Risk Reduction

Australian Road Safety Foundation

Russell runs the Australian Road Safety Foundation (ARSF). He believes that many of the advances adopted in Australia, in terms of road safety, could and should be implemented in developing countries to try to reduce the death toll.

The five most dangerous countries in the world (in terms of road deaths per year) are: Eritrea, Dominican Republic, Libya, Thailand and Venezuela, according to the World Health Organisation. Thailand, for example, tolerates 38.2 deaths per 100,000 people. Australia lies 164th in that chart with 5.2 per 100,000. But that, says Russell, is no reason for complacency.

Road safety is a complex animal because it has so many discrete elements: driver, vehicle, road, and outside factors all form an equation in any circumstance. Reducing casualties is not simply a matter of more breathalysers and speed cameras – after all, the only way to ensure zero casualties is to stop vehicles moving altogether. The so-called Red Flag Act of 1865 in the UK introduced a speed limit of 4mph (2mph in towns) for road locomotives, with a man with the flag walking ahead of each vehicle. It did not prevent casualties.

Draconian drink-drive legislation and blanket enforcement of speed laws are the stick, but Russell would like to see more of the carrot alongside it. Awareness and training are the watchwords of the ARSF, and Russell acknowledges that one of the biggest impediments to reducing the country’s road trauma further is that the audience – the driving public – is not interested. It is generally assumed that a driver, once they’ve passed the test, can drive; job done. A hundred kilometres a year or 100,000 – it’s all the same. Accidents are something that happen to other people.

A South Australia judge, commenting on a case where a drunken driver caused the death of his teenage brother in a country crash, says that, “Nine times out of ten nothing happens, police don’t even hear about it, no one gets injured, they go home and sleep it off. But every now and then, every odd occasion, some mother suffers, some family suffers, because someone gets killed or badly injured.” [Source – ABC News, July 2014]. How many of the other nine go away wondering if they should perhaps get some better driver training? Hardly any – most are simply complacent. “If you ask most people whether road safety is an issue, they will say ‘yes, definitely’,” says Russell. “But if you ask them if they think they are partially responsible for road safety, most will say ‘it’s not me, it’s the other drivers’.” That extends to groupings of drivers – truckies see motorcyclists as a problem, for example, or car drivers view pedestrians as being to blame. “All these sectors have a slightly different way of viewing the road and how we interact.”

To be sure, the roads Australians drive on are pretty good. Much has been done to separate traffic streams, install guardrails and the like. The vehicles they drive are transformed in terms of safety from the flimsy rust buckets of the sixties or seventies, and it is possible today to sell safety as well as performance. The ARSF continues to advocate improvement, but realises in cost-benefit terms only minor improvements can be afforded. The foundation therefore places great emphasis on work-related driving and consequent workplace training for drivers. “The area we have never effectively approached is how we better equip people to operate a vehicle safely. We need to move beyond simply getting compliance with basic law and look at how we better educate people in things like situational awareness.” After all, a welter of research data exists to show that 90 per cent of serious incidents are caused by drivers rather than by vehicle or infrastructure failures.

Individual drivers appear to have no appetite for taking their driving more seriously, so how can they be coerced into changing their motivation? Work related driving “has a massive opportunity to change road safety culture,” says Russell, who also runs a company called Driver Safety Australia, which practises what he preaches. He points out that ‘safety culture’ has changed behaviours in many areas of domestic activity; mowing the lawn, for example, or clearing a drain – most people today would use some basic protective clothing (gloves, for example, or safety shoes, or goggles). “Much of the time that mentality has come from work, where they use PPE (personal protective equipment) or see others using it. We deal with many organisations where road safety is their biggest risk. No matter what type of work they do – even mining or handling high-voltage power cables – the most dangerous thing they will do is drive from home to the depot, or to the worksite.”

There is a current push at the global level (from WHO and related bodies) to instil more awareness and education of driving in the workplace. But in Australia the duty of care aspect, the fact that a company’s directors could be held personally liable if something goes wrong, should lend more urgency to the concept. This is important stuff: one estimate says almost half of all the kilometres driven across Australia are directly or indirectly work related. Other data shows that two out of three vehicles on the road at any time are on work-related journeys, and 50 to 60 per cent of new cars go to fleets. Some 25 per cent of road deaths are work related, suggesting first that people driving as part of their job are possibly safer than ‘private’ drivers (so accentuating the argument in favour of training) and secondly that there is a huge opportunity to take a chunk of that 25 per cent and educate it away altogether.

Even if one ignores the liability and duty of care aspects, a crash is undeniably expensive for a company. Based on Australian workers compensation data, work-related road crash injuries are estimated to cost approximately $500 million per year. Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety (CARRS-Q) research has shown that “costs associated with work-related vehicle crashes have more often than not been calculated in terms of vehicle damage or write off costs. These costs, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. Other costs not usually identified include personal injury, medical / hospital, rehabilitation, absence from work, workers compensation, downtime / loss productivity and potential loss of custom, administration, loss of assets, retraining, and insurance premiums. CARRS-Q has undertaken research to identify the true cost of a fleet crash. Results indicated, within a particular fleet, that the average total insurance cost inclusive of property damage, workers compensation and third party costs was $28,122 per incident. Actual vehicle crash costs could be somewhere between 8 to 36 times vehicle repair / replacement costs.”

So some form of driver education would seem to make sense especially, Russell agrees, because drivers who have been given some training and appreciate better what goes into making a “good” driver tend to carry their better habits over to their driving at the weekend with the family. The kids in the back see those points and note them; the whole safety culture can be enhanced.

The ARSF operates the Fleet Safety Coalition, whose core objective is to foster greater industry leadership and collaboration in the fleet safety field. “With the growing prominence of Work Place Health & Safety laws and Chain of Responsibility legislation, work related road safety is rapidly emerging as a critical issue for any organisation involved in road transport. The Coalition’s charter is to provide fleet managers and corporate organisations with industry knowledge that will assist them in developing fleet safety programs and management systems. It will also provide a leading industry forum that will help facilitate development of new fleet safety policies.”

Of course, it hardly matters how good you are as a driver if you get T-boned by the hoon coming the other way. So for all of you who believe you know how to drive, it makes sense to lobby your, and other, employers to improve the standard for all. Mind how you go.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:25 AM AEDT