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Human Error and Road Risk Management

By Dr Lisa Dorn, Founder of PsyDrive

This blog is the third in the series to introduce the topics covered in the five modules on the 2 day online CIEHF accredited Human Factors in Road Risk Management course. The aim of this series of blogs is to give you a greater insight into how we approach human factors and its role in road risk management. Humans have consistently demonstrated that they are flexible and adaptable resources, but this also means they are prone to error. For decades, human error has been defined and categorised and methods and systems have been designed to minimise, control, and manage human error.

A new way of viewing human error

Human error is consistently cited as a major contributing factor or “cause” of road traffic incidents, viewing the human element as separate from the vehicle and road traffic system, but labelling actions as “errors” identifies a symptom, not a cause. Instead, human error can be seen as the outcome of failed systematic processes inside of the cognitive, operational, and organizational world in which people are embedded. Complex road traffic systems have a sharp and a blunt end. At the sharp end, road users, directly interact with the hazardous road traffic system. At the blunt end there are regulators, policy makers, technology suppliers etc. that road users must integrate and balance. Road users therefore employ strategies that are shaped by the resources and constraints provided by the blunt end of the system. From a fleet safety perspective, the factors that degrade or enhance the ability of road users to adapt and cope with complexity in the road traffic system are largely a question of improving systems. This view of human error is particularly helpful for managing road risk because the focus is on improving systems to strengthen defences when human errors take place. Success in managing the risk of work-related crashes is about how organizations create safety by anticipating and planning for unexpected events. Such organizations value information flow to guide constructive changes without waiting for crashes to occur.

New Technology and Human Error

Fleet safety then, depends on the ability to anticipate and assess how unintended effects of economic, organizational, and technological change can produce new systemic vulnerabilities and paths to failure. Road traffic collisions challenge beliefs in the safety of the system and increasingly, organizations are turning to the use of technological solutions. However, the idea that more technology will reduce human error has not always turned out to be the case in practice. For example, changing anything about the nature of the relationship between the vehicle and road users can lead to unexpected consequences. For new automated technology and driver assistance creates new dilemmas, knowledge and memory requirements as road users adapt to the change in the nature of the task. Road users may perceive the road traffic environment to be safer and take more risk, overly trust the technology and become distracted and bored. For this reason, the course covers methods involved in strengthening systems to manage risk.

PsyDrive is Specialist provider of professional training, research, assessment, and interventions for improved road safety.


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