Features & Interviews

Five minutes with… Mark Cartwright, Head of Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention at National Highways

06 July 2023 #Features & Interviews

Tell us about your role

I lead the National Highways programme aimed at identifying the main causes of commercial vehicle incidents and finding ways to reduce and prevent such incidents. Around 20 million vehicles on the road network – HGVs, PSVs, vans, cars, courier bikes – are being used for work: that’s a pretty important number.

It can’t be emphasised enough: driving for work is one of the highest-risk activities that many employees undertake, whether they drive a commercial vehicle, a company car or make occasional work journeys in their own vehicle. As the gig economy continues to grow, this also means those who ride for work as well as those who drive.

Where do you see the biggest problems on the network?

Vans and van drivers. Vans are involved in more fatal collisions that affect other road users per mile travelled than any other type of vehicle. They are often in poor shape: 39% of vans fail their MOT first time; 66% of all vans stopped at the roadside have serious mechanical defects; and of those, 85% should have been identified via a proper pre-use check.

SMMT members will know that the number of vans on UK roads has shot up by 50 per cent in the last ten years and there are now more than 4.5 million on UK roads. It’s not all online shopping deliveries: they account for about one in six (16%). More than 40% have a primary purpose of carrying equipment, tools or materials.

Organisations whose job it is to transport or deliver goods – they know they run a fleet, and they largely know how to do it legally and safely. Those who use a van as part of their work – plumbing and heating, landscape gardening, telecoms – don’t see themselves as commercial vehicle drivers. We’re there to help them understand their risks and responsibilities.

What are the commercial advantages of managing business drivers?

Huge!  Organisations report 12 common measurable business benefits of managing their road risk, including:

  • Collisions/at-fault incident claims car/van
  • Collisions/at-fault incident claims HGV
  • Reduced speeding penalties
  • Lower cost of maintenance
  • Fleet utilisation
  • Reduced fuel consumption
  • Idling
  • Insurance premiums
  • Emissions
  • Insurance claims
  • Public complaints

But there’s more. Clients are becoming more demanding.  Increasingly, the procurement process specifies a high standard of risk management. Put simply, if you don’t manage your drivers and vehicles, you won’t get the contract. It will go to your competitors.

This has an impact on the purchase of vehicles too. Influential buyers can specify the star rating of the vehicles being used by subcontractors to fulfil a contract.

Earlier this year, EuroNCAP changed the scoring system for its Van Safety Ratings to reduce the threat that vans pose to other road users, focusing on ‘active’ crash avoidance systems. The new safety classifications: Platinum, Gold, Bronze and ‘Not Recommended’ will help to raise the bar on safety standards, which will help fleet buyers make informed decisions.

What else is National Highways doing to improve safety on its network?

We work with the Police at a national level to target dangerously driven commercial vehicles and private cars to improve compliance and to reduce the number of incidents caused by unsafe driver behaviour.

Three plain white HGV tractor units, equipped with multiple cameras and piloted by highly trained police drivers, patrol the strategic road network as part of Operation Tramline, capturing distracted HGV drivers and private motorists using mobile phones, laptops, reading/cooking or other unsafe activities.

The high position of the HGV cabs allows police forces to drive alongside vehicles to film any unsafe driver behaviour taking place. Since the initiative began, over 32,000 vehicles have been stopped resulting in more than 35,000 offences.

If fleet managers understand their responsibilities, what next?

Driving for work is no longer the sole remit of the fleet or transport manager. Managing risk on the road as effectively as within business premises should be focal for HR and health and safety leaders. In fact, it should be led from the top.One of the things that terrifies and fascinates me in probably equal amounts is the number of health and safety organisations I’ve come across with robust systems and talented managers and directors that don’t get that their responsibilities extend out onto the road.

As part of this, we have Driving for Better Business, a multi-award-winning programme to help employers reduce work-related road risk. The programme does this by sharing good practice and demonstrating the significant business benefits that result. It also includes a fantastic range of free resources such as our van driver toolkit containing safety updates and pre-recorded toolbox talk videos.

Five minutes with… Mark Cartwright, Head of Commercial Vehicle Incident Prevention at National Highways

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