There are several reasons to be particularly vigilant about fleet safety in the run up to Christmas – and even more so during this Christmas period. Here are our top eight.
1. Peak volumes. Easter might still win for sheer freight volumes in some sectors, however, Christmas volumes presents substantial challenges. The peak is heavily sectoral, with retail dominating. Overall, approximately 18% of commodities moved are food items and retail sales were 7.9% higher in October 2020 than in February. This shows how early the Christmas peak starts to grow, and this growth is likely to continue until and over the holidays. So, there is more commercial traffic, and continued pressure to fatigue drivers.
2. The Christmas peak also involves far higher levels of home deliveries than normal. Shoppers spent 52.8% more online in October 2020 than in February, with online food sales doubling and department store and non-food items not far behind. Online sales is now 28.5% of all retail sales, pushed up by pandemic conditions on top of steady ecommerce growth. Home deliveries present specific fleet safety risks – frequent stopping, access and kerb space issues, and high levels of driver pressure. Unlike heavier freight, they are frequently carried out by non-vocational drivers. Even if your fleet isn’t involved in this sector, your drivers’ routes will be complicated by the frequent presence of delivery vehicles.
3. National and regional distribution centres are even more congested than usual. Deliveries to smaller or express stores are also problematic, often lacking dedicated delivery spaces or easy access.
4. It’s winter. Vehicle maintenance needs to be top-notch and weather-appropriate. Drivers need to judge appropriate speed for visibility, rain, ice, fog. In 2019 a slippery road surface caused by bad weather contributed to 5,600 (7% of all) collisions; a further 273 by dazzling headlights; 1,600 attributed to snow, sleet, rain or fog. A dazzling sun contributed to 2,200 collisions, which includes when the winter sun is low in the sky. Drivers also need to be able to drive defensively to allow for other road users’ errors in these conditions.
5. Vulnerable road users (VRUs) are always a safety concern, but 2020 brought specific challenges. Pedestrians are frequently stepping off pavements abruptly to allow for social distancing. We also have the advent of rental eScooters, 120% more cyclists in London and 200% growth in cycling overall. Drivers can’t assume the numbers will drop because the days are cold and dark – but the visibility of VRUs almost certainly will.
6. Early darkness doesn’t only have an effect on visibility but daylight – or its lack – also affects our mood, our cognitive function and our sleep patterns. Some people develop SAD disorder during winter. Certainly, according to Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents, road fatalities spike by 19% in the fortnight after the clocks go back.
7. Fleets use more agency drivers during peak periods and industry has noted a correlation between temporary drivers and collision rates – not because agency drivers are unskilled but because they are frequently asked to drive an unfamiliar vehicle on unfamiliar (and often unpopular) routes, they don’t necessarily share the company’s safety culture or have access to the same level of safety training, and they don’t have a specific investment in your brand, vehicle or career prospects. Proper induction, and careful management and monitoring is important for the fleet and the driver.
8. Christmas is party time and that can mean alcohol and/or drugs are a more pressing issue. It is easy for drivers to underestimate the effects of last night’s drink on this morning’s performance – and with pubs closed, drivers may not monitor home consumption as closely. The National Police Chiefs Council has launched a campaign which is being echoed by every force in the UK to crack down on drink and drug driving this Christmas.
Fleet safety must be at the top of your agenda during the Christmas peak – not least because any collision will mean a loss of performance you can’t afford. Fortunately, thousands of the HGV and van drivers are being protected by SmartDrive’s video-based safety system this Christmas. Maybe yours could be too?
Wherever you and your loved ones are this Christmas, stay safe. Season’s greetings, from all at SmartDrive.
- Posted by Nicola Burgess
- On December 14, 2020