IAM RoadSmart’s hugely successful advanced scheme for bus drivers is paying dividends in safety improvements and cost savings – and giving participants even more pride in their work.
Coming under the scrutiny of an Observer and then – finally – an Examiner, can be a nerve-wracking, if ultimately highly rewarding, experience. So imagine what it’s like to take the test not with your own car or motorcycle, but at the wheel of a bright-red 40-foot double-decker London bus that’s eight feet wide and weighs in at over 12 tonnes. In swirling city traffic. That’s exactly what has been happening in the capital since December 2017. That’s when bus company Go-Ahead London took the bold decision to encourage as many of its drivers as possible at seven of its city garages to give up their own time and prove to Examiners that they are worthy bearers of the coveted IAM RoadSmart badge. Signing up drivers to this trailblazing pilot scheme was the brainchild of former bus-driver, inspector, driving instructor, accident-prevention manager, operations manager and now company driving standards manager for the brand, Graham Oliver. He decided such a training scheme was exactly what was needed to boost morale and drivers’ enjoyment of their job, while reducing the number of collisions and incidents. What he hadn’t anticipated was that Go-Ahead’s drivers would become so fired up about passing the test. “You have to remember that our bus drivers are already highly trained, very skilled, among the best in the country,” says Graham. “There was no guarantee they would want someone examining their driving, so I was apprehensive at first.
Would they want to do it?” The answer was a resounding ‘yes’, and today the initial results speak for themselves. “It’s early days, as [at time of interview] we’re only six months into the scheme across seven garages in London,” says Graham. “But we believe the figures will show that incident levels have come down – and, of course, the drivers absolutely love it. Now we’re hoping to roll it out even further.”
How the scheme works
It’s all voluntary, and in the first instance, drivers apply to their garage’s IAM RoadSmart ‘champion’ – who coordinates the scheme at a local level – to join. They are then assessed for up to an hour as they drive their usual route – complete with passengers – by one of 87 specially IAM RoadSmart-trained mentors. Drivers taking the test must sit it in their own time and be formally scrutinised, out on the road, in an ‘off-duty’ bus by one of the firm’s IAM RoadSmart-trained and approved Examiners. Graham says the pass rate is “very high”, with well over 90 per cent of drivers winning their badge – and the admiration of their colleagues – first time. Those who pass gain not only the badge but also a certificate, automatically becoming IAM RoadSmart Fellows, a senior level of membership. “It’s not just the pass that matters, it’s the honour,” explains Graham. “They take more pride in their driving and talk about it with the other drivers. Then they all want to take part!” Those who pass are re-tested every three years – sooner if they have an ‘avoidable’ incident at work – to ensure standards are maintained.
Why did Go-Ahead London launch the IAM RoadSmart trial?
It was Go-Ahead’s initial trial at the Merton garage that showed what a huge benefit the scheme could be for the firm and its drivers, says Graham. And little wonder; initial Merton figures suggest a massive 50% cut to accident rates, as part of a wider package of measures including the IAM RoadSmart scheme. It more than fulfilled the hopes of Go-Ahead – which finances the provision of mentors, Examiners and vehicles – that the scheme would cultivate an atmosphere encouraging good driving practice. “It’s now a very important part of the company’s accident-prevention approach, making the roads safer and helping bus drivers to enjoy their job even more,” says Graham. He explains that the scheme often replaces the need for disciplinary action following incidents, too.
So many of Go-Ahead’s drivers are applying for membership that there is already a waiting list for the advanced driving test. Altogether, 1,051 drivers for Go-Ahead – which operates nearly 24 per cent of the Transport for London network from 16 garages – are proud IAM RoadSmart badge-holders, with many more in the pipeline. One of the best-performing garages is Stockwell, where in just six months as part of the wider package of measures, there has been a 20% drop in the number of incidents, year on year. “Fewer incidents mean a happier workforce and less disruption all round. It’s a win-win”, explains Graham.
“Whenever one of our drivers passes the advanced test, we take a picture of them receiving their certificate from a manager and put it on our IAM RoadSmart Wall,” smiles Ahad Miah, one of Go-Ahead’s official IAM RoadSmart Examiners. “All the drivers want to be up there – celebrities for a while! When I started the scheme I had to go looking for drivers, getting them to sign up. Now they come looking for me! They come to tell me that passengers or other drivers have complimented them on their driving…there’s a totally new vibe at Stockwell now; the place is buzzing.” Ahad says many employees have been driving buses for 30 or 40 years. “You pick up bad habits – it’s refreshing to have someone assess you and improve your driving…I’m much more switched on and I feel safer, too.”
“Sometimes I get a hug when they pass,” says mentor and Examiner Andrea Olah, 42. “Or a mug of hot chocolate!” Andrea, a former bus driver, spent four days training to become an IAM RoadSmart-approved Examiner, including classroom sessions on the Highway Code. Now she carries out several assessments of drivers each day, and conducts two to three tests each week. Her assessments tend to pick out similar issues each time: insufficient use of mirrors, harsh braking and not looking far enough along the road.
(From RoadSmart, Autumn 2018)