The plot of Analyze This, the latest Robert de Niro movie, hinges on a bit of careless driving by psychiatrist Ben Sobel (played by Billy Crystal). He slams into the back of a car being used by a henchman of Mafia godfather, Paul Vitti (played by de Niro, of course). Vitti is suffering from panic attacks, and keeps bursting into tears for no apparent reason - bad news if you're a top hoodlum with a tough-guy image to protect. He persuades the reluctant shrink to provide treatment by the simple expedient of dropping him into a tank swarming with sharks at a marine-life centre. If Sobel had been on a Drive & Survive course, he would probably never have been put in this awkward position in the first place. With a client list which includes Sketchley, DuPont, Anglian Water and Zeneca, the Wokingham-based company trained 33,000 drivers last year, and claims to be the largest specialist in its field. Its instructors show people how to avoid getting themselves into situations where a crash is almost bound to occur. High-mileage risks People whose job obliges them to drive are courting injury and death daily according to RoSPA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. It believes that anybody who covers more than 25,000 miles a year runs the same risk of being killed as an underground coal miner, and calculates that 25% of the annual 3,600 road deaths are linked to vehicles being driven for work purposes. 'Accident rates among fleet- vehicle users have been estimated to be 30% to 40% higher than among private car users,' says RoSPA occupational safety adviser Roger Bibbings. A survey, conducted by NOP Automotive and published by RoSPA last year, shows that 17% of people who drive during the course of their work are concerned about the safety implications of the number of hours they spend at the wheel. Around 23% admit to feeling drowsy sometimes while driving, and even to having fallen asleep on occasions. A worrying one third say that their employers could not care less about their long hours at the wheel so long as the job gets done. Steve Johnson, head of communications for Drive & Survive, argues that many British businesses wildly underestimate the true cost of an employee having a smash in their company car. Getting the vehicle repaired costs on average £750, he points out, and the more repair claims you have, the faster your insurance premiums will rise. The local NHS hospital trust may make a claim on your policy for the cost of treating any injuries, and the insurers will take this into account too when policy renewal time comes around. There are hidden costs not automatically covered by insurance to be considered as well, Johnson adds. 'They add up to about five times the amount you can reasonably expect to reclaim from your insurer,' warns Peter Allott, market manager for business motoring at Norwich Union. You may have to hire a vehicle to replace one that has been badly damaged and needs to spend a lot of time in the body shop. Even if it is well repaired, it will still be worth less second-hand than one that has never been in a shunt, says Johnson. Dealing with all the correspondence generated by an accident takes time too, says Ian Goswell, commercial director at leasing, contract hire and fleet-management specialist Dial Contracts. And that is time which could be better spent on more productive activities. Trained drivers also tend to use less fuel, Goswell contends, because they drive more smoothly and do not speed as much. 'We're talking of typical savings of around 5% to 6% with cars, rising to 7% to 12% with trucks,' he says. Better planning, less stress 'People who have been on courses plan their trips better, tend to get less stressed in heavy traffic and are less prone to road rage,' he adds. 'They feel more at ease behind the wheel.' Untrained drivers are more likely to break the speed limit, confirms Hugh Noblett, head of training at Cadence Driver Development. Motor insurers are anxious to encourage fleet operators to invest in educating their drivers. The results of a driver training pilot scheme run by Norwich Union over the past 12 months suggested that those companies which did not train their drivers suffered a 12% increase in claims, while those which did enjoyed a 24% drop in the number of claims. Drive & Survive's experience confirms this. 'We've had cases where training has achieved a 60% reduction in accidents in year one, and a 25% reduction in year two,' says Johnson. 'It's worth noting, by the way, that 66% of company cars are the subject of an insurance claim each year.' Identifying the most common type of accident among employees by analysing claims data can ensure training is correctly targeted, says Norwich Union. 'If the figures show that a lot of them occur on dual carriageways, or even in the company's own car park, then we can train accordingly,' adds Johnson. With this issue in mind, Dial has worked in partnership with several of its major customers to identify trends in accidents, and in some cases to help in the measurement of the effectiveness of driver training, according to Goswell. For instance, driving backwards can sometimes be just as hazardous as going forwards. Drive & Survive points out that reversing accounts for 30% of all accidents - the average cost of a reversing smash is £469 - and 25% of fatalities. Some insurers are willing to defray part or all of the cost of training if they are convinced claims costs will fall. 