Improving Emergency Response Driver Training – A Behavioural Approach

It is well documented that human factors contribute 95% to road traffic collisions. The factors that are known to impact on risk include social, demographic, and psychological aspects of a driver. In recognition of this, train the trainer courses for blue light driver trainers require study of Chapter 1 of ‘Roadcraft’ and specifically for police driving Gordon Sharp’s book provides some background on the human aspects of police driving. But these texts do not go far enough.

Blue light driver trainers are key personnel in the communication and influence of appropriate attitudes and behaviour and need to be appropriately trained to deal with the human factors of driving under emergency conditions. Death and injury to innocent bystanders in the execution of these duties are unacceptable and the public expect that blue light drivers will demonstrate the highest standards when discharging their duty. Currently, blue light trainers may be aware of WHAT human factors contribute to risk, but research at DriverMetrics® and the Driving Research Group (DRG) at Cranfield University shows they need to know HOW to influence driver beliefs and behaviour to instil the right mindset during training and beyond.

There are several essential skills that blue light trainers need to acquire to manage human factors in driving that are not part on the blue light driver training curriculum in the UK. The current situation represents a serious gap in blue light trainer knowledge and skills.  Specifically they need to be able to identify and assess human factors in driving, raise the student’s awareness of these factors and influence the way students think and behave. For this, trainers need good communication and motivational skills to develop rapport. Rapport develops best when the trainer understands the student’s particular learning style and adapts their approach in accordance with this learning style to motivate learning.

A trainer also needs to assess a student’s personal characteristics and how this might impact on their driving behaviour. For example, some students may be complacent about their risk or over confident in their perceived driving skills and ability. To tackle this, a trainer must have the knowledge and skills to encourage a student to self assess their motives and driving ability. Reflective thinking is an essential part of the development of an expert driver.

The DRG have also found that blue light trainers struggle to motivate some students to maintain the high standards of driving skills achieved during training. They recognise that they are battling with the ‘canteen culture’ and operational and organisational pressures to respond to emergencies under strict response time policies. Often these pressures conflict with driving safely undoing all the good work that blue light trainers do when training their students.

The work of the DRG is supported by a major European Union project called MERIT to investigate the minimum requirements for driving instructor training for novice drivers. Their recommendations are based on a survey of current standards, a literature review and case studies. The published report suggests that driving instructors should be trained according to the Goals for Driver Education (GDE) Matrix. The matrix considers all the major research findings on driver behaviour and collision risk over the last 2 or 3 decades. It identifies 4 levels with the first level being good vehicle handling knowledge and skills which clearly essential for safe driving and the cornerstone of all driver training and education. At the second level, good traffic management skills are critical for safely negotiating through traffic. This level includes hazard perception skills and is reasonably well covered on driver training courses. The third and fourth levels pertaining to the tactical and strategic factors related to specific journeys and the lifestyle/personality levels are not well covered on any curriculum either for students, driving instructors or blue light trainers.

There are major challenges ahead then. Taking advantage of research on the factors known to impact on risk of collision and improving the curriculum for driver trainers is a priority. For this reason, Cranfield University has developed a three-day CPD Train the Trainers course to address human factors in emergency service driving and how to influence these factors during training. The course has been designed in line with Centrex’s Integrated Competency Framework and has been running successfully at Cranfield throughout the year.

Please contact us for more information on this course and our compatible Police, Ambulance and EFAD Driver Risk Index™ assessments.

This article first appeared in Emergency Service Times, June 2006.