UK road policing centres upon the concept of ‘the fatal five’. Having identified the most dangerous behaviours drivers exhibit – and they are behaviours, not mistakes — they then focus their enforcement activity and public messaging towards discouraging those. The fatal five are:
- Inappropriate speed
- Failure to wear seatbelts
- Driver using a handheld mobile phone
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
So, eliminate these behaviours from your fleet and you’ll be a road safety rock star, right? Sadly, not so fast. While these behaviours are extremely dangerous and raise a driver’s likelihood of a serious collision, they are not easy for a fleet operator to eradicate. The first and most intractable reason for this is that, without the aid of a video-based system you simply won’t SEE these problems. You may suspect them, you may see evidence of erratic driving in your telematics feed – but you will not, as a manager, be able to say: “When this occurred, you were on your mobile”, or “As you drove away from that customer’s depot, you were not wearing a seatbelt”.
Sadly, subjective management suspicions alone do not cut it when coaching drivers or seeking to exonerate them when not-at-fault.
Let’s look at the fatal five in more detail.
Inappropriate speed eliminates the driver’s safety margin or his/her time to assess, react and bring the vehicle to a stop. It therefore also magnifies the effects and risks of other poor behaviours such as tailgating, fatigue or distraction which also compromise reaction time. Plus, the faster the vehicle is going, the more seriously people are hurt. Government statistics for 2017 show that 50% of rigid vehicles speed in 30mph an hour zones and one in five artics speeds in single-carriage 50mph zones.
The difficulties for a fleet manager are:
- Being able to match speed to location: is 40mph careful A-road driving or reckless urban driving?
- Knowing why the driver is speeding: is he on the phone, listening to loud music, or simply under pressure? Is his speeding deliberate or unwitting?
The cause of the speeding may seem irrelevant – speeding is speeding, right? However, when you want to change someone’s behaviour, the underlying reasons for it become very important.
Not wearing a seatbelt
As a fleet manager, you simply will not know until the driver is booked, is reported or is injured.
Using a handheld mobile phone
Many companies have phone bans – ‘no mobiles while mobile’ – and quite rightly so. Some even put in tech-blockers which are keyed to a specific business phone and render it inert while the vehicle’s moving. However, none of this really stops a driver answering or using his/her personal mobile. The Department for Transport snapshot surveys in 2017 showed that more than one in a hundred drivers were using their handheld phone when observed – going up to more than 2% for van drivers, and slightly below 1% for truck drivers.
It’s also worth noting that hands-free calls are now considered as dangerous as handheld, for the simple reason that it is the brain, not the hand, that most needs to be engaged when driving. Texting and even hearing notification beeps are serious distractions while driving.
Driver under the influence of drugs and alcohol
Ironically, fleet managers have a slight advantage here. Not only has the UK culture become intolerant of the idea of driving under the influence, but drink-drug testing is available. Nonetheless, the government’s road casualty statistics show a very high correlation between collisions and illegal levels of alcohol in drivers’ systems. In 2016 230 people were killed in a collision with a drunk driver – that’s 13% of all road fatalities.
And here’s the biggie. Distraction is linked to so many of these other behaviours, in that distracted drivers are not sufficiently focused on what’s happening on the road or with their vehicle to keep an appropriate speed, to keep an appropriate distance, or to react quickly enough; and they are also likely to compound one distraction behaviour with many others.
We also know that it takes time for the brain to refocus on driving when it is distracted by other activities. Drivers are visually and mentally distracted for 40+ seconds when programming navigation
A recent University of Utah study found that voice-based and touch-screen tech takes hands, eyes and mind off the road for 24+ seconds.
As we have shown before in these blogs, our analysis of collision drivers versus non-collision drivers shows that collision drivers were much more likely to be consistently distracted, five times as likely to talk hands-free, four times as likely to talk or text while holding a phone and five times more likely to indulge in other distractions like eating, drinking or personal grooming. (See our SmartIQBeat for truck fleets or PSV fleets for more details on collision correlations.)
Again, the challenge for the fleet manager is knowing.
You can’t manage what you can’t see! Without a system that shows you what drivers are actually doing behind the wheel in the moments before an incident, you cannot know the true cause and whether risky driving behaviours were being exhibited.
The transport and logistics industry, in particular, has traditionally focused on skills-based interventions for risky drivers. Refresh their knowledge of how to anticipate, how to drive defensively, how to keep the vehicle in the sweet spot. It has limited success. And the behaviours listed above are why. Collisions are rarely caused by a lack of skill. They are caused by human habits and behaviours within the enclosed, private space of a vehicle cab, of which management often remains oblivious until it’s too late.
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In the meantime…
Drive Smart. Drive safe.
- Posted by Nicola Burgess
- On September 2, 2019