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Crash talk really works

Big impact: Talking about crash prevention bay be more effective than any other method, including cash incentives and driver training.

Talk the talk to cut crashes, though driver training and tech helps too: researcher

General News logo8 Aug 2013

GROUP discussions have been found to be more effective than driver training, cash bonuses or awareness campaigns at reducing road incidents, according to a Sydney safety researcher.

This means that employers - including fleet operators suffering from frequent accidents and spiraling repair and insurance costs - can have a big impact on the rate of road accidents by getting staff together to talk about it.

“There has been an abundance of research that shows that post-licence driver training really doesn’t make much difference at all,” says senior research fellow in transport and road safety research at the University of NSW Lori Mooren.

Ms Mooren spoke this week at the Vehicle Safety on Our Roads seminar in Melbourne, organised by the Society of Automotive Engineers – Australasia.

“The traditional style of driver training, where it tries to increase drivers’ manual skills, haven’t shown a lot of benefit in terms of safety,” she said.

Ms Mooren referred to a study had been done in Sweden by a company with 900 drivers in its fleet. In this test, they were broken up into groups and each group adopted a different method of trying to reduce crash rates.

“The study found you can improve safety through various measures, like giving people cash bonuses, by doing education campaigns and by telling them what the risks are,” she said.

“They also did driver training that was more a risk education program.” But the best results came from the group that adopted the simple method of holding group discussions.

“Groups of drivers got together, identified what the risks were and then they identified the things they could do to minimise their risks of having a crash,” she said.

“Group discussions resulted in a 69 per cent improvement (reduction) in the financial cost of crashes. Then came cash bonuses (35 per cent), awareness campaigns (34 per cent) and driver training (33 per cent).

“There is something valuable about involving the person themselves in identifying the risks and the solution,” she said.

However, while Ms Mooren said addressing the human tendency to take risks by talking through the issues was in this case the most effective means of tackling the problem, it doesn’t mean technology can’t also help.

“There is great potential for improvement is crash outcomes through the use of systems in the car, especially given humans are so hopeless in assessing and avoiding risk,” she said.

“These systems include seatbelt interlock, alcohol interlock, telematics GPS systems, drowsiness detectors, vehicle to vehicle communications and vehicle to infrastructure communications.” In setting the background, Ms Mooren said our daily commute was one of the most dangerous things we do every day.

“The biggest risk we take every day is using the roads. One little mistake can be deadly, she said.” “People are not good at avoiding risk. Research shows people are excessively and unrealistically optimistic when judging their driving competency and accident risk,” she said.

“Eighty per cent rate themselves as above average drivers.” Worse than that, we like to push the limits, she said.

“We always operate at the level of the highest risk we think we can handle without getting hurt. We take a lot of risks and get away with a lot of them, so the ballpark experience is telling us it’s OK. People just don’t see the risks.”

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