” he said.

“You need this comparison because accidents rates are naturally coming down for reasons such as improving vehicle safety and, if you don’t have a control group, you can’t be confident that any improvements you achieve are down to the interventions you’ve made.”

The report says that many of the measures that currently form part of the holistic approach of WRRS for fleets are “simply good business practice” and should not be regarded as safety interventions in their own right.

For example, it suggests that ensuring drivers have valid licences, have not been disqualified and can actually see to drive is “basic good practice”.

The report also recommends a greater use of in-vehicle data recorders (IVDRs) should be encouraged in management and the evaluation of interventions.

It said: “IVDR data offers a ‘proxy measure’ that can be used to assess the impact of interventions and changes over shorter timeframes than accident statistics, and with more objectivity than attitudinal measures. There should be an effort in WRRS to make more use of such technologies in evaluation work.”

Some of the reasons why work-related RTAs happen are distraction, fatigue and time pressure, for example where employees are required to meet deadlines for meetings and appointments, or have to drive long distances in a day.

Previous research has also highlighted retail trends, which increase the number of deliveries and the length of supply chains, as a potential contributor to work-related RTAs.

Helman said: “We’ve seen the numbers of vans on our road network increase over the last few years. These aren’t as regulated as HGVs, which means drivers and their employers aren’t always held as strictly to account on driving behaviour.

“This change in the vehicle fleet may have an impact on future work-related road risk, and is another reason why better evaluation work is needed.”

But the report concedes that companies may not wish to invest time and money in evaluation studies if they perceive that holistic approaches - even if supported only by case study data - are sufficient for their needs.

In addition, it says companies may be reluctant to have their accident data made public.

Nevertheless, the report concludes that “there is a pressing need to use controlled evaluation studies to assess which WRRS interventions work, by how much, and through which causal mechanisms”.

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  • Aidan Rowsome - 19/09/2011 12:14

    Although we agree with the sentiment that a lot of driver training is not measured and quantified, we disagree with Helman’s assertion that a control group is the way forward. Using GreenRoad, customers conduct blind profiling before making the technology GreenRoad programme live, giving an easy way to measure driving performance and its direct impact on road safety. As this change improvement in driving happens quickly overnight it cannot be attributed to changes in vehicle or other factors.

  • Onward - 22/09/2011 14:39

    It is very difficult indeed to quantify the improvement in a person's driving by any means, whether it be in-car training, group discussions, incentives or on-line assessment. Any driver will drive differently depending upon the vehicle being driven, the route being followed, the purpose of the journey, the external pressures acting on the driver, whether they be road conditions, weather,lateness, employer pressure, family or financial worries - in fact a whole host of unquantifiable factors. The only way a driver can improve their standard is by one to one in car training, supported by many other devices. It is only in the vehicle that they can experience at first hand a different approach and try it out for themselves. So many drivers I have come across who have passed the online assessments still display thoughtless, careless and even dangerous driving, without even realising it: and they know they are being observed! Real advances in improving driving standards can only come through a positive learning experience and sustained practice. Nothing in the world of driving can be 'learnt' overnight.

  • railz - 22/09/2011 16:15

    I'm simply surprised (or am I?) that TRL's researchers can still claim there's insufficient evidence. They don't appear to have changed their stance in the last 15 years, so it rather begs the question of quite what they think they've been researching. Having been involved in the industry for the best part of 25 years, I could point to any number of 'big name' organisations who've had huge successes in improving their employees' driving standards. Sometimes this has been through online interventions, sometimes through practical training (which has nothing or very little to do with car control skills) and sometimes simply through a change of emphasis by employers on the importance and policy 'coverage' they give to driving matters. The whole point of modern driver risk management services is that they have a wide range of interventions at their disposal and can apply the most appropriate ones to each individual client - as culture, budgets, business sector, risk profile, claims experience etc. dictate. The two key aspects are understanding the client's needs in depth on the one hand and understanding the individual needs of the drivers on the other. Generally speaking, the more exposure drivers have to awareness-raising inputs, the better they are likely to become. Most golfers are pretty average to start but can improve their game with good coaching and experience. Most drivers are pretty average but can learn to be better. I wonder what the training regime for researchers is?

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