Looking After Your Drivers: Mental Health and Wellbeing

Damian Penney

driver mental health

by Damian Penney, Vice President, Lytx Europe

Wellbeing for commercial drivers can take on several meanings. For some, it could mean getting as much rest as possible before a long journey or maintaining a healthy, balanced diet. For others, it could be making sure that shift patterns don’t impact family life. While drivers will be affected in different ways, one thing that’s certain is that health and wellbeing are key to staying safe on the road. At Lytx, we’re continually looking at ways to help our clients support their drivers on the issues that matter to them.

We sponsored a session on mental health and driver wellbeing as part of Virtual Fleet & Mobility 2020.  Leading the session was Rosie Sharp, behavioural sciences researcher at the Transport Research Laboratory.  Rosie shared interesting statistics about mental health and stress, including that one in four adults is likely to experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, and almost three in four people experience stress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this figure has shot up by 20-30% during the pandemic as we find ourselves in new and uncertain scenarios – which means almost everyone is now affected by stress in some way.

We also learned from Rosie that mental health is often a neglected topic among professional and commercial drivers, with very little UK research on the subject. Rosie shared a US study that revealed that prevalence rates for mental health issues were 27% for Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers. Meanwhile, an Australian study uncovered that 17% of HGV drivers had experienced mild symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress.

In an industry where maintaining constant focus and concentration is essential, issues such as stress, anxiety and depression can impact driver behaviour in several ways. The examples shared by Rosie included an increase in traffic violations, being more hostile towards other road users and increased fatigue, which causes roughly 20% of all incidents on UK roads.

What can fleet managers do to respond and support wellbeing in their organisation?

The first step is to make sure that everyone is aware of mental health as an issue that can impact driver and fleet safety. Around 95% of UK employees who take time off for stress offer a different reason for their absence. This suggests that there is still some fear of stigma that is preventing us from openly discussing mental health – and many individuals are becoming experts at hiding the signs. It’s important to communicate that your drivers’ wellbeing matters.

The second step is to identify certain triggers or behaviours connected to mental health so that fleet managers can be proactive. Some of these signs include, but aren’t limited to, a shift in mood, low motivational levels, problems with timekeeping, as well as increased tiredness. It may also be something bigger, for example a driver with a near-perfect record who is suddenly having an increase in incidents.

Noticing a change in behaviour can prompt managers to dig deeper and review a driver’s recent experiences. This is where video telematics can step in to help to paint a more comprehensive picture. If a driver is showing unusual patterns in behaviour, the manager has the option of reviewing short video clips highlighting any incidents in the last 6 months. This might reveal, for example, that the driver was involved in a near-collision at the hands of another road user. While the incident was flagged and discussed at the time, it may be that the incident has resulted in some lasting trauma which needs to be addressed.

This technology can also be used to spot subtler changes in behaviour. This may not involve a particular incident but show that a driver is speeding more than they used to, is glancing down at their phone more frequently, or is following the vehicle in front too closely when they never used to. By comparing how they have driven before and comparing it to now, we can reveal some patterns. Picking up on these smaller changes is particularly important in the context of the pandemic where fleet managers and drivers are less likely to physically see one another.

Having these insights means operators can get closer to asking the right questions and coaching sessions are a good space in which to do so. For example, a driver who is showing increased distraction or fatigue-related inattentive driving could be working a number of back-to-back late-night shifts. ‘I noticed you’ve had more distraction, inattentive-related risky driving events in the last two weeks.  What’s going on that could be causing that to happen? Let’s work together to identify and help address the issue.”

Finally, organisations can consider setting up an infrastructure to deal with wellbeing issues. This could include bringing in a mental health first aider to administer training to the HR department, updating induction packs to include information about where drivers can seek support, as well as providing a confidential phone line should drivers want to speak to a licensed professional. By putting a support network in place, organisations can ensure they are supporting their drivers and helping them to stay safe.

Contact us to find out how managers can use video to support driver wellbeing.

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