Road and fleet safety: An interview with Dr Will Murray

‘Organisations need to be more proactive’ - An interview with Dr Will Murray

We began our new series of interviews with the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin. Now we have another great interviewee for you: Dr Will Murray, Research Director of eDriving, and a longstanding expert in matters of road and fleet safety. He’s soon going to cycle from London to Paris to raise money for the road safety charity Brake. We’re grateful that he spent some time out of the saddle to answer our questions:

Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions recently published its latest road safety survey. Its main finding was that people have an inflated sense of their own driving ability. Is this a problem that you have encountered in your own research?

Not necessarily through research, but certainly anecdotally. I’ve been to quite a few events recently where audience members were asked: do you think you are an above-average driver? Almost everyone put up their hands to say, yes, they are above average. Yet, statistically, for everybody to be above average, you quickly run into some very dodgy maths. So, yes, I do think that people can easily have an over-inflated opinion of their own driving ability.

The report also found that surprisingly large proportions of motorists engage in bad practices such as speeding, getting angry at other road users, and even drink-driving. How avoidable are these problems?

The data backs up this finding. We recently benchmarked the licence check endorsement data of 11 different fleets. Among these 11 fleets – and these are pretty good fleets because they’re involved in benchmarking and sharing with others, and some of them are from Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 companies – what you can say is that, on average, 12 per cent of drivers had speeding endorsements. In the worst case, 18 per cent of people in one organisation had speeding endorsements.

Thankfully, driving under the influence of either drink or drugs isn’t so prominent. But the figures still show that, in some of the 11 fleets, around 1 per cent of drivers have an endorsement for drink and/or drugs.

By managing their licence check data in this way, organisations can start to manage down the risks. For example, one the companies identified that a large proportion of their endorsements were for mobile phone use. By using that data, they were able to introduce a driving-whilst-distracted policy, which significantly reduced those endorsement types.

What is the single riskiest practice on the roads?

There’s a list of bad practices called the Fatal Five: speeding, fatigue, alcohol, not wearing seatbelts, and driving whilst distracted. Obviously, individuals and organisations should do everything they can to avoid these things. But the single best measure for road safety is actually to avoid journeys – which is to say, journey-planning, meeting without moving, conference calling, etc. This avoids the single biggest risk: getting on the road in the first place.

Is the nature of risk changing – e.g. as we’re more distracted by technologies such as sat-navs and mobile phones?

Driver distraction is really important. The Fatal Five used to be the Fatal Four, until distraction become the fifth element.

This was, in part, because Barack Obama released an executive order banning government workers in the US from texting whilst driving. This might not seem like much, by itself, but when you consider that there are millions of federal employees in America, it will certainly have a big effect. It also gave the issue a lot more prominence and coverage, which in turn led to universities getting more funding for research.

If the Government were to introduce one policy to improve safety on the roads, what would it be?

Speaking personally, I’d say it should be more investment in integrated public transport, such as in the railways, so that people can get off the roads.

But from a workplace perspective, if the Government were to encourage the Health and Safety Executive to do more about road safety, that could have a significant impact – particularly when it comes to applying their very good guidance on driving at work.

There’s a strong argument for making at-work road collisions reportable under RIDDOR, the HSE’s reporting system for workplace fatalities. It’s a relatively easy thing that the government could do to encourage much better management of driving at work.

Somewhere in the region of a third of road fatalities involve people driving for work. If you add on commuting, it’s at least a half of all fatalities. So, if we have better reporting on that data, and more focus on it from the HSE, that would persuade more organisations to manage those risks better.

What can companies do to make their fleets safer?

First of all, this isn’t just companies – all organisation types can do more to make their fleets safer.

The starting point is to understand the extent of the risk. The Department of Transport has recently supported the updating of the Fleet Safety Benchmarking project, a free-to-use tool that helps organisations to understand and manage their risk levels.

A lot of leasing companies also have risk management programmes, which they can help their clients with.

What are the main challenges that – ahem – organisations face when it comes to risk management?

Typically, it’s fragmentation in organisations. The driving policies of an organisation might be influenced by a line manager, a fleet manager, by the leasing company, by the health and safety manager, by HR, and others. Safe driving cuts across all of these different parts of an organisation, so there needs to be good collaboration between them.

The other part of this mix is finance managers. Quite often, the costs of safety are hidden or they’re spread around several different budgets. Only when you start to look at the data in real depth can you understand what the real costs are.

Often, it takes something bad to happen for people to start noticing these costs and focusing on them. Organisations tend to be reactive after an event, when they really need to be more proactive.

What would you say to anyone running an organisation who doesn’t see the benefit of a risk management policy?

I think there are four main reasons why organisations should focus on risk management. There’s the societal benefit: there are roughly 1.3 million road fatalities around the globe each year, which is a terrible toll. There’s the brand importance: if your company is involved in a collision, it harms your reputation. There are the cost issues. And, of course, there’s the matter of complying with various pieces of health, safety and corporate legislation. If you’re still not convinced, I’d recommend reading one of the good business cases for a risk management policy that are out there on the Internet.

What are some of the best innovations in road safety?

In a fleet or work context, it’s probably the use of big data. Traditionally, fleet data has been fragmented, so you might have some HR data and some collision data and some licence data and, in some cases, some vehicle telemetry data. Where current and recent innovations are going is towards data integration; to link all that data together to give you an overall picture.


Dr Will Murray is Research Director at eDriving - FLEET, which provides research-led, sustainable fleet risk management solutions. Will, who has spent over 20 years in the fleet and logistics sector working with many of the world’s best known brands, in academia and with various government agencies around the globe, is also a Visiting Fellow at universities in the UK and Australia, as well as a long time Trustee of the road safety charity Brake. Turning research into practice, engaging managers and focusing on long term sustained program evaluation lies at the heart of Will's work.

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