There's something about wisdom — whether it's a product of age or experience — that can give a driver a sixth sense about what to do and not do when sitting behind the wheel. For fleet managers, experienced drivers can save thousands of dollars in missed accidents and safer driving behaviors. But, age is not always a tell-tale sign of a safe driver.
According to 2012 statistics from fleet safety company Fleet Response, drivers aged 26-35 and 46-54 are neck and neck (24.4 percent versus 24.1 percent) when it comes to the percentage of those involved in accidents.
As with the insurance policy of parents with newly licensed drivers, rates can jump whenever a fleet manager adds a younger driver to his or her staff. While most fleet drivers are above the "youthful driver" age range of 16 to 24, companies still need to be aware of the possibility of increased premium costs.
"In these situations, a surcharge is applied to any vehicles assigned to the youthful driver," explained Alan Adkins, product director for business auto at Nationwide Insurance. "Recognize that hiring inexperienced/youthful drivers can potentially lead to higher insurance premiums, as driving statistics show these drivers have a greater likelihood of being involved in accidents."
Adkins advised fleet managers be diligent in verifying motor vehicle records (MVRs) of all employees before allowing them to have access to fleet vehicles. Additionally, fleets should institute a driver safety program to properly train all drivers on the equipment they will be operating, as well as a vehicle maintenance program to ensure all vehicles are regularly inspected and properly maintained, roadworthy, and safe for driving.
Andrea Stuermer, chief operating officer of Farmers Business Insurance, also stressed the importance of driver safety training to help keep rates down for all their drivers, which should include a dedicated fleet safety manager and some employee-related incentives.
"Higher wages can often pay for themselves through lower insurance premiums and could potentially save the company from a catastrophic accident," Stuermer said.
In training drivers to be safe, some believe that most programs do little more than reteach rules that are commonplace in any driver's manual.
"There's no measurable crash reduction for teaching the rules of the road," said Richard Harkness, CEO of Advanced Drivers Education Products and Training, Inc (ADEPT), a company that offers science-based training to improve driver safety.
Although ADEPT offers programs focused on youthful and older drivers, Harkness also sees the importance of continuous training, no matter the age of the driver.
"We've done extensive research on aging drivers to focus on what happens when you hit 50 and beyond. These drivers have plenty of experience, but they do not necessarily know where to look effectively or surprisingly even how to adjust their mirrors," Harkness said.
According to Harkness and his multi-disciplinary program vetting team, the No. 1 accident cause for drivers between 20 and 50 is failure to see the other car, which means more drivers need visual cognition and memory training — teaching them where to look, how to spot hazards, and the dangers of distracted driving.
"Talking on a cell phone increases your crash risk by four times and that is very close to driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content, yet it's totally legal to use your cell phone," Harkness added. "People suffer from inattention blindness — they look but don't see."
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,328 people died in 2012 in distraction-affected crashes, while an estimated 421,000 people were injured during the same year. Distracted driving, according to Harkness, gives drivers restrictive vision where they lose their peripheral detail and miss 50 percent of the safety-critical events on the road.
"Taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your mind off the driving are the three things that really cause distracted driving crashes," Harkness added.
Any form of multitasking, which can include texting, making calls, and even changing the radio station, can pull drivers' attention away from the road, no matter their age.
"According to neurocognitive psychologists, your brain does one thing at a time in rapid succession. When talking on the phone or texting, the part of brain that deals with driving (visual/spatial relationships) shuts down by 40 percent as other parts of the brain that have little to do with driving become more active. This impairs the driver's visual perception and causes inattention blindness and response time delays," Harkness said.