Injury risk significantly higher when driving for work

A third of road deaths and a fifth of serious injuries are sustained in accidents involving a working driver or rider, according to research by UCL.

Of 520 fatalities recorded by the police in 2018 from road collisions involving a working driver/rider, 432 (83%) of these were other road users. Working drivers and their passengers accounted for 88 fatalities (17%).

Between 2011 and 2018, 39% of pedestrians killed in Great Britain were hit by a working driver (someone who is driving as part of their job, rather than commuting to work).

In the report, published by the UCL Centre for Transport Studies, academics identified new trends and risks for occupational drivers and other road users involved in accidents, in order to inform policies and interventions to encourage safer driving.

Professor Nicola Christie (UCL Transport Studies) said: "Our research shows that people who drive for work pose a serious risk to others, especially pedestrians. This is a worrying situation because of the rise in van traffic and last mile deliveries as we increasingly shop online, particularly since the start of the pandemic.

"There is a clear role for the Government to lead on initiatives to bring the management of risk to the attention of employers and the self-employed, and reduce this burden to individuals and society."

The researchers from the UCL Centre for Transport Studies and transport safety and behaviour consultants Agilysis estimated that vans each drive around 12,800 miles per year, equating to 15.4% of all vehicle mileage with 20% of these miles being on minor urban roads.

The changing economy has led to a rapid increase in the number of vans on the road and the proportion of people working in the gig economy, where they are paid per job, or ’gig’.

Vans and drivers are not subject to the same strict regulation of driver training, restrictions on driving hours and roadworthiness testing as HGVs, buses and coaches.

The academics also interviewed eight anonymous national strategic stakeholders with expertise in road safety or a role in the management of occupational risk. These interviews revealed confusion over new employment models which passed risk responsibility to individuals and a lack of detailed data around risk and effective interventions.

They also revealed concerns over exploitation of workers and their working conditions, and a feeling that the onus of ensuring workers are protected by health and safety laws should move to companies.

Stuart Lovatt, Head of Strategic Road Safety for Highways England commented: "Highways England is delighted to help support this important piece of research into the risk of injury around work related driving by providing the funding to enable this study to be undertaken.

"This report will support the objectives of Highways England’s Driving for Better Business Programme which aims to raise awareness of work related road risk to business leaders and their drivers."

Nick Starling, Chair of the Transport Safety Commission Work Related Road Safety Forum said: "As a society, we rely on those driving for work. Twenty-nine per cent of all fatalities, 24% of serious injuries, and 21% of all casualties are sustained when someone involved in a collision is driving for work.

"Vans and drivers are not subject to the same strict regulation of driver training, drivers’ hours restrictions and roadworthiness testing as HGVs and buses/coaches, while the number of vans on the road and people working in the gig economy continues to rise. This report highlights the importance of stakeholders across all sectors working together to understand and manage the risk better."

The academics also identified where there are gaps in knowledge, partly stemming from a lack of attention paid to work-related road safety by policy makers. These gaps include better data on who working drivers and riders are, and who is injured - whether pedestrians or cyclists are more at risk.

There is also a lack of ownership, leadership and management of the issue among some key stakeholders, and more data is needed on risk and effective interventions.

They make several recommendations in their report, including bringing van drivers under the same strict regulations as HGV, bus and coach drivers. Accountability for health and safety should be at company board level and there was support from interviewed stakeholders for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to put occupational road risk within their scope. Casualty data should be strengthened to identify work-related collisions.

Charitable partnership RoadSafe provided advice and support.