'At Norwich Union we treat each case on its merits, but if we feel it will be of benefit, then we'll make a contribution,' says Allott. It also has an agreement with Drive & Survive for courses to be made available at reduced rates to holders of its Fleetwise policy. Support from the top For training to be effective, however, it has got to be supported by the company's senior management, and it must be carried out regularly, says Allott. 'There should be a refresher every two years, and anybody who joins the firm and is expected to drive on company business should be sent on a course as well,' he reckons. But although significant falls in claims can be achieved, they are not always achieved immediately, warns Cadence Driver Development. 'It can take as long as three or four years before you see any improvement,' says Noblett. And, according to RoSPA, training must be set in the context of a clearly defined company-driver safety policy, says RoSPA. Norwich Union's Allott agrees: 'There's no point in sending people on courses if employers are obliging them to drive for hours and hours without a break.' RoSPA has produced Managing occupational road risk, covering areas such as route planning, reducing mileage, controlling drivers' hours, using other safe forms of transport, driver training, and vehicle selection. The association also offers courses for fleet drivers, as does the Institute of Advanced Motorists. Companies should be aware that failure to assess the risks faced by drivers, reduce them where possible and ensure they are not set demanding schedules making them overtired could lead to legal action under health and safety legislation such as the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998. And litigation can also prove expensive, according to VELO Motor Accident Management. Training has a long way to go - only 2% of all drivers on UK roads have had any form of training over and above preparation for the standard driving test. But Allott says anybody still not convinced of the importance of introducing a scheme combined with a fleet risk management programme should remember that motor insurance premiums are now rising for the first time since 1995. One way of offsetting those increases is to cut the number of claims you file. And if an operator has a really atrocious accident record, and shows no inclination to do anything about it, his insurer may decline to renew his cover next time around, Allott warns. 'After all, we're not charities.' - Steve Banner is a freelance journalist How do you feel about the standard of road skills among company car drivers? Log on to put your points across. ALL IN A DAY'S TRAINING A day's Drive & Survive course begins with around 40 minutes in the classroom, says head of communications Steve Johnson. 'Among other things, we try to find out what the trainee actually feels about driving - a lot of them don't enjoy it - and whether they're happy to be on the course,' he says, 'About 75% of men think it's some kind of punishment.' The trainer will then take two people out in a company car, give them a brief demonstration drive, and comment on what he is doing. Then it's the turn of one of the delegates, who will drive for an hour, before swapping with a colleague. They'll keep changing places throughout the day, while the instructor provides hints, tips and advice. What the instructor will not do is dogmatically insist that there is an absolutely right and an absolutely wrong way of doing things. The approach is far more relaxed and friendly. Concentrating on what you are doing is essential if you're going to be a safe driver, says Johnson. 'As little as 25% of an untrained driver's attention may be taken up with driving his vehicle,' he points out. And so is keeping as much space as you reasonably can between yourself and other road users. 'That's why you get motorists driving into the back of other vehicles,' he contends. 'They get too close, and if the driver in front stops suddenly, they don't have an escape route.' Constantly anticipating the antics of other drivers should give you a sporting chance of being able to avoid falling victim to the latest fraud being perpetrated on motorists and insurers: unscrupulous drivers slamming their brakes on deliberately so that another vehicle runs into the back of them, feigning whiplash injury, then making a claim on the innocent party's insurance policy. Johnson suggests two risk-management measures that firms could take immediately. These are to check the driving licence of any prospective employee who will be expected to drive (he may have a long list of convictions, or may even be disqualified) and remind all employees of the importance of regular eye tests. 'As many as 67% of drivers have uncorrected sight defects,' he says.
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