Driver training drives down costs

Date: Monday, February 28, 2011

Making sure employees are competent behind the wheel can boost the balance sheet for van operators as well as protecting health and safety in the workforce, writes James Dallas
There is nothing quite like a recession to concentrate business minds on trimming back costs, and with careless or inefficient styles of driving likely to reduce profit margins, hike up insurance premiums and raise CO2 emissions it is no surprise fleets are increasingly focusing on training to reduce the economic and health risks associated with driving at work.
With up to a third of accidents reckoned to involve a business driver, there is obviously room for savings to be made.
According to Driving for Better Business, part of the Government-backed road safety charity, Roadsafe, businesses with driver training programmes and road-safety policies benefit from better control of costs – not just in terms of repairs, legal fees and claims from staff and third parties, but also in reducing spend on wear and tear and fuel. Better driving standards also cut down staff sick days due to injury or stress, while accident-related red tape is also kept to a minimum and there is less chance of employees being kept off the road through amassing sufficient points on their licences to incur driving bans.

Workshops

BT has recognised the hazards of neglecting driver training. Since September last year, the telecoms giant, which runs one of the largest fleets in Europe and says driving is a core activity for 79,000 employees, has been running safe-driving workshops for line managers responsible for more than five vehicles in conjunction with driver training specialist Peak Performance.
BT safety advisor Tony Holt says: “The risk associated with driving represents the largest single overall risk, both in terms of the health and safety of employees and of cost to the business.”
Peak Performance’s boss Richard Hill says much of the firm’s work comes from the insurance industry, and adds that “lowering premiums is the motivation”.
The company offers online risk assessments from £10 and workshops for up to 16 delegates for about £500. Half-day courses in a vehicle with an instructor cost in the region of £175. For van operators it offers in-vehicle induction courses and specialist parking training.
“There’s a place for online activities but accidents happen out on the road,” Hill says.
Driver training specialist Steve Johnson, a former director of DriveTech, reckons duty of care has become a red herring, as the Health & Safety Executive is starved of resources, making prosecutions unlikely, and that the true benefit to businesses in embracing driver training is in cutting costs. He says the average expense of a crash in terms of repairing “bent metal” is £700 but that the real cost to a company is far higher when taking into account possible loss of orders, business continuity and reputation.

This is particularly pertinent for operators of liveried vans, which are like “mobile billboards”, Johnson points out.
“Driver training doesn’t teach people how to drive but it improves their perception of risk,” he says.
Apart from drumming into employers the need to carry out regular maintenance checks on their fleets and to ensure drivers use the shortest and safest possible routes, Johnson says the key skill to teach drivers is concentration – this means resisting distractions, taking responsibility on the road and having enough awareness to anticipate the actions of other road users.
“Drivers must compensate for the inadequacies of others, they must be magnanimous,” he says.
He points out that most motorists take their driving test and thereafter receive no further training to stop complacency or bad habits creeping in. Most fleet drivers, he estimates, average some sort of ding every 15 months.
Johnson is ‘old school’ – he believes sitting in a cab next to an instructor is the best way to learn, but he appreciates that time and costs dictate that workshops and, especially, online risk assessments are increasingly the preferred option.
Large companies have environmental responsibility embedded into their ethos, they need to be seen to be green, to
be upholding their corporate responsibilities. For the small players it’s all about the bottom line. So if eco-driving courses deliver fuel savings of 10%, it could be a worthwhile investment.

Smooth operators

Anticipation is the secret of fuel-efficient driving. According to Johnson, it’s about “smoothing out the peaks and troughs”. This means fewer gear changes, hanging back when approaching traffic lights and roundabouts to avoid sudden braking and accelerating and resisting the temptation to hang on to the revs.
Aerodynamics also plays a role. Having a ladder strapped to the roof rack will increase fuel consumption, as will the wrong tyre pressure or a poorly tuned engine.

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