Assistant Editor , SHP

April 29, 2024

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National Highways: “Why aren’t road collisions RIDDOR reportable?”

The Vehicles don’t crash – people do! conference at the National Space Center in Leicester hosted by National Highways and Driving for Better Business, focused on what health and safety professionals should be doing to increase driver-centric safety measures.

Mel Clarke, Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing at National Highways began the conference asking: “Is it acceptable that around five people will die on our roads today?”

Putting this into perspective, Clarke said that there are half a million Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) registered in the UK with five million vans; one million company cars and 14 million grey fleet – personal vehicles used for business purposes – making up around half (20 million out of 40 million) of all vehicles on the road in the UK.

Clarke said driver fitness and health should be checked and maintained separately to vehicle worthiness: “Vehicle conditions can make things worse, but the cause is almost always about driver performance.” She added: “This is a health and safety issue and we’re all in it together and we’re all part of the answer.”

Driver safety not high enough on health and safety agenda

Mark Cartwright presenting at the conference

In his presentation, Mark Cartwright, Head of Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention at National Highways said: “We don’t seem to recognise [that driving is] easily and demonstrably the most dangerous activity we undertake on a day-to-day basis”.

He urged health and safety delegates to look at driver safety in the same way they do building or site safety, adding that he’s seen “an awful lot” of organisations which have robust health and safety measures in place missing this: “For the health and safety professionals in the audience, this is a whole new playing field for you – you know what to do – just get stuck into your driving side of things and make the changes in the same way as you would within your organisation.”

A main reason health and safety professionals may not look at driver safety in the same way as other areas, Cartwright argued, is due to the reporting measures not being the same: “Why aren’t road collisions RIDDOR reportable? I don’t get it…there’s about the same number of HGV drivers killed on our roads each year as there is construction worker falls from height.

“Big difference is the construction worker doesn’t tend to take a family of four in a Ford Focus with them – so why aren’t we throwing the same effort into that area?”

Repeat accidents “unforgiveable”

Kevin Elliot, Partner at Womble Bond Dickinson echoed Cartwright’s presentation in his own, saying: “We lack the benefit of RIDDOR statistics. When I work with organisations, what is plain is that in the vast majority, work-related road risk is simply not managed as well as the traditional workplace risk.”

“I advise you not to have a policy if there’s no intention to follow it.”

He then went into depth on work-related policies: “If you’ve already got one you need to revise it, you need to make sure it’s fit for purpose, crucially, I think, before you launch it make sure you engage with those people who will be affected by it – is it going to be an effective policy? Next point – always make sure you communicate it to the workforce.”

He added that organisations must ensure employees are following the policy: “You absolutely have to make sure through auditing assurance monitoring that your employees are following that policy because you’ve set the benchmark…I advise you not to have a policy if there’s no intention to follow it.”

Elliot called the risk assessment process the “cornerstone” of what needs to be covered when employees drive for work: “From a legal perspective every employer has a duty, under Section 2 of The Health and Safety Work Act to do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of their employees – that is not restricted to what happens in an office or a workshop or on the railways, it very much includes the driving activity.”

He mentioned the financial impact on a firm such as medical cost, lost productivity and maintenance repairs, as well as reputational damage such as negative press coverage, but also internal damage, as employees would want to know they are safe and that their organisation will avoid the same mistake occurring: “It would be unforgiveable if there was something array within your organisation which you had failed to identify – but a good investigation would have identified, and allowed you to put in place effective measures to prevent that occurring again.”

Concluding, Elliot said outcomes of an investigation should include organisational, driver and sector learning.

Putting it into practice

The event was held at the National Space Centre in Leicester

Matt Staton, Head of National Road User Safety Delivery at National Highways discussed the predominant factors causing an incident which are inattention, distraction, fatigue, and impairment (drink or drugs).

Since 2014, inattention has been the lead cause of crashes, and Staton said health and safety should review their policies. “Do you expect your drivers to answer calls while they’re on the road? That’s something we have control over – we can choose whether we ring that person or not, [even] when we know that they’re driving.”

Staton offered plans for learning, explaining that 25% of all rear end fatal collisions could have been prevented if the HGV or Large Goods Vehicle (LGV) at the back had kept its distance.

He cited training as a way of improving hazard perception; system design to reduce distraction from in-vehicle devices; distraction monitoring and driver alerts for approaching temporary hazards such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB): “[AEB is a] big factor – is it fitted to all the vehicles in your fleet and do your drivers know how it works and [are you sure they] won’t switch it off?”

No blame?

“I think ‘no blame’ is a mistake for company culture,” began the author and broadcaster, Matthew Syed, before asking if the audience disagreed with his bold statement.

