South Africa has some alarming road accident statistics – more than 18 000 people die on South African roads each year, more than 150 000 people are severely injured and 8 500 people are paralysed and and the cost to the nation is north of R300 billion per annum.
But the biggest danger is that most South African drivers believe that they are not part of the problem and that the one million plus tragic crashes that cause immense suffering and damage every year happen to someone else, according to Keith Cunningham, head of Driver Assess.
18 months ago, Cunningham admits that he had a similar mindset. With substantial experience in occupational health, safety and risk and having worked in the business coaching field focusing on emotional intelligence, he regarded himself as a well-adjusted person and a good driver.
Like most local drivers, he believed that he certainly wasn’t reckless and definitely wasn’t prone to road rage.
“Road rage can be defined as sudden acceleration, braking and close tailgating, cutting others off in a lane or deliberately preventing someone from merging into a lane. At worst, these sorts of drivers actually chase other motorists, flash their lights or hoot excessively, yell or behave disruptively at roadside establishments. This can even lead to physical fights and deaths,” he explains.
What he did realise, though, was that there were certain triggers which sparked similar behavior to the most the most vigilant person behind the wheel. If each driver was aware of potential weaknesses and triggers, they could be proactive and control actions that could result in potentially lethal situations.
This is where his emotional intelligence training kicked in. Most people approach driving as they do everyday chores and operate sub-consciously, he reasoned. “Most of us drive on autopilot. If they are aware of where their own potential risks are, they can take back control. By paying attention to what they are doing, they can take action. That is how people can change their behavior,” he points out.
Drawing on his risk control background, Cunningham created Driver Assess, an on line profiler that creates an extensive driver profile that is unique to each and every driver that takes the test.
It’s a world first and, for just R200, a driver can complete a detailed questionnaire and receive back a comprehensive assessment.
The report measures 14 different dimensions of human behavior and computes the results into a format that can be used to determine a driver’s likely behavior.
“For the first time, you will be able to determine your likely behavior behind the wheel. You can identify trigger events that initiate the emotions that result in high risk driving. You can spot and understand the meaning you sub-consciously attach to these trigger events. Once you are aware of them and have paid them some attention, you are in a position to change these risky behaviours into those that benefit you and other road users,” he explains. You can do this every time you drive.
To sum up, this means taking back control of your driving and actively monitoring your self-talk and emotions and responses. You can consciously choose your driving story rather than let your sub-conscious write one you have no awareness of, nor control over.
The profile that Cunningham created when he set up Driver Assess nearly two years ago is developed in South Africa for South African driving conditions. It has been standardized for both males and females, mini-bus, passenger vehicle and truck drivers
In addition to simply helping individual motorists improve their driving, it also has widespread applications in the commercial world – all the more important given that the vast majority of goods in South Africa are transported by road.
In addition to raising an individual’s awareness about his or her risky road behavior, it helps provide clarity on potential new recruits who would be required to operate a company’s vehicles. The Driver Assess behavior profiler can also complement existing driver recruit training programmes by identifying specific education strategies for different drivers.
It can also be an important tool in vehicle accident investigations.
Cunningham admits that he does practice what he preaches and now not only drives consciously but has modified certain behaviours.
“At Driver Assess, we believe that the high number of South African road accidents is something that affects us all. The injuries and fatalities are unnecessary and this is something that conscious drivers can change. By using our profiler to help individuals become more self-aware and emotionally alert, we believe the roads will become safer and the number of accidents will be reduced,” he concludes.