What factors lead to a crash?

What factors lead to a crash?

It is estimated that a third of all crashes involve someone who is driving for work, which should be a major cause for concern for any business that operates a fleet. But what can companies do to help tackle this issue? RoSPA’s Keith Bell shares some advice

Road crashes happen every day in every country all over the world, and we often insist on blaming external factors. However, the reality is that it is often us at fault.

In fact, it is estimated that 95 per cent of crashes are actually due to human error, with the other five per cent often split between mechanical failure (which doesn’t include a worn tyre or faulty brakes, as that still counts as human error) and something that could not have been prevented or predicted, such as a tree falling across the road.

This means that 95 per cent of crashes involving fleet vehicles can be addressed by ensuring that drivers are adequately equipped for the road – but how should this be achieved?

To answer this question there are four areas that are important to look at, before considering which factor is most likely to lead to a crash.

Factors to consider

The first area to consider is the skill the driver has in controlling the vehicle – in other words moving it left and right, forward and backward. Most drivers have reasonable skill in making the vehicle go where they want it to, when they want it to, and generally do so without colliding with anything else, but this is usually only the case when they have enough time and they are concentrating on the task.

Whether or not a driver has had professional driver training or was taught by family or friends, once the psychomotor skills associated with driving are mastered, such as pressing the brake, finding the biting point and using the steering wheel, driving a vehicle becomes relatively easy. Loss of control will always feature in a crash but it is rarely the root cause.

The second area to consider is how drivers interpret and adhere to rules, such as the Road Traffic Act and the Highway Code.

Irrespective of how well read they are, most drivers are aware of and understand the majority of the rules and procedures but they don’t always follow them. After all, when learning to drive many of us are taught how to follow the rules to pass the test, the question is, what weren’t we taught during lessons?

Were you taught about being considerate to others and how to avoid feeling road rage, and did your instructor teach you all about time management or dealing with and managing fatigue? By learning to effectively manage factors like these, we can become safer, better road users.

At the end of 2012, the DVLA reported 34.5 million vehicles licensed for use on the roads of Great Britain, of which 28.7million (83 per cent) were cars. This leads us on to the third area to consider – the reason for and context of the journey. When you are stuck in traffic or waiting for that green light, do you ever wonder why the driver in the next car is on that piece of road at that moment in time and what pressures they may be affected by? It could be a familiar journey for them and they may have become complacent, losing focus on the driving task. It could be an unfamiliar journey in an unknown town and they may even feel anxious, trying hard to fit in with and assess the traffic flow, gathering and processing high volumes of information and making quick decisions.

The driver may also feel under pressure to drive in a particular way, such as the obligation they may feel to arrive on time, perhaps to catch a plane or maybe a job interview or even the peer pressure of a passenger in a similar situation.

Whatever situation we find ourselves in on the road, we use a lot more than the basic car control skills we developed when we were learning to drive. After all, stopping a car should be easy; we’ve been able to stop the car since day one of our driving lessons. So why do so many of us nip through on amber and why do so many drivers end up using the rear bumper of the vehicle in front to stop? Is it due to their poor car control skills or something far more dangerous?

Driver personalities

This leads us on to the fourth and final and probably most important area to consider: attitude, beliefs and the way we choose to live our lives.

Everyone has a set of values and motivations that guide us through life. These same things also influence and drive certain behaviours when we’re behind the wheel.

If you’re a methodical, laid back and relaxed person, you’re likely to drive differently to an impulsive, bungee-jumping adrenaline junky. We all have personality traits that are conducive to safe driving and those which perhaps are not. It is up to us to be honest, recognise which is which and crucially, do something about it.

Our personality and the way we choose to live our life will inform the context of the journey, and influence whether we choose to follow the rules and procedures for maintaining the best vehicle control within our capability.

The true root cause of almost all crashes is the behavioural choices we as drivers make every time we drive.

Taking action

So to go back to the earlier question, with all of this in mind, what can fleet managers do to mitigate the risk, and ensure their drivers are as safe as possible on the roads while driving for their organisation?

RoSPA has a seven-point plan to help you to achieve this.

Firstly, it sounds simple, but get to know your drivers. By doing this, you can actively engage them in creating your organisation’s managing occupational road risk policies, procedures, systems and training initiatives.

Conduct regular “toolbox” talks to discuss driving matters, health and wellbeing – make sure you get things out in the open. You can only do this if you have got to know your staff to the point where they feel comfortable enough to discuss such matters, but it is important to understand what factors in their life may increase risk in their on-the-road activities.

Next, ensure your organisation has a clear and defined collision/incident investigation and escalation process.

Ensure safety checks are performed on all vehicles that are used for work activities. These checks should be recorded and maintained for future reference, and should include a robust defect reporting system within your vehicle maintenance and safety check regime.

The fifth point is to provide driver training and/or risk assessments for those that you have been identified as being at risk. Include the person, the vehicle and the journey within procedures. Keep up-to-date records that demonstrate both compliance with internal policies, and a desire to continually improve safety standards.

Plan road safety management reviews at least every six months to ensure continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of your procedures. Have your systems audited by a third party to obtain an unbiased view.

And finally, train all management staff to develop knowledge and skills in respect of managing occupational road risk. Managers should be able to consider the impact of certain events which may increase road traffic crashes. Remember, evaluation is crucial.

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