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Archive for 2014

At Work Drivers Are Different

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

It’s the sort of comment you hear in a lively discussion about driving down at the pub. You might have even uttered it yourself in a moment of weakness on the road, having witnessed a poor bit of driving: “And they call themselves professional drivers.”

It’s perhaps understandablBusinesswoman drinking coffee while drivinge that some drivers view those who drive for a living as infallible but of course at-work drivers in general are under far more pressure than the ordinary motorist who is just involved in a trip to the supermarket.

As human beings we’re vulnerable enough already while we’re driving – it’s a well known fact that in 95% of on-road collisions human error was the principal cause – so adding the responsibility of being at work while driving inevitably ups the stakes.

Hardly surprising then that a third of all road traffic incidents are thought to involve people who are at work.  Also, it’s been established that employees who drive in the course of their working day are 49% more likely to be involved in an incident than other road users who are not working [*Department for Transport].

There are a couple of key differences between the ordinary motorist and occupational drivers that we must bear in mind.

First of all, many people who have to drive for work do so on unfamiliar roads.  Most of us will have had the experience of driving on unfamiliar roads from time to time, such as when we go on holiday.  A good example is when we find ourselves at a roundabout and we panic while looking for the correct exit. Often we hand over control to the SatNav and let it tell us where to turn off.

Each instance of having to make a hurried or unexpected decision can take our attention from our surroundings for long enough to be caught up in an incident.  Making assumptions is a dangerous premise but in this case I think it’s reasonable to assume that making a decision as to which turning to take in busy traffic is just as distracting as being in the middle of a mobile phone call.  So it’s easy to work out where a sizeable amount of distraction arises for occupational drivers.

Another crucial, risk-elevating factor for the at-work driver is that they’re almost always under some form of time pressures to get the job done. Time constraints are something that the driver’s employer must be aware of and expectations for task completion should therefore be realistic, with driver safety always being the guiding principal.

But there are things that occupational drivers can do to help themselves as well.  Firstly proper journey planning will ensure that weather, traffic delays and major events are taken account of to optimise the route.  These days it’s possible to get a great deal of accurate information on the web or via the broadcast media, so there really is no excuse. It just means taking an extra 10 minutes planning time before setting out.

However, more than anything else, the main thing a professional driver can do is to take an extra moment to think before acting.  When you’re in unfamiliar territory and you’re under pressure time-wise, it’s very tempting to put your foot down and go when you think you see a gap.  In fact, if you have to pause to think at all, you shouldn’t be carrying out that manoeuvre in the first place.

Accept that if you miss that gap it doesn’t matter.  It’s far more important to control your emotions on the road than letting them control you.  You may feel anxious at times and that’s exactly when you need to take that extra second and wait for the next, larger gap in traffic, rather than take a chance.  After all you’re being paid to do a job, a job where the vehicle is a constituent part. It’s not worth risking serious injury, or worse, at any time………. let alone when you’re at work.

It’s also worth remembering that sometimes we see what we want to see and miss important things such as bicycles, motorcycles, pedestrians and even other vehicles.  If you’re a professional driver you’ll do yourself, your loved ones, and maybe even a complete stranger, a favour by taking a moment longer at crucial points on each journey.  It may just take the blink of an eye but it could be the best decision you’ve ever made behind the wheel.


*Department of Transport, An In-Depth Study of Work-related Road Traffic Accidents, Road Safety Research Report No. 58, 2005

Driving Risk Management Ltd

The magnetic draw of the mobile

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Driver on mobile phoneThe dangers of using mobile phones whilst driving have been well documented. Department of Transport statistics for 2012 showed mobile phone use was a factor in 378 incidents, which caused 548 injuries and 17 deaths. In 2008 a study* by the Transport Research Laboratory showed that texting while driving could increase reaction time by 35%, compared to 21% for smoking cannabis and 12% for being at the legal drink drive limit.

In 2013 a truck driver was seen to delete texts from his phone after he had been involved in a crash that resulted in the death of a thirteen year old girl. That case illustrates the central message in this article – we know the use of mobile phones slows our reaction times, we know we shouldn’t use them while driving and yet a lot of people still do. The question then is why?

