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Driving change: addressing human factors in vehicle collisions

Published to the CV Show website on
28/03/2024

By Matt Staton, Head of National Road User Safety Delivery at National Highways 

If companies want to reduce collisions in at-work vehicles, they need to recognise road risk as a health and safety priority – and manage the human factors. The second #DrivingChange conference at the National Space Centre in Leicester on 21 March took health and safety, automotive and fleet professionals through how we can address the most challenging and common causes of collisions.

The conference included the scale of the road safety challenge facing us, and an exclusive report by TRL on the fundamental causes of collisions on the strategic road network involving at-work vehicles. We’ve made huge strides in producing safer vehicles and safer roads – but the attitudes, health, fitness and alertness of the driver are key ingredients in safety.

The NH Fatality Research Database contains details of 1,000 fatal collisions on the Strategic Road Netword since 2014. Some 95% of LCV collisions relate to the driver, 25% inattention, 16% distraction, 13% impairment, 13% fatigue and 12% speeding. For HGVs, speeding and impairment were less common causes (3% and 2% respectively), but inattention and distraction were causal factors in 29% of fatal collisions, and fatigue in 7%. The most common types of incidents are rear-end collisions, where the LCV or HGV drives into the back of a stationary vehicle or queuing traffic.

We would like to urge the whole automotive industry to educate fleets and drivers that, when driving for work, their legal and moral responsibilities include making sure whoever is behind the wheel is free from impairment, sufficiently rested, focused and fit. Impairment, distraction, fatigue, medical issues, and inappropriate attitudes to risk, underlie a huge proportion of driver errors. And drivers can be pre-disposed to fatigue and poor decision-making, by a general lack of mental and physical well-being.

The conference’s speakers included experts from the rail and aviation industries, on how their sectors tackled identifying and eliminating the human factors behind safety incidents. This starts with identifying the true causes of collision and then changing our cultures, operations, schedules or vehicle design to remove risk. Some of those changes can be very small – but very powerful.

The keynote speaker was Matthew Syed, best-selling author of Black Box Thinking. He reflected on the insights from previous speakers, and emphasised that the industry should collate and pool its data and that we should foster growth mindsets and just cultures, where continual learning and improvement is embraced by all employees – not least because all employees feel empowered to question, suggest or voice concerns.

A culture based on learning is also essential to incident investigation. Useful investigations do not assume the cause, or rush to blame – the question is always, ‘what could we do as an organisation to prevent this happening again?’ There must also be accountability, says Syed – but learning and implementing the right solutions is the key to saving lives.

National Highways will soon launch its Incident Investigation Toolkit to help all those who use vehicles for work to complete thorough, impartial and, most of all, effective investigations into all collisions.

Automotive manufacturers, dealers, leasing companies and technicians can all play their part in educating fleets and drivers about safe driving behaviour. This includes safety technology, how it works and why they should use it, rather than disconnect it – but also that the most vital piece of safety technology is the driver themself.

They can create and encourage ‘just cultures’, in which drivers can be honest about being too tired to drive or medical conditions which may impair them, without penalty. And we can all encourage, inspire and mandate a sound road safety culture throughout our supply chains.

Collisions are not ‘accidents’. They don’t just happen. They are not inevitable. If we all play our part in educating drivers, calling out poor practice, and helping fleets to find safety solutions, we could make a huge difference to the number of lives lost on UK roads.

All our conference content from this year will be available soon at drivingchange.info

 

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