DRIVER TRAINING: Where is it heading in 2010?
22 December 2009
Driver training expert Steve Johnson, who has more than 30 years' industry experience, examines the evolution of the education sector and where its future lies
There are several different aspects to consider when debating the future of fleet driver training, including the development of new products and services in response to customer demand, how the service supplier industry itself is evolving, the attitude of customers towards the desirability and requirement for driver training-related activity, and the influence of legislation.
Taking the products and services first, it's clear that the market is quite understandably looking for solutions that maximise dwindling budgets and more than ever provide a quantifiable return on investment.
A decade ago most people's idea of 'fleet driver training' was in-vehicle, practical training with a qualified instructor alongside. It's a very different picture today. Relatively high cost practical training is now generally only deployed where a driver has a particularly bad driving record or is exposed to high risk as a result of the mileage covered or the environment in which they drive.
By far the most training takes place these days in front of a computer screen and this trend is set to continue, particularly as the quality of animated graphics and video streaming improves, and the cost of creative production falls too. Service providers have also accepted that to remain competitive they have to provide a wide range of solutions, many of which are not categorised as 'training' in the strict sense of the word. Consequently, and quite rightly, the old expression 'fleet driver training' has been replaced by 'driver risk management'.
With an ever-widening portfolio of products to bring to the table, the top providers have had to adopt a more consultative approach, where a bespoke solution is arrived at for the customer, based solely on their individual needs. There is no 'one fix for all' any more.
So what's happening to the service providers themselves? Consolidation continues - witness Drive & Survive and Pro-Drive being absorbed within the IAM, and DriveTech becoming part of the AA - and clearly it's the survival of the fittest.
It's no longer possible to continue as a one-man band in the driver training industry. The market requirement for product diversity is just too onerous and it's only the big boys who can truly respond to the challenge. In much the same way as the international car manufacturing industry is going, one can expect to see just a handful of players in this industry in 10 years' time.
As for the customers, there is no doubt that there's been a shift in priorities, away from pure health and safety compliance and into the realms of training for good solid commercial reasons. Duty of care for both employees and customers will never go away, but it has become a 'nice to have' rather than a raison d'etre.
On the money-saving front it's now about much more than just reducing crashes and their associated costs. Driving in a way that conserves fuel, reduces wear and tear and preserves the long-term value of the vehicle are every bit as important in this economic climate. There also seems to be more evidence of genuine desire to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility and employers are becoming acutely aware that employees in vehicles are influential in how the corporate body is perceived by society.
Barely a day goes by without the well-worn subject of global warming being aired in the media, and road traffic is rarely out of the firing line, so expect this trend to attract more devotees.
The red herring that is the Corporate Manslaughter Act is likely to continue to have little or no relevance for the fleet car industry, but you can certainly expect more interest from the police in proving links between collision causation and business practices, particularly in circumstances where there are serious injuries and, of course, fatalities. The Health & Safety Executive are more than happy to leave the police to deal with driving-related infringements of the existing work-related legislation already in place.
Local authorities are increasingly recognising that they have a part to play in informing local businesses of the advantages of managing road-related risk in a professional way, but the prospect of them having some form of monitoring power over any mandatory, business driving-related qualification has receded in recent months. There doesn't now look to be much prospect of that idea being revived anytime soon, either, particularly with a general election in the not too distant future.
More severe penalties for what used to be 'careless driving' are beginning to be applied with renewed confidence now, and where business drivers are involved their employers will increasingly feel the consequential disruptive effects. It will therefore be more important than ever to spell out the need for compliance to at-work drivers.