· 3 min read · Features

Driving training without the dread

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The subject of ‘Driver Training’ is an issue that turns many HR departments grey with dread, with both staff and management wincing at the mere thought of it.

Staff are generally adverse to any kind of training which critiques their driving, especially when they have busy schedules to keep and the hard pressed HR department - merely doing their best to ensure the organisation complies with the latest health and safety at work legislation - often bears the brunt of this frustration.

Nevertheless, as employers become more and more concerned about their 'grey fleet' - a term given to those who use their own cars for business journeys - this problem is becoming an even greater issue, with many employers often unsure of their obligations and rights in this crucial area of business management.

So where to start? Let's first clarify the position on grey fleet obligations. If you have an employee using a company car and another using their own car for work then your legal obligations are exactly the same as the law does not differentiate between the two. As such, an employer must make all reasonable efforts to ensure that both the driver and the vehicle are fit for the task and that it has done its best to minimise any risk posed to the health and safety of both the driver and any other road users who may be affected.

It's worth pointing out here that a large number of employers actually have no idea how many grey fleet drivers they have. While many may think they have a team of sales people and managers - some of whom have taken a cash option instead of a company car - this is only the first group.

Many businesses will also have a second group and this one is much more difficult to identify. For example, this might include a team leader who has begun working at a different office one or two days a week, or even the receptionist who pops out to do the banking, or picks up the milk and coffee supplies. These are both grey fleet drivers, however they often go under the radar and these are the ones that cannot be forgotten.

Employers should be working hard to identify this second group of grey fleet drivers - it's a simple task but also a very urgent one - most importantly because, they probably aren't insured. Standard personal motor insurance policy only covers drivers to drive to and from their main place of work. Any of the drivers listed in the second group above would not be insured for the additional journeys they make and if they were to have an accident, then their employer could be deemed to have caused them to break the law by asking them to make the journey without first checking they were insured.

So, having clarified the risks for an employer with grey fleet drivers, there are four main things the savvy HR manager should be looking at when setting up and implementing an effective driver safety programme.

Have a driver policy and communicate it clearly to all staff. Explain what each driver's own responsibilities are to keep themselves safe and how others in the company can ensure they do not add to the risk.

Check driving licences on joining and periodically thereafter. For grey fleet drivers you should also be checking they have the correct business insurance, that their cars have a valid MOT and tax disc, and that they are well maintained.

Risk-assess your drivers to see which may pose a higher risk through poor skills or attitude. Not everyone is high risk and most companies can't afford to send everyone to an in-car driver training session so this gives the clever HR manager the information to tailor interventions through e-learning or in-car courses.

Lastly, modern in-car courses don't need to use public roads, with all their associated dangers, at all. For instance, training days at private venues can teach drivers specific accident avoidance skills - something you can't do on a public road. The exercises replicate common everyday scenarios like braking at high speed on a motorway, driving in slippery conditions or having to avoid an obstacle such as a pedestrian stepping out unexpectedly. The ability to practice helps ingrain the reactions required - a kind of mental hard-wiring of the correct response - so that when needed, the driver can react calmly correctly and confidently. Driving dynamics courses tend to be much better received by staff and encourage buy-in to the safety culture at all levels. The atmosphere has more of a good team building buzz, with the added benefit that your drivers will learn some genuine life saving skills.

Driver training needn't be dreadful, but addressing it head-on is an absolute must. With a series of simple steps it is possible to address the driver risk, and a relatively low-cost, but this can only be achieved if employers do not bury their head in the sand.

So, don't let your business drivers get overlooked any more. Train them alongside your company car drivers and, with the right approach and you might even get thanked for it.

Simon Turner (pictured) is managing director of Fleet21