Poor mental health a driving factor in accidents
March 27, 2018
By Eugene Herbert
It’s long been my contention that road safety is influenced by many factors and particularly with drivers – their health. Physical fitness and a good diet also contribute to greater awareness while driving but little, if any recognition, is given to the mental health.
The following article addresses the issue from a business perspective and how business owners should reflect on matters.
I trust you will enjoy the read.
In society, mental health is becoming something we are all becoming more and more aware of. High profile campaigns such as Head’s Together, whose patrons are the Duke and Dutchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry, now bring the subject to the fore of our consciousness.
In construction alone, suicide and mental health related deaths far outnumber those which occurr as a result of a workplace accident. When founding his ‘one for the boys’ charity, Hollywood actor and mental health campaigner Samuel L. Jackson says, “Men talk about their injuries, they don’t talk about their health.”
What is mental health and what effect could it have on those who drive within my business?
To many, poor mental health is a phrase associated with straight jackets, padded walls and laying down on the shrink’s couch. However, in truth, the real picture of mental health couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Many of us at some point will suffer from some form of mental health issues, with official figures ranging from 1 in 4 at the more serious end of the scale, resulting in the need for intervention. Whereas it is at 75% at the lesser end, with mild depression and mild anxiety.
Recently Prince Harry along with former international cricketer Andrew Flintoff and rap star Professor Green spoke of the impact which anxiety has on their lives. This includes how it affects their ability to perform at the highest level.
When looking at how this can affect our driving, let’s use the following example. Many of us drive to and from work each day, with the majority of those journeys being in the region of half an hour.
Taking this into account, think back to your journey into work this morning. You were probably stuck in traffic for part of it. Chances are you may have had to brake hard, thanks to some other idiot motorist, or swerve to avoid a cyclist. Yet, on the whole, it was pretty normal and, when asked, you would say it was a smooth but unremarkable drive in barring the odd incident, and your concentration levels were good.
Now think about that journey again, only this time, factor in the news that your partner had told you last night they were having an affair. Alternatively, your 15 year old daughter tells you she is pregnant. Do you really think you will concentrate on the road quite so much? will you still be able to avoid that cyclist coming out of nowhere or the driver in front slamming on brakes at the last minute? No, of course you wouldn’t and who could blame you?
In all honesty, with that type of distraction, most of us will be anxious at the very least and probably unable to carry out simple tasks to the best of our ability.
Fast forward a couple of weeks from the news, and the likelihood is that we would become depressed, withdrawn and probably struggle for sleep. All of these, believe it or not, are signs of poor mental health and all of them can make us a liability on the roads.
Supporting this is research carried out in 2017 by Mercedes-Benz. It finds that of 2000 van drivers surveyed, 1 in 5 describe their current state of mental health as poor.
So why is it taking so long for wellbeing to receive recognition alongside safety?
The answer to this one is simple. Safety brings instant rewards while wellbeing is a slow burn. It’s much more difficult to spot problems and sometimes it can take a long time to see the benefit of interventions.
If you have a problem with rear-end shunts in your fleet from speeding drivers, you can fit telematics to vehicles. This makes your drivers accountable for their driving style. Positive changes with both reductions in speeding and subsequent crashes should start to happen fairly quickly.
This approach is the very simple problem/solution model, but wellbeing programmes are different but no less important. Improving the mental state of a driver means they are less likely to be feeling stress. They are more likely to maintain their concentration and make better decisions on the road.
Can work be a contributory factor?
Undoubtedly. In the Mercedes-Benz Survey, three-quarters those of those with poor mental wellbeing say work is a factor.
So why is this, what is changing?
Well, half of van drivers polled note increased time pressures (52%). They also note increased workload (50%) as affecting their state of mind. Steve Bridge, Managing Director for Mercedes-Benz UK Vans supports this theory.
He says, “With a continued surge in online shopping, an increased reliance on same-day deliveries and spiralling traffic volumes across the UK, the real-world pressures on van drivers are changing.”
“Our research findings act as a clear call to van drivers. They need to talk about their mental health concerns and work pressures with employers. Employers need to actively listen to the real concerns of their workforce.”
The Lonely Life of ‘White Van Man’
The life of a van driver is always a solitary one. Can this play a part in a state of poor mental health? Mental Health Foundation spokesperson James Harris feels so.
He says, “Compared to the national average, these figures indicate that van drivers are experiencing an increased rate of poor mental health. In part,” he continues, “This is due to the pressures of the job, and the fact that van drivers can often work in isolation.”
“This is important because we know that men are less likely to reach out for help. They are also four times more likely to end their life by suicide. We need to create a culture in which anyone experiencing problems can ask for help knowing they will receive support.”
As an employer, you may never see the benefit of good mental wellbeing within your organisation. You may not be able to directly attribute accidents to poor wellbeing. However, taken as part of a bigger picture the benefits surely outweigh the cost.
The battle will always be with those controlling the purse strings. The cost vs benefit of raising the awareness of organisational mental wellbeing.
Driving in itself is one of the most stressful activities we undertake as part of our working day. It is probably one which requires one of the highest levels of concentration. This is especially so given the number of variable factors which can confront us on a daily basis.
Taking that into account, and considering the risks of a lack of concentration, will you be happy with somebody performing brain surgery on your daughter if you are aware they are not 100% focussed on the job at hand?
The same applies to those within your organisation who drive as part of their daily life.
Distracted drivers are bad drivers. There is scientific proof those with poor mental health are as vulnerable to distraction as somebody consuming excessive alcohol.