Matthew Syed presenting at the conference

He provided an example of an employee who should be blamed (such as a pre-flight drunk pilot), saying the onus should be on that individual.

However, Syed said in place of a no-blame culture there should be a ‘Just Culture’, and suggested it’s a “systems problem” that can affect and cause safety issues: “In other words as leaders we have many different levers that we can pull in order to make the system safer…if you unfairly blame professionals because of system problems what happens? People stop sharing safety critical information.”

He argued that employees feel psychologically safe at work when they can ask questions or raise concerns: “Raising your hand is a route to greater enlightenment – and if everyone is doing that in the team it means that they are collectively more enlightened.”

Challenging ideas is also a good sign of a strong workplace culture, Syed reflected: “Some people think that psychological safety means that every idea is a good idea, that is painfully ridiculous is it not? …We need to be able to rationally criticise each other’s ideas so that we can collectively come to the right solution, the right strategy, the right insight.”

Syed said leaders should move away from a “fixed mindset” where leaders feel they are the expert and no longer in need of learning, he added the key is for a “growth mindset” instead, explaining: “They tend to be higher in initiative… self-starting, more curious, they tend to be better at reaching out to diverse voices.”

Given the majority of organisations like to shout about their successes, growth mindset leaders will feel comfortable to discuss failures, and importantly, near misses which Syed said provides “very rich” information in maintaining a safe system: “Safe systems are demonstrated by performance…safety is a branch of performance,” he told the audience.

“Always a cause”

Along with networking breaks, a lunch and exhibition, the day also included presentations on sleep, fatigue and a railway case study from Network Rail. Cartwright concluded by looking at the definition of accidents as something that ‘just happens’: “Accidents don’t just happen – somebody, somewhere, has made that decision or failed to make a decision – so there’s always a cause.”

With a shifted focus from fleet managers to health and safety professionals, calls for shared responsibility, driver safety centric risk assessments, and mental health considerations themed heavily.

Driving for Better Safety - Free eBook download

This eBook will guide you through some of the key understandings you need to be able to manage driver safety effectively and, at the end, provide a series of free resources you can access to help you ensure your own driver safety management system is robust, legally compliant and in line with industry-accepted good practice.

Download this eBook from Driving for Better Business and SHP to cover:

  • Why do we need to manage driver safety?
  • Duty of care – a shared responsibility;
  • Setting the rules with a driving for work policy;
  • Managing driver safety;
  • Ensuring safe vehicles;
  • Safe journeys and fitness to drive;
  • Record keeping;
  • Reporting;
  • The business benefits of good practice;
  • Additional resources

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1 month ago

Flooding the HSE with thousands and thousands of potential RIDDOR reports would not benefit the industry.

1 month ago

As is suggested by Shephard, the HSE would be completely overwhelmed if this became their remit. The police investigate road traffic collisions, but they do so from the perspective of Road Traffic law, not H&S.

Last edited 1 month ago by Griffiths
Tim Briggs
Tim Briggs
1 month ago

The laws regarding accidents where traffic offences on roads are possibly committed are a police matter. HSE is not designed to be able to cope with such numbers, and could not realistically respond, plus of course if traffic fatalities were included it would ruin the HSE statistics.
They would be better advised abolishing unsafe “SMART” motorways.

1 month ago
Reply to  Tim Briggs

Spot on Tim, they are absolute death traps. The tech cannot be relied on, and even if it can there is the human factor of drivers deciding to ignore the red X. Source: multiple personal experience, M25 & M1…

Trevor Smith
Trevor Smith
1 month ago

With respect, I suggest the beliefs as reported here are wrong. It is not what “(OSH) professionals should be doing to increase driver-centric safety measures.”, it should be more “what are directors and shareholders doing to increase driver-centric safety measures”. It has been shown by many cases that it is impossible to change the culture of any business without the buy in of the company’s controlling minds. As a OSH professional, yes I can advise on the best possible safety measures, and they can be proportional and cost effective to the risk the company has. What I can not do… Read more »

Peter Rimmer
Peter Rimmer
1 month ago

Making roads safer would reduce accidents and road deaths – abolishing so-called Smart Motorways, filling potholes and re-surfacing our roads would be a much better option than endless form-filling! Is it any wonder that our roads are second class?

1 month ago

RIDDOR reporting would give a higher degree of accuracy to data on how collectively impactful this is. That should not stop the police from being the primary investigators as Road Traffic Law is, arguably, a specific sub-set of H&S law targeting this very large group of drivers as identified in the article. The police deal with the individual (sometimes the company) and all the other 20 million non-work drivers. The addition of RIDDOR stats would allow for clear data to steer government policy on the work aspect of driving as respective to subsets of all work drivers (HGV; Bus\Coach\Taxi; Company… Read more »