This article was produced in partnership with NZI
One silver lining of lockdowns was safer roads for the nation’s transport sector, but with the road toll quickly returning to pre-pandemic levels, a stretched and aging workforce, and ever higher volumes of goods to move, driver safety is back in the spotlight.
Alongside social and economic changes, the sector is also facing new challenges.
“It is an exciting time for the transport sector as we are on the cusp of significant environmental and technological change,” says Oliver Jepson, NZI National Manager, Motor.
Jepson has a keen interest in keeping the fleets of vehicles that move goods and people around the country running smoothly and sees boosting resilience as a crucial factor.
“Change inherently brings risks, both foreseen and unforeseen… successful business owners understand that business resilience is key to success and having plans in place to deal with the unforeseen is just a part of doing business” he says.
As an essential part of the economy, it is important that drivers are fighting fit. This sometimes isn’t an easy task given long hours, challenging driving conditions and ever-increasing amounts of traffic.
This is where the NZI Fleet Fit programmes come in.
NZI Fleet Fit is a range of programmes focusing on fostering a strong safety culture, managing fatigue and sleep properly, opportunities for improving practices through training, and employing smart technology to mitigate the risks drivers face.
While any claims will be handled quickly and efficiently to reduce downtime, the programme’s focus is firmly on preventing accidents in the first place through increasing the resilience of people on the frontlines.
“The fitness of the vehicle is mostly covered off by legislation, so we tend to focus instead on the human elements – this means considering the driver, and the environment and culture that driver is working within,” says Jepson.
The programme isn’t just for heavy truck drivers either.
“Fatigue risk comes with the job for all drivers whether they drive a truck, bus, heavy machine or everyday work vehicle.”
The reality is that drivers these days are at higher risk of fatigue. NZI recently conducted a major study looking at five years of accident data involving commercial vehicles, with a focus on accidents that happen within the first two hours of a driver’s shift.
It found that on any given day, the shortfall in drivers is between 5-10% for the amount of work available. There is also more commercial traffic on the roads than in the past, which makes driving conditions tougher. The pandemic entrenched an existing shift to online shopping and the related transportation needs appear here to stay.
According to Ministry of Transport monthly motor vehicle fleet data, the share of light commercial vehicles (LCVs) on the road has increased steadily to now comprise 16% of all vehicles on the road compared to just 13% in 2013. Over the same 10-year period, the proportion of heavy trucks on the road has remained at 4% while passenger vehicle share has slipped from 79% to 75%.
This reflects a trend towards larger and heavier vehicles equipped with larger engines that have been the typical option for commercial use.
Another challenge for the industry is our driver demographics. More than 20% of truck drivers in New Zealand are over the age of 60 with the average age around 54. Only 16% of drivers here are under the age of 35. By comparison, the average age of truck drivers in Australia is just under 50.
“The transport industry has also been grappling for a while now with the challenge of finding proficient, professional drivers to enter the heavy vehicle workforce as New Zealand’s existing workforce retires,” says Jepson.
“[As firms] increasingly look overseas to help fill the shortage of drivers, one key challenge for businesses will be integrating these talented and generally younger drivers into existing teams and workforces.”
One key factor in boosting driver safety is fostering a good workplace culture around the issue.
“Our experience has shown a business’s attitude toward fatigue management can be an important indicator on the resultant risk to the driver,” says Jepson.
He has seen examples of both good and poor safety culture in his work. One business the NZI Fleet Risk Management (FRM) team worked with recently had a culture where drivers felt safe to put their hand up and admit when they felt fatigued.
“This business said they weren’t overly concerned about the risk of fatigue because of their strong connection with their drivers and open approach to the issue,” says Jepson.
But another business that had no fatigue intervention plan, a lack of communication and little open discussion around the issue were a different story.
“They were concerned about the risk of a driver falling asleep at the wheel.”
Anecdotally, NZI’s FRM team have found that those companies offering the strongest health and safety culture seem to have the least trouble attracting and retaining drivers. This means that not only does the accident rate tend to decrease, but the ability to recruit drivers more easily also relieves pressure on existing staff – a virtuous cycle that benefits both safety and the bottom line is created.
Regardless of whether the business has one vehicle or thousands, the first step is getting advice from experts who can identify problems quickly and roll out initiatives that don’t cost a lot of time or money.
“The Fleet Fit team has a wealth of experience having worked with a range of different business, and as a result has a good sense of what good looks like from a risk and resilience point of view.”
It is all about building a stronger transport system as the sector continues to evolve and adapt to post-pandemic realities.
“As we look into a future full of change, this is going to be more important than ever,” says Jepson.
Established in 1859, NZI is one of New Zealand’s longest serving insurance companies and a leading provider of business insurance. NZI provides around 300,000 customers across New Zealand with the confidence to grow and be successful. As an intermediated insurer, NZI works with broker partners to give business customers specialist knowledge and expertise in areas including commercial property insurance, commercial motor vehicle insurance, construction insurance, corporate insurance, liability cover, marine insurance and rural insurance. NZI’s personal lines include car, home, contents and boat insurance. NZI is proudly backed by IAG New Zealand, the largest general insurer in the country.