Road safety and the importance of consciousness

Our last Fleet Insider interview was with the road safety expert, Will Murray. For this latest interview, we’re sticking with the subject of road safety, but we’re taking the conversation in-house. Gary Banister is the National Account Manager for Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, who, among many other things, advises our customers on their approach to road safety. We’re grateful for his insights here.

Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions’ recent road safety survey found that people are generally overconfident in their own driving abilities. Do you agree?

It’s the same with anything. Whether people are walking, climbing stairs or driving, they do it subconsciously. They’ll pick up their keys at home, get in the car, drive to work, park up, glide to their desks, and put their keys down. The only times when their subconscious is overridden, and consciousness kicks in, are if they have an accident or an incident of some kind. Provided that doesn’t happen, they can get overconfident. This is what all the science and research says.

It’s true within fleets as well; employees often get around subconsciously. If, say, they drive a company vehicle to deliver parcels, they’re more likely to regard themselves as delivery men or women, rather than drivers – even if they do much more driving than they do handing over parcels! It’s sometimes only an incident, or fear of an incident, that can stop them becoming complacent about what it is a large part of their job. 

Why should organisations take road safety seriously?

There’s a legal responsibility, of course, to comply with various regulations and pieces of health and safety legislation. There are also societal responsibilities and business reasons.

What some organisations don’t understand is that they have to go above and beyond the basic legislation. They might check their employees’ driving records, say, once a year, and that’s it. It’s only when an incident happens – with all the associated costs and demands – that they start to reflect properly on the risks.

Sure, the biggest organisations might have HR teams or compliance teams that are tasked with devising and delivering a road safety agenda. But imagine the case of a smaller organisation, such as a window cleaning business. They might have five vans, but those vans are probably low on the business owner’s list of daily concerns. They’re more likely to be wondering whether they have any money coming in tomorrow, where their next customers are going to come from, who is going to do each job, and so on.   

All of this is perfectly understandable, to some extent – yet neglecting road safety is also dangerous. These organisations could find themselves counting terrible costs if one of their vehicles is involved in an accident.

What are the first steps that an organisation should take to improve the safety of their fleet and their drivers?

A useful starting point is something like the Haddon Matrix. This is basically a gap analysis tool: it helps organisations to assess their own risks, and discover where they might be falling short. This approach can really help an organisation to see the costs associated with an insufficient road safety policy. A supermarket home delivery service – which is, incidentally, a high-risk sector – might end up asking themselves whether it’s better to have a good road safety policy, or to have to sell more loaves of bread to cover the cost of any incidents. Hopefully and usually they’ll be compelled by the case for the former.

What, typically, are the hurdles within an organisation that would prevent it from having a good road safety policy?

Often, it can be an inability to see road safety as something that affects an organisation in terms of both its bottom line and its reputation. It’s just regarded as a box to be ticked for the sake of compliance.

When an organisation sits down to formulate their road safety policy, it’s in their mind for a day or two. But then the importance and urgency of it can fade from everyone’s mind. Sustaining the right approaches and attitudes is the real challenge. Road safety needs to be as fresh on day 365 as it is on day one.

Consider the example of a major retailer. They might have ten home delivery vehicles at the back of their store, each going out for 15 hours a day. But they also have a shop that’s turning over half a million pounds a day, with thousands of customers passing through it each hour. The boss is more likely to understand the shop-keeping part than the van part – not least because the latter is just a small bullet-point on their balance sheets. 

This means that, ideally, there needs to be someone within an organisation who is both the champion and custodian of road safety. He or she needs to win the hearts and minds of their colleagues. That way, good policies might be sustained throughout the year.

What can Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions do to help its clients reduce their risk?

A large part of our work is helping customers on a consultancy basis. When a customer talks to us about their contract, we will advise them on many things, from alternative fuels to, of course, road safety. For example, we had a workshop last week with one of our customers, and we made sure that road risk was part of our presentation. We asked: what do you think about this? Where are you on the journey? Can we talk to you about it further? Even if they don’t agree with a particular solution, we provide them with some insight so that, at the very least, they might go away thinking about the subject. We regard this as a duty on our part.

We also currently offer services to our customers through our relationships with other providers – for example, driver licence checking. We’re constantly looking to expand the range of services that we provide. Perhaps I’ll be able to talk about some of our new ones in future!