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The Role of the Passenger

The Role of the Passenger

The role of the passenger in vehicle safety is often overlooked, particularly in the workplace.  Many businesses have in place safe work policies and procedures around driving and road safety, but far fewer consider the vital role that the passenger can play in the safe operation of the vehicle.

Between 2006-2007 and 2012-2013, Worksafe WA reported vehicle related fatalities as being the second highest cause of work related fatalities in Western Australia, with the total crash related costs in WA totalling over $457M for the 2013 calendar year (source: Insurance Commission of Western Australia). Given these statistics, any approach to reducing crash rates is worthy of exploration.

Whilst there is not a lot of research into the influence that the passenger has, several epidemiological studies have shown that the crash risk of drivers is affected by the presence of passengers.  Regan & E. Mitsopoulos in their study Understanding Passenger Influences on Driver Behaviour found that passengers currently play a number of role types including determining whether their driver engages in risky driving behaviours (e.g. driving too close to the car in front) either implicitly through their physical presence or explicitly by telling the driver; they determine whether their driver engages in anti-social driving behaviours (e.g. spinning the wheels, or drink driving) either implicitly or explicitly; and, they determine whether their driver drives responsibly (e.g. notifying the driver of approaching traffic hazards). In addition, passengers talk to their driver either socially or to keep their driver awake, and they do things for their driver to alleviate the driver’s workload (e.g. answering the mobile phone).

Whether passengers will play a given role, and how drivers perceive and react to these roles, was said to depend on the relationship between the driver and the passenger, and for the younger participants in particular, the age and sex of the driver relative to the passenger.

It was concluded that consideration should be given to incorporating into driver training programs principles of Crew Resource Management (CRM) that are relevant to the enhancement of communication and teamwork between drivers and passengers to enhance safety. CRM is a type of training that has been adopted widely throughout the aviation industry to enhance communication and teamwork within the aircraft cockpit to optimise flight safety.

These findings support the formalisation of the passenger’s role into some form of peer assessment system, whereby if a driver comes to realise that their performance behind the steering wheel is being monitored and, more important, that their ability to continue as a driver depends on the appraisal by the passengers on board the vehicle, it will likely prick their conscience to do the right thing throughout the journey.

Based on the evidence available, the risk of a crash can be reduced by controlling the behavioural interactions which occur between drivers and their passengers in a positive manner.

Passengers can make a significant contribution to improved safety by be actively involved in the journey, including:

  • Performing tasks on behalf of the driver e.g. receiving and making mobile phone calls, navigating and reading maps etc
  • Not distracting the driver through excessive conversation or by inappropriate behaviour
  • Not talking to the driver during times of high driver workload such as high traffic areas
  • Monitoring the drivers state of alertness
  • Detecting imminent hazards and warning the driver eg
  • Actively encouraging the driver when engaging in risk averse behaviour
  • Actively discouraging the driver from engaging in risk taking behaviour
  • Engaging in positive risk-aware conversations eg “What speed do you normally travel at on this road? I find that 80kph is plenty, what do you think?”

Shawsett have adapted the Speak Up, Slow down, Stop campaign which is integrated into all of our driver development courses, which focusses specifically on empowering the passenger to positively impact on the safety of the journey.  If you would like to know more about this campaign, or our driver training seminars, courses & e-learning options, please don’t hesitate to call us on 6274 3300.