In some cases, but by no means all, the problem can be attributed to employers who want to be in contact with their drivers all the time but, in the main, it’s more to do with the modern phenomenon of social media and the habits that it can instil in us. A lot of people will have had the experience of putting something on social media and then thinking “Let’s see if that post gets any likes or increases our followers.” There is a natural desire to be in contact with other human beings because we are social creatures, to the extent that it can often override our use of common sense.

For many of the sub 50 generation there is a natural tendency to answer a text immediately it arrives, despite the fact that the sender won’t even know if the phone is even switched on. It’s one of the most basic and powerful examples of behavioural conditioning in modern life. At that moment when the phone rings, buzzes or bleeps, it’s almost as though we have no other option but to answer it or reply to the text.

The conditioning itself takes place easily. As stated before, we’re naturally social creatures, so our reward for answering the phone is social interaction, and, although a small reward in itself, it’s enough to condition us to respond to the phone, in preference to continuing to deal with the situation we’re in.

In some cases we want to initiate the call to activate the social interaction and the same behavioural influences are brought to bear. We’re effectively rewarded for our efforts. Even drivers who don’t actually use mobile phones when they drive will be aware of that moment when either the phone rings or there’s the buzz of an incoming text, which takes their attention off the road for that vital split second.

That leaves us with the problem of what to do about this situation. For responsible drivers, who are likely to have had some form of advanced or defensive driver training, it’s simple – it’s instinctive to turn the phone off when driving and let that voicemail function do what it was designed to do all along.

But, trained drivers or not, it’s vital that businesses robustly apply their mobile phone policies, even if it means using negative reinforcement to reverse the conditioning effect and improve driver behaviour. The use of mobiles while driving, particularly hand-held, should be a disciplinary offence for the employee, with all the consequences which that brings.

Also I don’t believe I’m alone in saying that we need to outlaw the use of mobile phones entirely while driving, whether hands free or not,. Until that happens there should also be far heavier penalties nationally for the illegal use of hand held mobiles and rigorous application of the ‘dangerous driving’ offence when they clearly play a contributing part in a collision.

In addition to legal penalties there should also be social penalties. Anyone who uses their phone whilst driving should be made aware that it is unacceptable, in the same way that drink driving is reviled and the use of seatbelts, for the vast majority of drivers, is second nature.

Sadly mobile phone use on the move is a relatively new phenomenon in terms of human behavioural development and change won’t happen overnight, but the fleet industry can play an important role in getting this message across and helping this essential attitude shift to occur.

References: *Transport Research Laboratory, 2008, Dangers of Texting Whilst Driving

Driving Risk Management Ltd


Adolescent Drivers and their attitude to risk-taking

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Insurance data harvested over many years demonstrates that the under 24s are at a much higher risk of becoming involved in road collisions than any other age group. There seems to be a general assumption that young drivers fall into this category because they are inexperienced and impetuous.  To some extent that is true but the greatest influence is the significant change that occurs in our brains during adolescenForging fabulous friendshipst years.

Just fifteen years ago it was assumed that most of the major changes in our brain happened in the very early years.  But then along came Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and neuroscientists suddenly had the ability to look inside actual living brains.

The main area of the brain that concerns us here is the prefrontal cortex.  The prefrontal cortex in human brains is proportionately much larger than in any other species.  It is involved in a lot of our higher functions, such as planning, decision making, inhibiting inappropriate behaviour and so on.  That latter point is an interesting one; it stops us saying things that can offend and doing things that are stupid.  So it is very important in modern society; it helps us understand other people and contributes to our sense of self awareness.

It is an area of the brain that goes through a lot of changes in our adolescent years.  During that period, the connections in our brain are fine tuned and the connections that appear to serve us well are strengthened, whilst those that don’t are pruned away.  From a driving perspective, the most important change comes between the age of fourteen and early adulthood, i.e. approximately twenty years of age.

As children and adolescents we have less ability to see things from other people’s perspective.  That is in the literal sense of ‘If I can see them they can see me’, which as adult we know isn’t always true.  As adults we are more familiar with the rules of the road and are more easily able to anticipate other people’s actions.  That may appear to be another way of saying adults have more experience but the fact is the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex changes a lot in adolescents and exaggerates their lack of experience.

The biggest change though is in taking risks.  Adolescents are particularly prone to taking risks when they are with their friends.  There is a significant drive to become independent from parents and to impress friends during that period.  There are physical rewards for adolescents, in that the limbic system within the brain becomes active when risks are taken and are successful.  There is literally a reward system for risks.  It is true for adults too, which is why we have extreme sports like bungee jumping but in adolescents the limbic system is hypersensitive and rewards risk taking disproportionately.

