Charity calls for technology take-up

A report released this month by Brake, the road safety charity, and Licence Bureau, has found many employers with vehicle fleets are not taking advantage of new technologies to protect vulnerable road users.

Despite the potential to help drivers see pedestrians and cyclists and reduce casualties, only one in five HGV operators surveyed (20%) have rear-facing cameras on all vehicles, one in 12 (eight per cent) have side-facing cameras on all vehicles, and one in eight (12%) have side sensors on all vehicles.

Brake is appealing to employers to follow best practice advice and implement the latest safety technology suitable for their vehicles, to protect other road users and deliver the business benefits of reduced crashes, bumps and scrapes and lower insurance premiums.

The report found HGV safety technologies that are mandatory under European law, such as underrun protection and wide-angle lenses, are present on almost all vehicles. Hence Brake is calling for more comprehensive regulation to ensure the widespread take up of technologies such as automatically moving mirrors, side-view cameras and side sensors, which can be of benefit in preventing needless death and injuries yet are currently only present on a minority of vehicle fleets.

With at least a quarter (24%) of road deaths and serious injuries involving a vehicle being driven for work, there is a clear need for employers to do more to improve the safety of their vehicles. HGVs specifically make up only five per cent of vehicles on UK roads, yet are involved in a quarter (23%) of cyclist deaths and one in seven (13%) of pedestrian deaths. In 2013, 78 people on foot or bike were killed by HGVs.

The report also indicates that while safety management technologies such as telematics are becoming widespread, there is scope for employers with fleets of all vehicle types to make far greater use of them. Half of operators surveyed (49%) do not use telematics at all, and many of those who do report not making full use of their systems. Brake is highlighting that while there is an initial cost for such measures, effective safety technology like telematics pays for itself through reduced incidents and insurance premiums: many report recouping costs within a year and seeing long-term gains.

The report also highlighted the negative impact of certain forms of technology, particularly the worrying prevalence of hands-free mobile phone kits in employer vehicles. Hands-free kits were present in some, most or all vehicles in two thirds (68%) of HGV fleets and four in five (80%) cars fleets surveyed. Only four per cent of employers make use of apps that prevent mobile phone use behind the wheel. Brake warns that using a mobile at the wheel, even with a hands-free kit, has a similar effect on reactions to drink driving, and makes you four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury.

Dr Tom Fisher, senior research and communications officer at Brake, said, ‘Employers whose staff drive for work have a duty of care both to their own employees and other road users. While not a panacea, technology can play a big part in helping them improve safety and exercise that duty, so it is disappointing to see that so many are not taking full advantage of new safety technologies on offer. Blind spot devices and safety management kit like telematics have huge potential to reduce crashes and casualties, and bring down associated costs for the operator. Brake urges all fleet operators to go beyond the bare legal minimum to ensure their vehicles and drivers are as safe as possible, especially in safeguarding our most vulnerable road users. We can offer support and advice, through our Brake Professionals scheme, on how best to do this. Brake is also urging government to put in place more comprehensive minimum safety standards, as it is clear this is the most effective way to ensure the widespread adoption of vital safety technologies.’

Les Owen, compliance consultant at Licence Bureau, said, ‘The Brake survey provides fleet operators with lots of good data and advice. Surely it is obvious that the cost of a crash (average in the UK is over £800 for all vehicles) makes it sensible to consider fitting some of the safety technology items. The key features for fleets must be to avoid drivers using mobile phones; telematics to provide fleet managers with data they can sample (rather than look at every one) to offer driving advice where needed; and safety standard mirrors with items for HGVs to reduce risks to vulnerable road users. One serious crash or fatal collision can lead to a lifetime of problems for drivers and managers alike so doing more to avoid them is a no-brainer. Finally, implementing good policies, which are reviewed with drivers to provide learning opportunities and reminders of company objectives, is good practice. Writing a policy and not doing anything with it is just as bad as not having one.’