Consulting » Fleet Decisions – A call for better driving.

Back in 1995, following a media blitz on road rage, the “How’s My Driving?” campaign was launched for commercial vehicles. The basic idea could not have been simpler. A sticker on the rear of commercial vehicles invited any driver to ring a call centre number if they felt the urge to comment, favourably or unfavourably, on the way the vehicle ahead was being driven.

The scheme is administered by How’s My? Ltd, which provides similar services in other areas. It describes itself as an “any comments” company and aims to provide customer feedback across a range of activities. A second scheme, Driving well?, run by the Road Haulage Association, offers a similar service to companies with HGV and commercial fleets. How’s My Driving claims that a total of 30,000 vehicles around the UK display what it calls its “Safe & Courteous Driving” sticker.

In the context of fleet management, this kind of campaign has attractions as part of an overall approach to reducing corporate risk. John Ascroft, head of risk services at the RAC, says: “You can hardly open the pages of the fleet or corporate press without coming across a reference to corporate liability. The company vehicle has been defined as a place of work, so it comes under the Health and Safety regulations just as much as a piece of machinery.”

He argues that, just as it’s not reasonable to put a worker in front of a piece of potentially dangerous machinery and then tell them, “figure this out for yourself”, it’s equally unreasonable to take this attitude with commercial vehicles and company cars. “The fact that your drivers are already licensed is all well and good, but why not test them anyway?” he asks.

Certainly, the statistics don’t suggest that companies are doing enough to fall in line with the government’s aim of reducing work-related deaths and injuries. Around 30 per cent of all road accidents in the UK are caused by company vehicles. But company cars make up just 15 per cent of the country’s driving population.

For employers looking to improve the skill level of their drivers, and wanting to be seen to care about the courtesy and safe driving displayed by those drivers, the call-centre-based feedback campaigns have an important role to play, Ascroft says. “At the very least, what a feedback sticker like ‘How’s my driving?’ does, is tell everyone, look, we’re confident enough in the ability of our drivers to put a visible sticker on the back of the vehicle, soliciting feedback.”

He says that he personally hasn’t seen sufficient evidence to prove beyond doubt that these feedback campaigns make a difference. However, he argues that on the face of things, it looks like a good way of “getting into the mind of the driver”. Knowing they are being watched should make them think more about their driving and could also, perhaps, help to emphasise the value of courteous driving, which again, will reflect well on the company.

“As a corporate, you are trying to limit your risk, which also includes the risk to your brand,” he says. “It’s important for a company to get it into the heads of its drivers that they have a responsibility to the company’s brand to drive well. If they drive poorly, it reflects badly on the brand. Similarly, if they drive well that becomes part of the brand value and enhances it.” He adds that trucks have a huge physical presence on the road, so the opportunities for brand impact are considerable.

Andy Price, founder of fleet safety consultancy Andy Price Associates, says that all the companies he deals with are mindful of corporate liability.

“It’s staggering to realise that nine people are killed on the roads in the UK every day and three of these die in a crash involving a company vehicle,” he says. Every day a further 105 are seriously injured on the road and seven-times as many receive slight injury. In today’s increasingly litigious climate, this adds up to a substantial risk for company directors.

“What we have found is that companies that operate in an industry with a high safety culture tend to be much more risk conscious, and they are much more prepared to extend this culture of risk mitigation to their company car and commercial fleets,” says Price.

In his view, call-centre-based campaigns are an excellent additional weapon for companies concerned about building a defensible position for their management against potential future litigation. “If your driver is involved in a collision and there’s a death and matters go to court you want to be able to demonstrate that safety is a priority within your company. You need to be able to demonstrate a dynamic, consistent safety policy that has a real impact with your drivers, and you need to show that you have done everything you practically can do to encourage vehicle safety,” he says.

Price agrees with Ascroft that the central purpose of call-centre campaigns is to “get into the mind of the driver”. He also stresses that it’s critical to the acceptance of these campaigns that drivers whose vehicles carry “safe driving” badges feel the whole exercise is conducted in a blame-free manner. “The point about feedback is that it’s there to get the driver to focus on what he or she is doing. It’s not there to serve as a basis for punishment,” he says.

The How’s My? company takes a similar view. It insists employers sign a “blame free” clause and that all their employees know the point of the campaign isn’t to find out if they need to be “punished” as drivers. There are 14 companies offering driver feedback services in the US, but there, the campaigns do lead to punishment. As a result, drivers deface the badges and call centre numbers, fearful that they’ll be the subject of malicious calls.

As How’s My?’s literature points out, there are two sides to every argument, and it may well be that a motorist calling in to report a commercial van driver who has annoyed them, may, without realising it, have been the one at fault. What makes the service valuable is when drivers are able to review the messages that have come in on a monthly basis and decide for themselves what they can do to improve their relationship with other road users.

Nigel Rolf, head of sales and marketing at Arval PHH, agrees. “We have to recognise that the incident rates on fleets mean that any one driver has about a 40 per cent chance of having an accident each year. The statistic for private drivers is just 14 per cent. So something needs to be done, even granting that these are not all fault-related accidents.”

From the standpoint of the Health and Safety Executive, he points out, it doesn’t matter if a driving-related death has been caused by a commercial vehicle driver or a company car driver. Ultimately, the ones in the dock will be the company directors. It’s up to them to see that everything possible has been done and that their drivers obey the law, whether they are company car or commercial vehicle drivers.

Rolf isn’t enthusiastic about How’s My?-style campaigns. He prefers an active management framework within the company that can identify poor drivers and will put them through a performance-improvement programme.

He points out that, for commercial drivers, simply ensuring they have valid licenses isn’t enough, nor, by itself, is signing up to a campaign.

“We have a number of companies we deal with who are concerned about their exposure and their track record,” he says. “You need a system that can demonstrate your total control of all the elements of this problem. Who is monitoring, for example, when drivers get points on their licenses?

Who checks the circumstances around each accident? Sending everyone off on a training course isn’t the answer. You need to show that your procedures make sense.”

Careline Services runs two safe-driving campaigns, the Well Driven? campaign, which is sponsored jointly by the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association, and its own “How am I driving?” campaign, which costs from £10 to £13 per vehicle, depending on the size of the fleet.

Sales and customer services manager Nick Wright says the company’s call centre receives around 1,000 calls a week, split between its two campaigns.

Driving Well?, which is limited to HGV and commercial van drivers, attracts 60 per cent of the calls. “Believe it or not, eight per cent of the calls we get are complementary,” he says. By far the biggest number of complaints are about vehicles cutting across other vehicles.

Wright says big brand operators in the UK, particularly supermarket chains, see a great deal of value from the Well Driven? campaign because, among other things, it helps them carry out a certain amount of brand damage limitation. Members of the public that ring in to complain have to leave their addresses, which enables the operator to write a letter of apology on behalf of the offending driver. But Wright again stresses that the campaign is blame-free. “The whole aim is to provide feedback that will enable drivers and companies to align themselves with best practice,” he says.