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Friday , 12 July 2024

Driver Training and Beyond

Defensive driving training and traffic psychology would be a powerful combination that could contribute to safer driving practices. This can help reduce the chances of road crash deaths and injuries, writes Arushi Baluja, Head – Department of Driver Training, Public Health and International Relations, Institute of Road Traffic Education (IRTE) – College of Traffic Management (CTM).

India has an estimated 330 million vehicles, growing at almost 10% a year. It is also estimated that over 30 million new licenses are issued every year. The licensing officers are few and the demand is high hence automated systems have been introduced resulting in almost nil interaction between the licensing officer and the trainee driver.

The automated tracks used for testing are isolated and do not embody the issues the driver would face on the roads, as they have no pedestrians, bicyclists, or any other vehicles, be they motorized or non-motorized, and cannot mimic the weather and environmental conditions that the driver will face while driving in India.

Such systems have undermined the basic requirement of the licensing officer to evaluate drivers in defensive driving, their understanding of legislation etc. in other words, the focus is on skills rather than wisdom resulting in growing number of traffic violations, road deaths, road rage and a fall of road user character.

One can observe that the Indian drivers manipulate and manoeuvre in all types of traffic conditions. There is a complete vacuum in the domain of driver training.

Driver training is not just about acquiring skills but also about human factors that can affect driving behaviour. Safe driving depends upon what is happening around the driver and his/her ability to safely perceive the environment, manoeuvre and control the speed of the vehicle in relation to the mixed traffic conditions and other potential hazards around.

Therefore, the curriculum for training drivers of any type of vehicles should be based upon:

  • The type of road environment, and traffic engineering of our roads
  • Motor Vehicles Driving Regulations
  • The vehicle to be driven in question.
  • The driver (himself or herself)
  • Current road usage patterns
  • Type of violations being committed on our roads
  • Understanding of the “Right & Responsibility of Way”
  • Causative factors of road traffic crashes.

Although all types of road users are at risk of being injured or killed in a road traffic crash, there are prominent differences in fatality rates between different road user groups. In particular, the “vulnerable” road users such as pedestrians and two-wheeler riders are at a higher risk than four- wheelers occupants.

The responsibility for adherence of road traffic legislation is restricted to motor vehicles above 50cc. And all the non-motorised traffic, including bicycles, rickshaws and scooties less than 50cc capacity are not governed by the law. Major indiscipline on our roads is created by the e-rickshaws, whose drivers need training.

 The three essential competencies forming the foundations of safe driving are knowledge & skills to drive safely, understanding factors that increase the risk of collision, and the ability to accurately assess drivers’ and road users’ behaviours. Training under guided and approved supervision is the best option for achieving these competencies.

IRTE organised the Launching Event and Working Session of the Global Road Safety Initiative, in partnership with the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Government of India, and in association with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in December 2023 at its College of Traffic Management. The deliberations of this initiative cantered on the critical themes of the safety of vulnerable road users; driver training and certification; and multidisciplinary crash investigation.

Discussions were held on whether Powered two wheelers should be segregated from heavier and faster vehicles. Based upon the successful implementation of segregated lanes for PTWs in Malaysia on highways, this approach was strongly recommended for consideration by nations where PTWs comprise a large proportion of the overall vehicle fleet.

The question of motorcycle filtration between lanes of four-wheeler traffic is also important. The provision for filtration of vehicles was added in India’s Motor Vehicle Driving Regulations 2017 for urban roads that have a speed limit of 40km/hr. Adopted from the Belgian legislation, this concept requires that four-wheelers and three-wheelers adhere to designated lanes, while two-wheelers can filter through.

It was recommended that filtration be an optimal solution where ample segregated spaces cannot be provided, like urban roads. However, enforcement is needed to ensure that all road users comply with lane usage rules.

Road accident data indicated that 85% or more of all fatal and serious crashes are a result of drivers’ errors. While the philosophy of the Safe System Approach is to accommodate some of these errors through vehicle and road design, improving driver behaviour will remain an essential priority until safer roads and vehicles are put in place. Factors like the increased number of motor vehicles, gadgets, non-standard road environments and technological advancement in active and passive safety systems have altered the landscape of safety for vehicle occupants and also pedestrians. The curricula required for driver training should be updated to include such knowledge and awareness.

When we speak of highways as high-speed roads, the data reveals that national highways are just 2% of the country’s road network but are responsible for over 36% of the total road fatalities. The issue with highways is lack of traffic engineering, mixed traffic conditions, too many accesses and so on. When it comes to Expressways, the creation and management are two concerns. Expressways allow the speed limit of 120 kmph for LMVs, however the drivers try to reach higher speeds. During the summer months, due to rise in temperatures, tire bursts are also common.

Fatal accidents on Samruddhi Expressway, Lucknow Agra Expressways, Mumbai Pune Highways are examples.

The environment of the new expressways is different. They do not have trees, or visual features, which would lead to highway hypnosis where drivers tend to show more fatigue, as driving becomes duller. In such situations, the brain switches to a less-alert mode and begins to pay less attention to visual provocations.

On the one hand, highways engineering should take into consideration the phenomenon of human psychology, and on the other, drivers need to be trained on what measures to be taken while driving on these roads.

According to Dr Paolo Perego, Researcher at the Traffic Psychology Unit of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, professional drivers are exposed to a unique set of psychological challenges that demand standardised psychological assessments. There is a need for training on cognitive skills and for dedicated education on hazard perception to promote a safety culture in the transport sector. Dr Perego also stressed the need for emotional intelligence training for professional drivers
to improve their resilience and reduce the likelihood of impulsive or risky behaviour.

The science and understanding of driver psychology should be understood by driver trainers, accident investigators and traffic engineers. It is time that we ensure that the science of human psychology forms a part of driver training in defensive driving.

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