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Driver Training Will Save Lives

Professional advice states learn skills, shed bad habits, and gain better attitude!

Safety first: Murcott’s Driving Excellence chief executive Geoff Thomas says more driver training will help lower crash rates in Australia.

DRIVER training can help fleets cut crash rates by more than 30 per cent, but governments are still refusing to incorporate realistic training into the driver licencing process, according to a leading driver training executive.

The reluctance of road authorities to incorporate driver training into the licencing system is based on outdated research that has recently been debunked, according to Geoff Thomas, chief executive of Murcott’s Driving Excellence, which trains between 12,000 and 15,000 drivers a year.

The deKalb report in the US in 1996 concluded that driver training did not reduce crash rates, and that finding had soured the attitude to driver training.

“What became popular (among road authorities) was the notion that if you trained people in emergency control skills, such as how to handle a skid, people would then go out with an increased optimism about their ability and get into skids,” he said.

That idea has subsequently been debunked by a joint survey of driver training analyses by Curtin University and Monash University.

“We know that teaching them to deal with a skid won’t change the likelihood of them getting into a skid,” he said when addressing a seminar convened by the Australasian Fleet Manager’s Association, and added that prevention was the key.

“This (Curtin/Monash) research confirms that, if you teach people, young or old, the techniques for identifying the problem before it occurs, then people can make decisions that will then prevent them from getting into that situation.”

Mr Thomas also refuted the assertion that “speed kills”, an idea that has been central to road safety strategies for many years.

“It is technically incorrect. The problem we have is that the notion of speed as a factor in crash causality hasn’t been established very effectively at all. It is not born out by the facts.”

Pushing the notion that speed kills can be dangerous in unintended ways, according to Mr Thomas.

“When we are told that speed kills, it tends to send a message to all those who are not speeding that they’re good, that they’re safe, that they’re okay and, in fact, that is not the case at all. It is a much more complex matter.

“The majority of people who are injured and killed on our roads in Australia were travelling within the speed limit and they were also sober. We have to be careful about drawing conclusions about certain causes without looking at all of the causes.”

He said the key was to change the attitude of drivers and to give them the information they need to be safe.

“The thing that changes behaviour is people learning what causes the problem – the crash, the injury – and if they understand that and are given the right information, they will then make decisions to change their behaviour to avoid the dangerous circumstance.

“That’s the aim of all effective training, whether it be driver training, health and safety, tree-rigging, whatever you are doing.”

One of the company’s clients is a health organisation with a fleet of more than 1000 vehicles. Mr Thomas said that, since it implemented Murcott’s Total Driver Risk Management System, it had recorded a 35 per cent drop in its crash rate.

He said the Victorian state government’s emphasis appears to be on minimising the damage when things go wrong, instead of preventing crashes from happening.

“Putting wire barriers along the roads to prevent vehicles crossing the median strip is good, but it doesn’t address the issue of why the crash happened in the first place.

“Of course, anything we do to minimise the damage once the crash occurs is great. But while we do nothing about driver behaviour, I think we are avoiding the main issue.”

Mr Thomas said he was bemused by the state government’s attitude to driver training. On the one hand, it refuses to incorporate thorough driver training in the licencing process, while on the other hand it sends hundreds of state government drivers to Murcott’s each year to do driver training courses.

Mr Thomas said a lot of driver behaviour was learned from riding in cars, and being taught to drive, by our parents.

“Most of the learning for us drivers came from our parents. As we consumed information about driving while we were growing up, we also consumed the attitudes of our parents.

“So, if you had an aggressive dad who spoke to other drivers to give them advice as he drove, we will also tend to do that. And if we had parents who didn’t know much about driving, we won’t know much about driving.”

“The fact is we are still not putting enough into pre-licencing training to allow people to have a reasonable chance of surviving their first six months on the road.”

Mr Thomas said young drivers receive a lot of criticism but the fact is they have not been trained adequately for the task.

“When people are looking at driver training, what they are failing to understand is that a lot of the crashes they have, particularly young people, is on the basis that that do not have a library of incidents in their memories that they can draw on to remind them that this situation is a potential problem.

“Young people get out there and have no idea how bad the other drivers are going to be around them and how unsafe it is going to be. We’re blaming people for getting it wrong when they haven’t been taught.”

Mr Thomas said the licence test involved parroting off some rules about how far you can park from a hydrant or a corner and then a drive around a suburban area at 60km/h.

“It’s pretty tragic. The licence test is not a test of safe driving. It’s a test of some road law.

“Europeans generally do it better. It costs several thousands of dollars to get a licence over there. You wouldn’t think of driving on an autobahn if you weren’t properly trained.

“We are giving people the opportunity to go out on the road, after they have been taught and tested at around 60km/h, and now suddenly they are doing 100km/h.

“That is just ridiculous.”

By Ian Porter