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Hazard Perception – Not Just for Learners!


Find out more about the science that underpins our driver assessment and training tools

Hazard perception training is not just for learner drivers, say Dr Victoria Kroll and Dr David Crundall from Esitu Solutions. They argue that appropriately designed tests and training can deliver significant benefits to commercial fleets.

[This article first appeared in Fleet Vision International Q3 2021, written by Dr Victoria Kroll and Prof. David Crundall, the founders of Esitu]. 


Hazard perception is a multifaceted skill. Drivers must first know where to look for the most likely hazards. They must identify ‘hazardous precursors’, such as parked vehicles that might occlude traffic emerging from a side road, and place these precursors in a priority hierarchy. They must monitor all potential hazards and spot subtle characteristics that identify an imminent change into a developing hazard, before making a timely response. All these processes contribute to how quickly a driver responds during a hazard perception test, often without explicit awareness.


An image of Hazard Prediction test on a motorway

The DVSA hazard perception test is not perfect. It does not measure how drivers might mitigate danger through deceleration or lane positioning. There is also concern that the scoring windows may sometimes be too severe. Nonetheless, its introduction to the UK’s driver licencing procedure in 2002 has been a great success. A study by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2008 reported that the test lowered the crash risk of newly qualified drivers. More recent estimates suggest the test saves the UK nearly £90m per year by preventing over 1,000 injury collisions and more than 8,000 damage-only collisions. The official DVSA test also forms part of the Driver CPC for aspiring lorry and bus drivers. In this version, drivers see 19 clips containing 20 hazards and must score a minimum of 67/100 to pass. In comparison, learners see 15 clips and have a pass mark of 44/75. The tests and clips are otherwise identical regardless of whether you are a learner or an experienced driver seeking to become a professional driver.


Hazard perception for fleet safety 


Beyond the use of the DVSA hazard perception tests in the Driver CPC, this approach has yet to impact significantly in fleet training and assessment. There are, however, many ways in which hazard perception can benefit commercial fleets. It is a useful recruitment assessment tool. Research shows that a good hazard test can help predict the likelihood of drivers having a collision. It is often a relatively small number of drivers who account for the majority of road safety related costs. Identifying at-risk drivers before employing them can save a lot of money. Hazard perception tests can also identify the individual training needs of current drivers. With the advent of ever-more sophisticated e-learning, modules can automatically be selected for drivers based on the hazards they find most challenging. Hazard perception tests can also be integral to training. Mere exposure to hazards in such tests can improve drivers’ awareness of what might happen on the road. More involved training can include explicit instruction, feedback on where (and why) drivers should be looking to spot hazards, and interactive exercises. Research from around the world demonstrates that hazard perception training, when done correctly, can make drivers safer. The benefits of training are not restricted to reducing collisions. The increased awareness of hazards often results in fewer instances of harsh braking and harsh acceleration. Recent research even suggests that hazard training makes drivers less willing to engage in distracting activities, such as mobile phone use. Most distracting tasks are initiated by drivers who think the road ahead is safe. After hazard training, however, drivers become less inclined to take their attention away from the road.


The challenges for fleets 


Given the benefits of hazard perception tests and training for commercial fleets, we believe misconceptions around hazard perception are partly to blame for its lack of traction in the sector, along with some genuine issues. 


              ‘Hazard perception is just like a video game.’ 


The implication here is that resemblance to a video game means it has nothing to do with real-world performance. Yet, the evidence suggests this is not the case. The first research study in this area dates to the 1960s, and while not every study has found positive results in support of hazard perception tests, the preponderance of evidence is in their favour. These tests do not assess all the skills required for a crash-free driving career, but they capture an essential part of the safe-driving task. Does it matter that some people regard this as too similar to a video game? We argue not. Serious games and gamification offer excellent methods for encouraging engagement with the learning process. 


           ‘It’s just for the learner drivers.’ 


Research demonstrates that even highly experienced drivers can benefit from hazard perception training. However, it is true that many current tests are not suitable for professional drivers. Scoring windows for the DVSA test are based on the expected responses from learner drivers, which are not necessarily appropriate for professional drivers. Better drivers see earlier clues to upcoming hazards and may press even before the scoring window opens (effectively scoring zero points). Furthermore, the clips that drivers are presented with are from the point of view of a car driver. The view from an HGV, or even a van, is very different. 


           ‘It doesn’t relate to the job.’ 


Certain driving roles encounter different hazards. We have created tests for HGVs, a national bus operator, and Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service, using real footage captured from their own vehicles. From these tests we can note the different types of hazards that occur. For instance, pedestrians at bus stops pose a particular hazard for bus drivers, while the behaviour of some road users when faced with a fire appliance on blue lights can be erratic. The traditional hazard perception test may capture some safety-related information from your drivers, but we believe it is more effective to design hazard tests for specific driving roles. The current climate Recent developments have removed many barriers to commercial engagement with hazard tests. For instance, the hazard prediction test is a variant of the hazard perception test that removes the tricky scoring windows. Instead of pressing a button to acknowledge a hazard, we stop the video as the hazard develops and ask, ‘What happens next?’. If you have read the road appropriately, you should be able to identify the correct answer. Our published research has demonstrated that this test is suitable for professional drivers in the UK and internationally. Perhaps the most recent development is the adoption of virtual reality in hazard training and assessment, which creates a more realistic, immersive experience. With these advances, we have noticed an uptick in interest in hazard perception from large organisations. We recently assisted TfL with the development of VR hazard training for 25,000 London bus drivers. Given the evolution of the field, we hope that more organisations will consider the use of hazard perception tests with their drivers. 

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