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Driver Well-Being – A Road Safety Critical Factor

Driver Well-Being – A Road Safety Critical Factor

Driver Well-Being – A Road Safety Critical Factor

The recent National Road Safety Commission’s (NRSC) report for the first quarter of 2016, January to March, makes grim reading: 508 people were reported killed while using the roads in one way or the other: 394 males and 114 females. This figure represents 22% increase on last year’s figures: 395 people were reported killed on the roads in the first quarter of 2015.

In all, 2,903 cases were documented, including 2,687 persons injured, involving 4,569 vehicles. The records also indicated that a total of 696 pedestrians were knocked down by vehicles.

It is noteworthy that the total deaths in the first quarter included the 71 people who lost their lives in the horrendous head-on collision between a Metro Mass Transit (MMT) Bus and a goods carrying truck, on Wednesday the 17th of February 2016. Apparently the bus was carrying more than 70 people instead of the stipulated maximum 63 passenger capacity. The investigators, in the first instance, reported that the driver of the MMT bus was” overtaking wrongly”; other reports indicated that the “bus was experiencing brake problems”.

Ghana, as a developing country, has a relatively high rate of road deaths. It is the view of many road safety adherents that these deaths are due in part to poorly designed and hastily constructed roads, excessive speeds by undisciplined drivers and inadequate vehicle maintenance. It is common practice for road traffic accident investigators to focus attention on these factors in the event of a road traffic incident.

But granted that research findings suggest that 90% of road traffic incidents is ascribed to human error, it is necessary therefore to examine and investigate the role and status of the driver in any road traffic incident. In any such investigation, however, the driver’s state of mind or well-being must be accounted for as a critical factor in determining a solution to avert the incessant road deaths in the country.

COMMON FACTORS IN ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION

Generally, accident investigators would focus on the key physical factors that interact to bring about a road traffic accident: the vehicle, the road and the driver. The driver’s attitude and behaviour during the journey may be observed and critically queried: such as his attitude towards speed and other risky driving behaviour.
The factors which are not observable and possibly not immediately and easily investigable are the drivers’ personality traits, their psychosocial compositions, their medical conditions and in fact the organisational policies and procedures that impact upon the drivers’ performance. And this is the crux of the matter! An aggregation of these factors would be the determinant of the driver’s well-being in correlation with the driving task and crash involvement.

PERSONALITY TRAITS

Several research evidence suggests that a driver’s personality disposition such as sensation-seeking, impulsiveness, aggression-hostility and social deviancy, among others, correlates with driving behaviour and risk taking tendencies and subsequent crash involvement. It has been found that drivers with a combination of these negative personality inclinations are strikingly more likely to be involved in road traffic infractions.
Driver recruitment agencies and corporate institutions could do well by themselves if they employed psychometric profiling techniques to assess potential drivers prior to engagement. These tools would ascertain the risk index of driver prospects in order to put in place appropriate training mechanisms to ameliorate the negative temperament and attendant consequences.

PSYCHOSOCIAL DIMENSIONS

Driving is a risky and dangerous occupation that should not be undertaken by psychologically maladjusted persons. Unfortunately, there is no legally mandatory requirement for licence applicants to submit proof of mental and physical fitness before licences are issued. The only health requirement for the issuance of a driving licence is an eye test.

It would not be out of place to state that several hundreds of drivers, commercial, corporate and private individuals, are driving all manner of vehicles on Ghana’s roads with varying degrees of psychological disorders: stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, socio-economic pressures. These psychological disorders are exhibited in the socially aberrant behaviour of drivers: running red lights, tailgating, inappropriate and reckless speeding, and use of abusive language at other road users.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy is applicable to redress the underlying causes of these disorders. These are usually effective provided the “driver-patient” recognises the deficiency. Indeed, transport and fleet managers should be able to identify the tell-tale signs of these problems from drivers’ absenteeism, frequent reports of ‘accidents’ by the drivers and regular complaints of tiredness and work conditions.

MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Commercial vehicle drivers are one of the professions with worst health, based on a range of health indicators, for example, serum cholesterol levels, systolic blood pressure and obesity. This stems from the sedentary nature of driving, poor cabin ergonomics, coupled with poor eating habits and lack of effective exercise. The tendency for commercial vehicle drivers to eat heavy meals with alcoholic drinks also contributes to the imbalance in their medical conditions.

In view of the lack of employment and the pressure and nature of driving, some drivers do not divulge their medical conditions: they may lose the opportunity. It is therefore most likely that drivers are out there with risky medical states such as epilepsy, hypertension and cardiovascular heart diseases (CHDs).

It has been found that drivers with a combination of these negative personality inclinations are strikingly more likely to be involved in road traffic infractions.

These psychological disorders are exhibited in the socially aberrant behaviour of drivers: running red lights, tailgating, inappropriate and reckless speeding, and use of abusive language at other road users.

To prevent medically-induced road traffic crashes, transport operating institutions, particularly, passenger carrying buses and coaches, as a matter of policy, should insist on frequent medical check-ups of their drivers. Certainly, the cost of such medical examinations should be borne by the organisation.

ORGANISATIONAL POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Corporate transport institutions and commercial vehicle operators, in particular, may be oblivious to the enormity of pressure their drivers experience, especially when the focus of their operations is only on the bottom-line. Commercial goods and passenger transport drivers are required by legislation to undergo annual driver refresher training before their commercial vehicle permits are renewed. A well-structured such training should reveal inefficiencies in the organisations policies and procedures in relation to the drivers’ well-being.

Driving a bus, for example, is well documented and classified as a highly stressful occupation. This is due in part to the lack of control over time and traffic situations. Consequently, bus drivers and of course other large vehicle drivers are liable to suffer a variety of physical health problems: cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal difficulties, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), fatigue and post-traumatic stress disorder.

These physiological and psychological health challenges are critical factors that impact on the driver’s well-being and the organisation’s performance. It behoves upon transport operators, especially, passenger carrying operators to put measures in place to enhance drivers’ total wellness. Indeed, a good financial package is a great motivator but additional incentives such as free travel permits for spouse and children, annual bonuses for excellent performance, a ranking or grading or regular promotion system, a health insurance scheme and regular training and counselling could be institutionalised in the organisation to boost performance and encourage good driving behaviour, which should contribute towards reducing the incessant and needless road traffic deaths and injuries.

Ultimately, all these should enhance the status of the drivers, reduce human-related driving errors and optimise the organisation’s return on investments. Current passenger bus operators such as the MMT and the yet to be launched BRT can take a cue from the factors listed in this piece. The German pilot who crashed the company’s aircraft intentionally was suffering from depression: he killed 150 people. Let’s look after our drivers, so they look after us!
The German pilot who crashed the company’s aircraft intentionally was suffering from depression: he killed 150 people. Let’s look after our drivers, so they look after us!

By Etse Ladzekpo
Driver Behaviour Research, Education and Training
etse.ladzekpo@ntlworld.com