So what we have in adolescents is a prefrontal cortex that is not sufficiently developed to stop us from doing things that are inappropriate, combined with a hypersensitive limbic system that rewards risk taking and an inability to see things from other people’s perspective.  Perhaps we can now begin to understand why there are so many incidents involving young people on the roads! Hardly surprising then that the average fleet manager thinks twice about giving a driving-related job to an under 24 year old.

That may appear to be a bleak picture for adolescent road safety but there is a very positive note to strike here.  Our environment helps to shape the adolescent brain so if we are taught road safety in an engaging way from an early age that will help to shape our attitudes later on.  The very malleability of the brain in adolescent years is sometimes seen as a problem but it can also be the solution.  If good driving tuition is provided in our pre-adolescent and early adolescent years it can almost literally shape our thoughts for the future.

Young men go through adolescence a couple of years later than young women, which is probably why the term ‘boy racers’ springs so easily to mind and they tend to hit that point in their lives just as they are starting to drive.  The key is to give them the right guidance in a manner which is acceptable to them in these crucial years, a time when self image is everything. Making road safety ‘cool’ is a tall order perhaps but it may be the only way to change the dangerous driving habits of a generation.



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Looked but failed to see V2

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

How many times have you driven somewhere and then realised you can’t recall any details of your journey?  Maybe you went from home to work, and you can remember one or two aspects of the trip, but others are a blur.  It’s a familiar phenomenon and may be a contributory factor in what has become known as ‘looked but failed to see’ incidents.

As an extreme example of this situation, there was a study in 2009 that investigated how many people were involved in crashes involving other cars and then admitted afterwards that they hadn’t seen the other car.  Motorcyclists of course will be only too familiar with the idea and the expression “Sorry mate I didn’t see you”!  However, the ‘other cars’ in the study were not just ordinary cars.  They were fully marked police cars with the blue lights flashing which were parked side on to the traffic flow.Mature Businessman in a Car

Something as obvious as this should be difficult to miss but apparently not as difficult as you might think.  The 2009 ‘looked but failed to see’ study recorded over 90 instances of drivers colliding with highly visible, fully liveried police cars with the errant drivers claiming that they had not seen them.  

So what is happening when drivers say they didn’t see something as obvious as those police cars? 

In our everyday lives we hear sounds, we see images, we touch, we smell and we are usually highly aware of everything around us.  In other words our senses are bombarded with stimuli. If we were to evaluate every piece of information all the time we would spend most of our time just processing what is going on around us.  In order to speed that process up our brains develop ‘schemas’ which are rapidly-formed, broad brush images of what is happening.  If the information is familiar, for example a routine journey home, our brains have schemas that deal with that.  That explains why we can drive from A to B without fully taking in the details of our trip – we are operating on a group of assumptions, or schemas, created in our head.

In fact that theory fits in well with the 2009 study.  The researchers found that most of the collisions happened as people were arriving home and were on familiar roads.  Some of the drivers may even have been mentally planning ahead for what they would do when they arrived home.  It’s at this point that something went wrong for the 90 or so drivers involved in those incidents. 

In theory when something new and unusual happens we should become more aware of our surroundings.  When most drivers see blue flashing lights they become very aware of their speed, even if they are already well within the limit.  The drivers in the study seemingly failed to snap out of their schema.

Of course it’s one thing to be aware of what can go wrong but what can you do to stop it happening in future?  There is one basic exercise you can carry that will give you a better chance of remaining alert. 

Pick out some key points in your journey and try to find something different about that point of the journey as you get there.  Don’t allow this exercise to distract you from reading the road as usual of course but pick a point in the journey and consider what is different on that day. 

For example, you might choose one specific junction that is usually clear and then pro-actively look for anything that is just a little unusual.  It could be that the rubbish bins are on the pavement awaiting collection or even some new skid marks on the road surface.

The presence of the bins should prompt thoughts of a big truck perhaps around a blind bend and the skid marks in particular should be flagging up a potential threat or concern at that junction. This process not only helps keep concentration up but it also adds to your risk management decision-making ability.

It’s a simple idea that can be easily adapted to your regular journey and which could reduce your chances of becoming involved in a serious incident.

Driving Risk Management Ltd