Why do people drive so badly?

According to the charity Brake, a million people die each year on the World’s roads. What causes so many deaths?  Why do people drive so badly?  What can an employer do to help?

Well, actually there are lots of reasons.  It may be bravado, carelessness, being in too much of a hurry, or just sheer incompetence.   Or they may be too tired, or not thinking what they are doing. These are all important, but I will just concentrate on the last two.

Fatigue

Falling asleep at the wheel is one of the most dangerous things a driver can do. It causes no less than 16% of road accidents, and this does not include those caused by the slowing of reactions due to tiredness. 

So, what can you do about this?  Here are some ideas:

  • Enforce drivers’ hours regulations: get tachographs analysed, and follow up with drivers.  In the UK, a lot of employers do not even know that there are legal limits on driving hours for van drivers as well as for HGVs. Even where this is not the case, don’t encourage excessive driving. Do your sales team arrive home at 10pm completely exhausted? 
  • Accept that some people don’t function well at night. This includes me. I can’t perform effectively, and I certainly couldn’t safely drive an HGV. People like this shouldn’t work nights.
  • Encourage people to report health conditions such as sleep apnoea, and give them other duties whilst they receive treatment
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking before night driving – one drink might not put a driver over the legal limit but it will make them more likely to fall asleep.
  • Encourage serious discussion about medication. Some night-time cold remedies can cause drowsiness, and others intended for daytime use may actually cause difficulty in sleeping and thus indirectly lead to tiredness. If in doubt discuss the matter with a doctor or pharmacist. 
  • Make sure that a comfortable bunk is available for drivers away from base overnight. You might save a few pounds by specifying a narrow bunk or thin mattress but this is a very poor way to treat your drivers.
  • If no bunk is available in the cab (for example if ‘double manning’) then make alternative arrangements, including a budget hotel to be claimed on expenses if necessary. If a driver is forced to spend the night on the cab seats, or even in some cases on the floor of a trailer, this will not legally count as rest under drivers’ hours regulations, nor will they get a good night’s sleep. 
  • Give advice on sleeping at home for shift workers. This will include thick curtains to reduce light levels, reducing background noise, and avoiding interruptions. Being woken by a telephone ringing, a partner hoovering the other bedrooms or kids excitedly jumping on a sleeping parent when they get home from school will not help.

Distraction

Any driver must give full attention to the road.  That can be difficult enough, but there is no need to make it harder still by causing unnecessary distractions. Examples include:

  • Mobile phones. The use of hands-off phones might still legal in some countries, but they are a serious distraction. Drivers should always pull over before using a phone, especially if they have to use an app, e.g. for managing proofs of delivery.
  • CB (Citizen’s Band) radio. This is a lot less popular that it used to be, but it should be banned in any event. 
  • Unauthorised passengers should be banned – indeed they are not covered by many insurance policies. This should include family members – I have known young children to wander unaccompanied around transport yards, and have never understood why any parent would let them do this. If passengers have to be carried, such as a driver’s mate, make sure they don’t distract the driver: a heated argument about politics or football will not help.
  • Animals. A goods vehicle cab is no place for a dog which might leap up at the most inconvenient moment. 
  • SatNav. These systems do have an important role to play, and following their instructions is certainly safer than taking your eyes off the road to look at a map. However, looking at the screen to make changes is dangerous, and drivers should always pull over before inputting new information.
  • Music. I would not go as far as to ban radios and CD players – they can relieve the tedium of a long journey and have a positive benefit. However, drivers should pull over before, for example, changing discs. 
  • Eating, drinking, shaving, applying lipstick or make-up, or smoking. None of these should be permitted at the wheel. 
  • Road rage. This is one of the most difficult aspects to manage – most people have encountered drivers who are bad enough to make them angry.  My best advice to pass on to drivers is to take the moral high ground – don’t sound your horn, don’t swear or make gestures, and most certainly don’t drive deliberately badly, cutting up another vehicle or blocking a lane. Ignore such behaviour from other drivers, and if necessary slow down to allow them to speed off ahead and get out of your life forever.  

Conclusion

Obviously, there are lots of other examples of bad driving habits. They all need to be strongly discouraged, and I do recommend the use of modern technology such as telematics and on-board cameras to help this process.

However, let us not forget that it is not all down to the driver – others in the organisation also have a role to play. Obviously, Traffic Supervisors should route vehicles effectively, and brief and debrief drivers to encourage safe driving, and HR departments have an important contribution, starting with driver recruitment.  Perhaps less obviously, sales personnel should not make unrealistic promises to customers; finance should not impose unrealistic productivity targets which can only be met by driving dangerously fast; and senior management should play their part by instilling a safety culture.

In short, reducing accidents does not just concern the driver – it concerns everybody. 

Make sure your company does not add to those million annual deaths.


Jerry Rudd is the author of Health and Safety in Logistics, published by Kogan Page, which is available on the Publisher’s website or on Amazon.  This includes chapters on safe vehicle operations, as well as on other aspects of Health and Safety.

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