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Accident ahead - what do you do?

Date: 01 April 2016   |   Author:

Fleets have been well served with driver training courses for years, helping to boost high-mileage drivers' skills and awareness behind the wheel to increase safety and cut costs.

However, as UK roads continue to get busier, a number of fleet managers are sending their drivers on courses that go beyond car control and reading the road to teach staff exactly what to do in the event that they come across a crash or are involved in one themselves.

With crashes being potentially disturbing scenes - involving lots of noise, the prospect of injured drivers and other road users, flammable fuels, and many other hazards - keeping a cool head is a challenge for any driver, and this is what ATC Driver Training's new Crash Scene Safety Programme aims to address.

After one of agrochemical company Du Pont's managers arrived at a crash scene and was concerned that his wife didn't deal well with the event, the company commissioned ATC to devise a course preparing fleet drivers should they be first to arrive at an incident, helping them to react calmly and safely. Proving the realism of the course, when this Du Pont manager took the course, he made exactly the same mistake as his wife...

Glen Barber, country manager for Du Pont's performance materials division, states that safety is a company "core value", with 10,000-mile-per-year-plus staff sent on an intensive driving course, with two 90-minute 'check rides' scheduled per year, including checks tyre pressures, lights and safety kit.

Attended by staff who spend two-thirds of their working day driving, ATC's half-day classroom and track-based course begins with an around-the-table safety discussion followed by a safety theory and practical first aid session, giving drivers an overview of how to deal with injuries they might encounter before the emergency services arrive.

Following this, participants head to an airfield where they get into a car and drive up to a staged crash scene - with no idea what they might find - to put the theory into practice, with ATC staff filming how they respond. Our scenario involved a car that had crashed into the side of the road, with a trapped driver, a burst-open boot and fuel can spurting out petrol behind the car - with the horn blaring to add to the drama and sense of disorientation.

As the assessment continued, smoke started to pour out from under the bonnet - with participants expected to remove the injured driver due to the prospect of the car catching fire. During the assessment, a passing car arrived, followed by the emergency services, with ATC staff capturing the action on camera for review after the activity.

Safe to stop

The starting point for dealing with an accident is only becoming involved if you're first on the scene or no one else has taken control, according to ATC.

While on the Continent there is a legal obligation to stop and help, there is no such obligation in the UK, with medic Mike Evans - who taught the first aid sections of the course - stating that "if you're unsure, don't stop at all" as drivers have to put their own safety above that of potential casualties.

Once they have decided it's safe to stop, drivers should first call the emergency services, preempting the questions they might be asked and assessing the danger from a distance, using all of their senses, bearing in mind the possibility of hazardous substances in vehicles or on the road, such as fuel.

The next move is to safely position the vehicle, so that it is a barrier to keep the driver safe when they get out and alert other motorists to the crash with their lights and hazard lights. Once out of the car, drivers and passengers must wear a high-visibility vest to ensure they're easily seen by other traffic.

Reinforcing the importance of the hi-vis vest, Evans says that he always carries seven vests in his seven-seater car.

Highlighting the purpose of the course, ATC founder Kenny Roberts states: "You're not here to become accident investigators - I'm going to tell you how you should react." The course deliberately plays on participants' emotions, with the blaring horn adding to the realism, and the smoke billowing out from under the bonnet designed to illicit a more authentic response from participants to gauge how they'd respond with a bit of adrenaline in their system.

Following the track activity, ATC staff reviewed video footage with the participants to establish what they did well and where they could have responded to a hazard better.

Boosting safety can seem like a chore to fleet managers, with no clear end point. While the benefits of developing staff driving skills are clear, preparing them on the off chance they come across an accident may seem like unnecessary time out of the office

However, confronting drivers with a crashed car with horn blaring and smoking engine adds realism absent from classroom-based courses - and is likely to stick in drivers' minds much longer.

On top of drivers remember how to position their car at an accident scene, presenting them with a potentially harrowing staged crash should make them think twice about driving too fast for the conditions for fear of ending up in a similar situation themselves.

Available courses

Traditional driver training comes in the form of advanced driving courses - which help motorists to boost their skills behind the wheel and more effectively monitor what is going on around them - and car control courses, which train drivers to maintain control of their vehicle in challenging conditions, such as on slippery surfaces.

More recently devised courses, however, cover a much wider spectrum with ATC Driver Training, for instance, offering everything from pre-employment assessments to trailer driving training. In addition, the company runs anti-hijack courses and women's personal security training - all responding to business needs, claims founder Kenny Roberts.

With modern fleet cars packed with stability control systems, and anti-lock brakes and traction control nearly universally adopted, ATC also runs a Vehicle Dynamic Control course that ensures drivers know how to respond to the car's kit rather than fighting against it. "Often, the technology is counterproductive because it only works if the driver behaves in the correct, and not necessarily the intuitive, way," says ATC.