Crash Management’s incident data reporting delivers insight into vehicle accident causes and supports employers to ensure they are fleet fit and comply with vehicle health & safety obligations in regard to ‘the vehicle as a workplace’. This detailed information is needed in order to design appropriate accident prevention based on the facts. Recidivist drivers are often highlighted and the article in SafeGuard this month discusses the place of driver evaluation and upskilling. It’s a good read. See the full story below:
JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM road tests a driving simulator that is transforming on-road safety at one of the country’s largest fleet operators.
Everything seemed to be going so well.
I was cruising along a well formed road through a lush mountain valley, beneath a cloudless sky. But as I took a sharp bend at a T-intersection, there was a flash of blue and white to my left, followed by an audible bump.
I’d hit a road sign.
I wasn’t sure what to do next, but my instructor was reassuring: “It doesn’t matter. You won’t break it. The reporter from the Herald crashed almost straight away.”
Behind me, Fulton Hogan CEO Robert Jones laughed. He too admits to crashing on his first drive in the company’s expensive new “vehicle”, but, unlike me, he probably had opposing traffic, adverse weather and maybe even a stray dog or two to deal with – and no doubt achieved a speed somewhat greater than the cautious 40km/h that I’d been doing.
As someone for whom computer gaming had previously meant playing Tetris, I could perhaps have argued mitigating circumstances, but on the other hand, at a cool $200,000-plus, this was by far the most expensive thing I’d ever driven, so I guess I should have been more careful.
My instructor, Bruce Marshall – a Fulton Hogan employee of more than 30 years, who was a departmental manager in Napier until he became one of two fulltime simulator trainers – was unconcerned, insisting, rather kindly, that I was still doing well overall. But after almost a year in the role he’s seen his share of crashes, and regards them more as learning experiences than failures. It’s ok, he says, if something goes wrong, so long as you understand what happened, and learn how to avoid it next time.
The simulator he operates is one of a pair. He takes this one around the North Island; the other tours the South. The company had them custom-built last year, as part of a comprehensive $500,000 initiative to hone the road skills of all 2500 staff who drive company vehicles.
Since last October some 1100 employees from all parts of the country have completed a simulator assessment – and the company has seen significant improvements in accident and infringement statistics as a result. ACC, the police, NZTA and WorkSafe have all given the programme their endorsement, and at the 2016 Safeguard awards it was named best initiative to address a safety risk.
INCIDENTS A CONCERN
Fulton Hogan has always set a lot of store on good road behaviour. With some 2500 vehicles on the road each day, it is one of the largest fleet operators in the country. But, just as important, it’s also a family business, operating out of dozens of smaller regional centres as well as big cities, and it feels its obligation to those communities keenly.
“We’re very conscious of our responsibilities, to our own staff, to other road users, and to the community,” says Jones. “We have to make sure we’re not a danger to others, but more than that, if we’ve got drivers who have bad habits, people see that and it creates a negative perception about how seriously we take our responsibilities to others.”
It was concern about the company’s road incident record that first gave rise to the simulator programme. Noting that there had been 900 vehicle incidents in the preceding five years, ranging from trivial to serious, national reform health and safety manager John Smith went looking for ways to address the issue.
“John has responsibility for what we call our competency-to-operate programme, which focuses on providing our workers with the skills they need for whatever equipment they’re required to operate, from chainsaws to excavators.
“It was clear that driving skills needed to improve, and John looked at a number of options for this, including defensive driving and on-road assessments.”
Recognising that it would take a lot of time and effort to retest all drivers on-road, Smith decided to investigate simulators, asking a group of drivers to do both an on-road assessment and a one hour simulator test. When almost 95% of participants said they learnt more from the simulator, the company went looking for a suitable product.
It was Australian company Simworx that offered the best solution – a realistic wrap-round triple-monitor display, and an instrument panel and controls matching those in a small car, with force feedback through the steering wheel. The accompanying software was developed in close consultation, to ensure a finished product that was faithful to New Zealand road conditions, regulations, and even its scenery.
The software package has 41 different modules, including a wide range of road types and weather conditions, and even one that simulates the effects of drug or alcohol impairment.
“Currently we’re using about six of them, covering motorway driving, built-up areas, night driving, and a range of weather conditions,” Marshall says. “They give our drivers plenty to think about, with different speed zones and hazards, an occasional dog that walks in front of them, even a cellphone call to see how they handle distractions.”
He acknowledges it isn’t exactly like driving a car, and new users are given time to get used to it before they begin their assessment. Once they’ve settled in, however, the experience is close enough to real driving to make most bad habits readily identifiable.
WHAT IF YOU FAIL?
The simulator tracks speed, following distance, signalling and compliance with intersection rules, delivering verbal warnings for any breaches that occur and providing a printed report listing all errors, and stating whether the trainee has passed or failed each of the assessment’s three stages. A failure in one or more of the stages means the test must be done again – usually an hour or so afterwards. The first-test failure rate is less than 10%, Marshall says, and most of these drivers pass on their second attempt. For the handful who don’t, it will mean a discussion with their manager and the likelihood of being stood down from at least some of their driving duties until they can be retrained and reassessed.
“We won’t kick people out the door if they fail,” Jones says, “but they will need to work with us to get some improvement.”
The simulators were initially used to assist drivers with a history of crashes or speeding infringements, and rapidly proved their worth when the number of vehicle accidents fell by 15% in the first five months. Now the programme is offered on a site-by-site basis, with the simulators moving between branches every week or two. Incident rates are still declining, with the number of at-fault crashes down by 19%, and a 30% reduction in speeding offences.
Drivers who move to another part of the country, where road conditions may be different from what they’re accustomed to, are also benefiting from the simulator.
“We might get someone transferring from Auckland to Christchurch,”Marshall says. “They won’t be used to winter driving conditions in the South Island, so we put them behind the wheel to get a bit of experience in snowy conditions.
“Of course it doesn’t mean we won’t put someone in the cab with them when they encounter the real situation, but it does build confidence.”
Fulton Hogan drivers are not the only ones who have had the benefit of simulator training, however. The company has loaned the equipment to schools, the police, and local fire brigades, and plans to make it available to other community groups as the opportunity arises.
In the meantime, though, there are still more than a thousand staff drivers to be assessed, and longer term plans to offer simulator assessments to regular contractors, and make them a prerequisite for every new driver joining the staff.
The introduction of new modules, replicating trucks and even heavy machinery, are also in consideration for the future.
“We’re proud of the programme, and it’s certainly been well accepted by our staff,” Jones says. “We’re pleased with where we’ve got to so far, but we’re keen to take it further, because I’m sure this is an area where we’re going to see a lot more going on in the future.
“It’s a bit of fun, but there’s a real serious side to it.”
He’s right – it was certainly fun, but I’ve got a whole new respect for road signs now!
TALK TO CRASH MANAGEMENT NOW ABOUT DEVELOPING A VEHICLE HEALTH & SAFETY PROGRAMME TO ENSURE YOUR ORGANISATION IS FLEET FIT.