Driving behaviour change
Each time passengers board a bus, they put their lives in the driver’s hands. The driver also has the potential to influence the operating company’s reputation by his or her attitude and behaviour. Proper, effective training is, therefore, of the utmost importance.
It was ironic that a Johannesburg Metrobus driver lost control of his vehicle, and ploughed off the side of the city’s Queen Elizabeth bridge, just days before the 2015 Southern African Bus Operators Association (Saboa) conference and exhibition was scheduled to begin.
Apparently, the driver had been speeding on his way to the depot. Thankfully, this meant there were no passengers on board. Miraculously, no bystanders were injured either. Nonetheless, with images of the bizarre crash splashed across the country’s news media, the topic of driver safety was, once again, shunted into the spotlight and was one of the topics top of mind at the conference.
“Most of our big bus companies have experienced having one of their buses on the front page of a newspaper,” said Koos van Zyl of Karos and Kambro, at the conference.
“In all the years I have been involved in the bus transport industry, millions of rand have been spent on driver safety, and I dare say, with little effect … Traditional training is done ‘till it comes out of our ears, mostly by talking, and half of the time the participants fall asleep.”
Van Zyl was at the conference to demonstrate Karos and Kambro’s driver behaviour and road safety programme: an interactive initiative that makes use of industrial theatre as a training and communication tool.
According to the company, industrial theatre engages employees both intellectually and emotionally; it makes the learning process more effective, with a long-lasting impact; and is an extremely powerful tool for positive behaviour change.
It has to be said – after witnessing the demonstration performance at the conference and the audience reactions thereafter – that Van Zyl’s programme is certainly effective.
South Africa is not alone in its need for improved driver safety standards, as noted by Jason Vallint, business development director at AA Driving Services in the United Kingdom (UK). “While the South African industry is facing challenges, it’s no different elsewhere,” he said, taking the stage after Van Zyl.
“In the UK we also have driver shortages, for example, and we worry about it too. Other countries have gone through the same things and developed some solutions,” he continued.
According to Vallint, buses were found by Transport Statistics Great Britain to be the safest mode of passenger transport, with a negligible fatality rate, per billion passenger kilometres, between 2003 and 2012. However, while buses are relatively safe for occupants, they present a disproportionate threat to other road users, particularly pedestrians, per kilometre driven.
“These buses operate in dense urban environments, but what is a pedestrian to a bus operator?” he asked. “A potential passenger, so don’t run them over!”
According to Vallint, electronic safety devices have recently been introduced to many of the UK’s bus categories; including Electronic Stability Control (ESC), lane departure warning and Advanced Emergency Braking (AEB).
Vallint challenged whether they will have any significant impact on the statistics. “A very large proportion of accidents are driver related,” he noted. This is not a good thing, as the drivers are the face of the company …
“They’re a key passenger interface, assisting with a broad range of passenger needs. They are first in line in managing complaints, conflicts and difficult situations. They control vehicle damage, third-party damage and claims, and are able to avoid passenger injury and associated claims and litigation.”
He continued that most of the issues are management related. It is up to management to instil a “safe culture” and manage risks. “Are you maintaining your vehicle properly; communicating your messages properly; preselecting, developing and looking after your drivers?” he asked. “All these things influence driver behaviour.”
So, what should be done? “There are two components to risk – company specific and driver specific. It’s imperative to have your company processes in order before you focus on your drivers,” suggests Vallint. “But, what is the area in which most of our clients immediately ask us for help? Their drivers; because, of course, they’re always at fault … Actually, this needs to be a balanced picture.”
Regarding the topic of driver risk, however, the procedure begins by performing a driver situational and behavioural risk assessment. Drivers are also asked to perform a self assessment. Using all this information, on-road training and driver performance assessments are undertaken with a coach who points out weak points.
“In London, Driver Quality Monitoring has been implemented, which is a four-part improvement cycle. It begins with infrastructure and standards training, which is then put into practice and observed. Data is collected by monitoring the driver covertly and then further action and reviewing take place, before the cycle starts again.”
It’s clear that effective driver communication, training, evaluation and retraining are imperative in changing driver behaviour. However, it’s also up to the operating company to have all areas of its own house in order. Nonetheless, by implementing innovative training solutions, as demonstrated by Van Zyl, and world-class procedures, as detailed by Vallint, local bus companies can begin to influence their drivers for the better.