Almost 10 years ago the HSE and Transport Research Laboratory discovered that a shocking 20 drivers a week were being killed on the road doing trips for work. The stats today are about 14 a week, but it’s still a horrendous number and not a statistic we would be able to get away with in any other area of H&S. Which does beg the questions why this has never been taken under RIDDOR. I’m sure it’s partially to do with the system not being able to cope with this many extra reports coming in every week, if serious injury from driving was also taken into consideration!

Light trails and blurred cars on a German autobahn road

I recently went along to my local IOSH group meeting and listened to a very illuminating talk on occupational road risk by Roger Bibbings MBE of ROSPA. This is a subject close to my heart as I did my MSc research into the topic of work-related driving and the effect of fleet safety culture on accident rates.

So why, after so much research and money spent on driving campaigns do we still have such a big problem with road safety? Things have got better admittedly, but as a recent report from the Transport Select Committee showed, for the first time in a decade there has been an increase in road deaths and many of the factors will be the same as those identified 10 years ago. We can improve roads and vehicles and raise awareness in drivers and pedestrians, but we can’t make people take the right action each and every time they go out on the road and this will always be a problem as long as humans are involved!

Why don’t we do what we know we should?

Do you speed? Are you in the ‘never, ever, ever’ camp? In the ‘sometimes, it depends on the road, time of day and how late I am’ camp or maybe the ‘we should follow the Germans and have derestricted autobahns’ camp.

If you told someone you’d broken the speed limit on your drive home last night would they be horrified at your behaviour? No. They’d possibly share their experience of where the speed cameras are so you don’t get into trouble. Socially many of us don’t feel speeding is that bad an offence, unless you’re perceived to be reckless about it or people feel unsafe if they have to drive with you.

Generally we don’t castigate people for speeding, we commiserate with them for getting caught. Even those who don’t want to speed find themselves sitting very comfortably in their company cars reaching speeds they never meant to without even noticing. Possibly because they’re too busy talking on their mobile hands-free, which is of course OK because it’s legal. Right? Don’t get me started on mobile phones or we’ll be here all day!

I am not saying speeding leads to all of the deaths on the road, but it’s a big contributor because it takes away attention time and time to act when something happens. Many other factors may lead to crashes, usually a combination of loss of concentration and some sort of violation of rules that come together to cause the accident.

This is the same if you lose concentration doing 90 in the outside lane or 40 in a 30 area and a child steps out. You’re not as likely to react and stop in time, hence the limit on your speed by the highways agency who look at road conditions and decide on the maximum safe speed for that piece of road. These limits should be a guide not a goal! But when it comes to driving we all think we know best.

So do you plan your journey to include breaks? Or plan your day to include enough time to get to the meeting and home again, or do you, like many, get up at the crack of dawn to drive to a meeting at 9.00am 3 hours or more away then do a full day and drive 3 hours or more home? Do you take up the company offer of a night away when you really should or do you push yourself to drive home when you’re possibly too tired? We all do it to get back to the family or to get off the next day to another long drive and meeting.

This isn’t safe and in a workplace you wouldn’t take or be allowed to take this level of risk as you readily do on the road. If you’re one of those putting yourself at risk on the road you must assume others in your company quite possibly are too, despite a policy on it.

So lead the charge by looking at changing your own habits, expect people to plan meetings with driver safety in mind, bring it to the for and discuss what’s really going on and make sure you and your colleagues are not one of those 14 people a week who don’t go home.