Driver training can make company car users safer and save their employers money, says Nic Paton
According to statistics published by the Department of Transport, almost one in three UK road accidents involves a company vehicle, while 200 deaths or serious injuries a week involve someone driving for work.
In January this year, the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 came into effect, cracking down on managers who turn a blind eye to factors such as driver disqualifications, long driving hours, lack of insurance or poorly-maintained vehicles that are deemed to have contributed to an accident or injury.
The Act increased the maximum fine that can be imposed on summary conviction from £5,000 to £20,000 and broadened the range of offences that can result in a prison sentence, so it is hardly surprising more employers are now offering driver training.
Chris Chandler, senior consultant at provider Lex Momentum, says that as well as potentially lowering insurance and accident costs, better driving techniques can improve fuel efficiency and reduce maintenance bills for tyre or clutch wear and tear, for example. Employers often report a 10-15% improvement in these areas after introducing training.
The phrase driver training may conjure up images of Jeremy Clarkson hurtling round a race track, but that particular brand of hands-on, outdoor training is just one option. Organisations such as Safe and Fuel Efficient and the government campaign Driving for Better Business are keen to promote the range of tools available to train drivers.
In its most basic form, driver training can simply be part of an awareness-raising campaign, highlighting the importance of not braking harshly, looking ahead and anticipating risks, and not driving with an overloaded boot, for instance.
The next level up tends to involve web-based training, often including advice, exercises and simulations. This is sometimes followed by classroom-based training, commonly involving 12 to 14 people for about half a day, with on-the-road instruction only coming into the equation after that.
The first thing employers need to do is to carry out a risk analysis of their drivers and the sorts of hazard they are being exposed to, says Peter Eldridge, head of operations at Inchcape Fleet Solutions.
For example, is the organisation encouraging staff to drive excessive distances and being rigorous about mobile phone use? What proportion of drivers are regularly doing lower mileage to the gallon or reporting a higher number of claims or accidents? Mark Sinclair, director at leasing firm Alphabet, says it is important for employers to carry out driver assessments because it is unlikely organisations will need to put all their drivers through training, just those seen as higher risk.
“It is very cheap and easy to do and often will just be a 20-minute online survey with some questions to generate a profile of the driver and build up a view of who could benefit the most,” says Sinclair.
“It is about looking at how their behaviour could affect a situation and to understand the potential impact of their driving style.”
One employer to benefit from driver training is British Gas, which in 2006 introduced a five-year occupational road risk programme for its 16,000 drivers. This includes risk assessments, licence checking, developing driver-profile booklets and a web-based driver development scheme, designed to encourage drivers to be safe and fuel-efficient. In its first 18 months, the programme led to a 14.6% reduction in collisions and accidents, and a cost saving of more than £300,000.
Geoffrey Bay, chairman of the Fleet Support Group, says such savings are by no means uncommon. He cites organisation that have seen accident claims drop by a quarter over two years. Even when accidents do occur, the fact an employer can point to the existence of driver training or management programmes can often help to keep insurance claim costs down.
“Crash costs not only have one of the most significant impacts on fleet budgets, they also result in massive business disruption,” explains Bay. “An all-embracing focus on crash management, both by preventing incidents from occurring by training and monitoring drivers, and when accidents do happen by effectively managing the car back onto the road, can save money.”
The British Vehicle Rental Association (BVRLA) believes more recognition is needed that driving for work requires training to do it properly. It is campaigning for NVQ qualifications for business drivers and a national accreditation or licensing scheme for trainers.
BVRLA chief executive John Lewis says: “Driver training cannot solve problems by itself. It has to be part of an integrated programme, with a driver manual, regular checks, fire-safety training and so on, and repeated every 12 months. It needs to be part of a regular programme.”