Using a Fleet Driver Risk Assessment to Improve Driver Behaviour

The following article first appeared in Scania World Magazine: Driver behaviour and training, by Cari Evans.

Do you eat or talk on the phone while driving? Do you get irritated in traffic knowing that you have to be somewhere on time, or drive when you are tired? Such behaviour can cost you your life.

According to the World Health Organisation, road casualties is predicted to  be the third biggest killer in the world by 2020. For at work drivers, human factors such as responses to time pressure, distraction and fatigue are the main causes. According to an American report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation, driver inattention is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes. Nearly 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver inattention such as use of mobile phone within three seconds before the event.

Raising awareness among drivers and getting them to recognize that they are at risk is one the first step towards saving lives, says Dr Lisa Dorn, Reader in Driver Behaviour at Cranfield University in England.

Dr Dorn reflects on a tendency for professional drivers to believe that because they are highly skilled, they won’t get into an accident. “While you may have fully mastered difficult driving skills, you also need to accept your limitations. We all make mistakes and have lapses of attention. Drivers need to understand that they are prone like everyone else to be fallible, and when those mistakes happen, they can lose their lives.”

People who drive for work are often anxious about being late, and are more likely to get into an accident than people who are just carrying on with their journey. “The stress could be because the organization which the driver is working for is concerned more about profit than safety. Then it is important to make sure that risk is being managed at work and that training is in place to cope with the demands of driving for work,” says Dorn.

One method gathering momentum is to raise awareness about personal risk by asking drivers how they think and feel about driving using Cranfield’s psychometric assessment called the Fleet Driver Risk Index™ (FDRI). The FDRI asks many questions from several angles of the same construct. For example, if you get frustrated in a traffic jam, you will probably also be stressed when under time pressure. The FDRI also assesses human factors such as proneness to fatigue, thrill-seeking and angry driving. Based on research reported in almost 40 academic publications, the FDRI is currently being used by over 50 vehicle operators including the emergency services, passenger services and fleet companies.

The FDRI serves as an intervention to manage at work driver risk by providing an individualised feedback profile showing how each driver scores relative to a standard benchmark. By profiling sources of behavioural and attitudinal risk, the driving instructor can use the FDRI profile to direct a driver’s attention towards areas for improvement. The role of the instructor/coach then is not to ‘teach’ or ‘instruct’ in the conventional sense but to encourage the driver to take responsibility for personal safety and driving decisions.

Driver training and coaching reduces accidents by 25 percent reduction. Over 10,000 people, from police officers trained in high speed driving techniques to delivery van drivers, have taken part the on-line assessment. Many have gone on to some sort of individual or collective coaching or training aimed at changing their driving behaviour. Companies that have used this system report several benefits. Accident rates have been cut with a corresponding reduction in costs to the business and human consequences. Employees report that they feel more confident in carrying out the driving element of their job. And insurers view more favourably those companies that undertake these assessments and follow-on training.

Helping drivers understand – and modify their behaviour eliminates some dangerous habits. For example, it is important for drivers to stay “in the moment while driving,” and not let thoughts wander to what is going on at work or home, Dorn points out. “Stress severely interferes with performance and sitting behind a wheel feeling stressed is not a good place to be,” she adds.

Driving under pressure and for long periods of time leads to fatigue and this can also result in an accident. Many crashes due to fatigue tend to happen in the early morning hours or late afternoon. This follows Circadian rhythms, which control our biological clock. “It is important to be aware of our limitations and know when we are most vulnerable to fatigue, and perhaps time our breaks better,” says Dorn. “Certain roads and conditions also contribute to fatigue and it is important that drivers get such information.”

Anticipating – and trying to avoid certain roads and hazards is better than aggressively attacking obstacles she adds. “Some research suggests that if, for example, you teach people to manoeuvre in a skid, the message drivers get is that they are safe on ice and then their level of risk-taking advances because they feel that they can control the skid and stop in time. What they should be doing is avoiding getting into that [slippery] situation in the first place.”

Dorn has been studying driver behaviour since the early 1980s, when there were only a handful of people researching the topic. Since then, there has been an explosion of interest. “More and more people are realising that a lot can be done to offset the dangers of driving and that we can implement interventions to ensure safety,” she says.

One area where people need to be reminded about safety is regarding attitudes towards seatbelts. A younger generation who didn’t grow up with the seatbelt campaigns of the 1970s and 80s, think wearing seatbelts is unnecessary, or even “a bit cool” says Dorn. And some believe it is safer without seatbelts.

A recent UK government study clearly disputes this. It found that of the drivers killed in last 12 months, about 300 lives could have been saved with seatbelts.  

Contact us for a demo of the Fleet Driver Risk Index