Dr Karen McDonnell, RoSPA’s Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser and Head of RoSPA Scotland, discusses the main risks relating to driver behaviour and how employers can help to tackle them…
Dr Karen McDonnell at RoSPA
Tiredness reduces a driver’s ability to recognise hazards, slows their reaction times and impairs their judgement. It also reduces their vigilance, alertness, concentration and decision-making.
Driver fatigue results in thousands of road accidents every year and research shows it is a contributory factor in around a quarter of fatal and serious accidents.
It is vital that employers treat driver fatigue as a key health and safety issue, not only to protect their workforce but to protect other road users. Employers must take steps to ensure that their drivers are not at risk of falling asleep at the wheel, such as including time for drivers to take rest breaks, avoiding systems of work that put drivers under time pressures, setting limits for unbroken driving hours and fostering a culture that encourages drivers to acknowledge when they are fatigued and should not drive.
Many drivers think it’s okay to speed ‘just a little bit’ but with higher speeds increasing stopping distances, even an extra 5mph could make the difference between hitting a pedestrian or not.
Workplace driving policies, training and culture need to set out an expectation for all employees to drive at appropriate speeds for the conditions they are in and within the speed limit.
It’s also absolutely vital that employees do not feel they need to speed due to their schedules or workload.
A driver is distracted when they pay attention to a second activity while driving. Distractions can be inside the vehicle (e.g. using a mobile phone, sat nav, infotainment system or in-car controls) or outside the vehicle.
Distracted drivers underestimate the effects that distraction has on them, and do not perceive their reduced awareness or their ability to spot hazards. Drivers who are distracted also have difficulty controlling their speed and their distance from the vehicle in front, and their lane position can vary drastically.
When a driver is at work, their employer also a responsibility towards the safety of their employees, and the people they share the road with, and need to put in place all ‘reasonably practicable’ safety measures on work-related journeys. This includes making sure that drivers are aware of the dangers of distraction, are trained to deal with it, and are trained in the safe use of any in-vehicle technology which may cause a distraction.
Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of both fatal and non-fatal injuries in road collisions – by 60% in front seat passengers and by 44% among rear seat passengers. You are twice as likely to die in a road crash if you are not wearing a seat belt.
The latest data shows that of the 682 people who died in collisions in cars in Great Britain in 2021, around 30% were not wearing a seat belt – the highest level since records began.
Employers and fleet managers need to ensure that their driving for work policy makes it absolutely clear that a seatbelt MUST be worn – and the consequences of not doing so (legally and in terms of safety). It’s also essential that the importance of belting up is highlighted through inductions, awareness campaigns, staff meetings and so on.
Both drink and drugs can impair driving ability and reduce the ability to accurately judge situations.
Despite a huge reduction in the level of drink-driving over the last three decades, around 200 people are killed in drink-drive accidents annually. In addition, driving while under the influence of drugs (both legal and illegal) causes around 80 fatal road accidents in Great Britain every year.
Particular attention should be focused on the ‘Morning After’ effect. It is very difficult to know exactly how much alcohol has been consumed and how long it will stay in the bloodstream as it varies from person to person. Some drivers may find themselves unknowingly still over the limit the morning after they have been drinking.
Employers should raise awareness of the legal and ethical implications of drink/drug-driving and enhance drivers’ understanding of the length of time necessary after drinking to allow alcohol levels to decline to safe levels.
It is also important to consider the effects of prescription medicine and combining different drugs or drugs with alcohol. Consult your pharmacist or GP about any concerns.
RoSPA is responsible for the delivery of the Scottish Occupational Road Safety Alliance (ScORSA), an initiative relating to those who drive or ride for work. Membership is free and is open to individuals and organisations worldwide. Find out more information here.
Access RoSPA’s road safety guidance here.
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