Last reviewed 26 February 2015

Occupational road risk continues to be a troublesome area for business, but there is new technology available that can have a beneficial effect on how employees drive at work. Mike Sopp reports.

It is estimated that between 2006 and 2014, some 4726 people have been killed and more than 40,000 seriously injured in road traffic collisions involving an at-work driver or rider.

Occupational road deaths and serious injuries are among the country’s most significant road safety issues with the above figures accounting for 30% of all road deaths and just over 22% of serious casualties.

Driving behaviour has long been seen as a significant contributory factor to many road traffic accidents. The use of in-car data monitoring and recording technologies is now being seen as a method of improving driver behaviour. However, the use of such systems can be problematic for employers.

The case for driver monitoring

Modern vehicles, the roads they are driven on and associated legislation are all designed to reduce the potential for road-traffic collisions or to mitigate the outcomes if such collisions occur.

Many vehicles have safety devices built in and are legally required to be maintained in a road-worthy condition. Roads will have set speed limits, high-visibility road markings, lighting and on major roads, crash-barriers.

Despite such measures, many thousands of collisions occur each year, resulting in deaths and serious injuries of which a high proportion involve drivers who are classed as being “at work” at the time of the collision.

Research has concluded that one of the most significant factors in work-related collisions is poor driver behaviour, including behaviour that breaks legislative requirements. Research undertaken by the road safety charity Brake with insurance company Direct Line discovered that nearly a third of all business drivers text while driving and more than three-quarters speed at more than 35mph in built-up areas.

Similarly, Department of Transport research concluded that drivers of company cars, vans/pickups and LGVs all appeared to have a high “blameworthiness” ratio in their accident involvement. Company car drivers showed excess speed as a causal factor, whereas van drivers showed more observational failures, and LGV drivers showed more fatigue as a factor.

Research undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concluded that individual differences will play a role in how drivers perform and that “regardless of efforts by organisations to manage work-related road safety, some individuals are more likely to exhibit safe driving behaviour than others”.

In an attempt to improve driver behaviour, organisations and insurers alike are turning to new technologies that enable driver behaviour to be recorded and monitored. According to The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), so-called telematics “will become much more widespread over the next few years”.

The benefits of telematics

The HSE guidance on occupational road safety notes that a key element of any occupational road risk management system is the monitoring of performance “to ensure your work-related road safety policy is effective and has been implemented”. In essence, telematics, through the use of “black-boxes” and/or mobile telephone apps, monitors how a vehicle is being driven and records the data. This can include information on vehicle speeds, acceleration and braking patterns.

Telematics falls into two broad categories:

  • journey data recorders that monitor the way a vehicle is being driven throughout a journey, and may provide real-time visual or audible alerts in the vehicle to the driver during the journey

  • event data recorders that monitor the way a vehicle is driven throughout a journey, but only record the data when an “event” (eg a collision or sharp braking) exceeds pre-set parameters.

RoSPA has, in particular, taken a lead on the use of telematics and has identified numerous benefits for the use of such devices, including:

  • analysis of the real driving behaviour and standards of employees who drive for work

  • providing tailored, personalised feedback to drivers to help them improve their driving or reduce their exposure to high-risk driving situations

  • identification of driver training and education needs of at-work drivers

  • an incentive for lower-risk driving

  • a reduction in organisational costs through reduced accident rates.

Clearly, the bottom line for organisations is the reduction in the number of unwanted road traffic collisions. There are several studies that show a reduction in accidents where monitoring devices are used. According to RoSPA, “some studies have found that accident rates for vehicles fitted with a monitoring device reduced by 20%, others found a reduction of 38% in accidents” but with the caveat that in some instances, accident rates increased slightly.

As well as reduced collision rates (and associated direct and indirect costs), improved driver behaviour has been found to bring other benefits including improved fuel efficiency, reduced maintenance costs, reduced insurance costs through “pay-as-you-drive” insurance improved productivity and enhanced organisational reputation.

Issues with using telematics

Although there are some clear benefits to the use of telematics, these will only be realised if use is carefully planned and implemented. Amongst other issues, the RoSPA research found that:

  • drivers were often opposed to being monitored, and considered this to be “big brother” surveillance on behalf of their employer

  • where feedback did take place this was most often felt to be negative, highlighting problems and not offering solutions

  • improvements in driver behaviour may not be sustained if drivers believe no action will be taken in relation to poor driving

  • data protection issues were of concern, in terms of who can access the data and for what purposes

  • driver identification can be an issue when a vehicle is used by multiple drivers

  • initial set-up and on-going running costs were a concern

  • there was abuse of telematics devices, particularly those relating to apps.

Early days

RoSPA recognises that the use of telematics is in the early stages of development. In their recently published strategic review of the management of occupational road risk, it is noted that “in-car data recorders and monitoring technologies show promise, but remain unproven” and require further study of their effectiveness.

Of interest, in this review document, RoSPA report that the Health and Safety Executive view is that “open conversation between employers and employees was a more useful way of understanding risks than using in-vehicle data recorders”.

To overcome the issues and concerns, RoSPA have produced some useful guidance that can assist in the application and use of telematics. The first stage is to set clear aims and objectives that will assist in ensuring key stakeholders understand the purpose of introducing the equipment.

Baseline data may be required to measure performance indicators against set aims and objectives, which may be difficult to achieve prior to the introduction of monitoring. As such it is recommended that data collected in the first few months, or for a specific mileage (eg the first 250 miles) after the telematics system has been introduced is used as a baseline measurement.

Other factors that are important to the successful implementation of monitoring are:

  • selection of the most appropriate monitoring equipment

  • appropriate consultation with employees, their representatives and other stakeholders, such as vehicle suppliers

  • careful planning in terms of installation, identification of drivers in multi-use vehicles, feedback procedures, etc

  • education of drivers and managers in terms of the decisions to use telematics and how the system will work

  • encouragement of drivers to take on board the feedback provided to them and how this feedback will be provided

  • discussion of how the organisation will use of the data provided in the wider risk management system

  • careful consideration of the process to evaluate the system’s effectiveness.

In addition to the above, processes should be developed that are in keeping with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 when handing and/or analysing data from the telematics devices.

Further information

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents: