Do top-up driving courses make your fleet safer?
16 February 2017
Author: James Richardson
The UK driving test has evolved significantly over time. No-longer just a practical exam that makes sure the driver knows how to work the vehicle, it also tests the driver's knowledge of the theory, how the vehicle works, some basic navigation as well as their ability to spot potential hazards.
The theory element of the driving test first appeared in 1996, while the computerised hazard perception part of the test didn't appear until 2002.
Further changes to the driving test include the addition of an 'independent driving' section, in which those being tested must navigate their way to a destination using road signs. Meanwhile, motorway driving is likely to be added to the test in the very near future.
These days, the driving test also includes two 'show me, tell me' questions, where the person doing the test has to prove that they know how to effectively operate the vehicle. This is done by the examiner asking the examinee to 'show them' and to 'tell them' things like how to show if the brake lights are working, or how you'd go about checking the engine oil level.
Since these changes have taken place, official statistics suggest that accident rates among new drivers have dropped by 11% compared with drivers who took their tests before 1996.
But what does this mean for fleets? Well, for starters, it means that your drivers could have been trained differently, depending on when they passed their driving test and may well have learnt different skills. It's here that driver training companies can step in to fill the void, whether to provide training that was never provided during the 'learning-to-drive' phase or to refresh information that was taught.
Fleets have a number of different courses from which they can choose that can improve a driver's knowledge of the Highway Code, or even to improve hazard perception. All the major players offer such courses, including AA DriveTech, E-Training World and IAM Roadsmart.
These don't have to be practical courses, either. Both online (exclusively in the case of E-Training World) as well as classroom or seminar-based courses are available. These can cover anything from increased hazard awareness and improved eco-driving that's over and done with in half an hour, all the way up to a half day or full day covering how the UK road system and its Highway Code has developed over the years.
Jonathan Mosley, sales and marketing director at E-Training World, says his organisation offers "up to 20 e-driver training modules covering anything from avoiding rear-end collisions through to speed awareness, and these continue to provide regular training and reinforce that message of safe driving".
Who are they for?
Usually, when an employee starts a new job, they will be required to complete an online risk assessment (of which you can see four reviewed on page 15) before they are allowed to drive on business. This is almost certain to highlight a particular employee's strengths and weaknesses and will recommend extra training in those specific areas. Indeed, some online risk assessment and driver profilers will recommend which are the best courses for that particular driver to take next.
Mosley says that fleet managers need to personalise the training for each employee: "Do not offer the same training to everyone, as this will alienate and disengage drivers from the process - after all, if my knowledge is really good why should I be forced to re-read the Highway Code?"
However, according to IAM Roadsmart, there is no empirical evidence that drivers who have taken their driving test more recently are definitively any safer than older drivers in their later thirties and above. Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM Roadsmart, is of the opinion that once a driver has reached a certain level of maturity, such as when they get to their late thirties, then "general experience will have taken over from any early education".
That's not to say that older drivers wouldn't benefit from further education, however. Greig went on to say that online or classroom-based training is always beneficial as a refresher tool and as an indicator of where the driver's deficiencies lie and how these can be addressed in an on-road environment, which should "develop a person's driving in ways an online or classroom session can't".
Mosley agrees, pointing out the fact that with E-Training World's online driver profiling, it's in the knowledge section that people tend to struggle, which, he says, is a "reflection of drivers never looking at the Highway Code or taking time to keep up with current road laws".
How do they help?
A well-trained driver, especially one with excellent hazard-perception skills, buys themself time. By being aware of a potential situation before it even happens they can prepare themselves for it, reducing the likelihood of that situation escalating.
As Mosley puts it: "Hazard perception underpins safe driving as it's the ability of a driver to pick up clues to potential hazards and adjust their driving style accordingly. A good driver is doing it naturally as they drive along. They're not, urprised that there's a sharp bend in the road because you've already picked up the warning signs and they're not going to be surprised to meet a bus or HGV driving down the middle of the road under a narrow bridge because you've spotted the signs early enough.
"Most accidents happen because a driver didn't spot the obvious clues presented to them, and hazard perception is a critical skill for all drivers."
Hazard-perception tests work by giving the participant a driver's-eye view of a situation on a computer screen and asking them to identify when they spot a potential hazard. This is usually done by clicking a mouse button when a potential hazard is identified and by clicking on the area of the screen where the hazard is. Most systems are clever enough, however, to work out if the participant is just clicking repeatedly all over the screen, rather than identifying the risks as and when they spot them. The more hazards they spot and the sooner they spot them, the safer a driver they are.
These hazards can be anything from a car stopped round a blind bend, a cyclist joining the road dangerously, or another vehicle performing a risky manoeuvre. Unfortunately, however, they can't be made bespoke for certain routes that drivers may travel frequently, due to the fact that the correct answer needs to be uniform across all the training company's clients.
It's often by combating a poor or misguided attitude to certain aspects of driving that can see the most dramatic results, however. According to Greig, "every driver is different, but a driver with an attitude problem and a poor set of skills can be a fatal combination".
Is it worth it?
Of course, investing in this sort of driver training has to be worth it and the evidence is conclusive. Mosley says that by doing this sort of driver top-up training "you will start seeing accidents reduce immediately".
He continues: "All too often people see driver training as an expense, but it is far from that and offers a superb return on investment. By doing it online you can assess and comprehensively train a driver for less than £50 a year."
Greig points out that by keeping employees topped up with this sort of training, "the best companies can save on fuel costs, insurance premiums, crash costs, staff downtime, vehicle downtime and staff retention if the staff feel valued and trained to a consistent level. It will also help them avoid trial by social media if their drivers make mistakes."
Investing in training like this can contribute to a 5% drop in insurance premiums and a 20-22% drop in accident rates, which in turn helps towards a potential 35% cost saving when it comes to maintenance and repair work, according to IAM Roadsmart.
Mosley agrees: "If you work out your annual spend on accidents, including the repairs, insurance excesses, hire cars, driver downtime and claim handling time then you can start to see how big a saving driver training can deliver."