Driver offender retraining in a virtual world: “It’s going to be hard to go back”
In the second of a series of articles, Charlie Norman, managing director of road safety organisation DriveTech, argues that temporary changes to the way that motoring offenders are dealt with, brought about by the Coronavirus, are proving so successful that there’s a strong case for making them permanent.
One of the recurring themes in last week’s press coverage of the ongoing Coronavirus emergency is that it is hard to go back to how we were before. Several commentators have pointed out that bringing society to a virtual standstill is actually easier than restarting it, not least because there is so much anxiety in our communities. But, the other way in which it is hard to go back is when people decide that they actually prefer the new way of doing things. That seems to be the case with driver offender retraining.
Education not punishment
“The traditional delivery method, in which groups of offenders were brought together in classrooms to receive their training, suddenly became impractical at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak
Speed awareness training has been around for nearly two decades now. Before the option of taking a course was developed, offending drivers who wished to avoid a court hearing had no option but to pay a financial penalty and accept penalty points on their driving licence – points which would accumulate in the event of repeat offending, potentially leading to a driving ban. Then someone had the idea of offering diversionary training to speeding drivers and the evidence has shown that by providing education rather than punishment, the risk of further offending is reduced.
However, the traditional delivery method, in which groups of offenders were brought together in classrooms to receive their training suddenly became impractical at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. We faced a huge challenge as we are one of the largest providers of driver offender retraining. The offending was continuing, but traditional delivery of courses could not adhere to government guidelines on social distancing. Police partners faced an unpalatable choice: ignore offending and you send a signal to the motorist that they can offend with impunity whereas if every case is prosecuted, there is a risk of clogging up the courts at the worst possible time.
“Within the first five weeks, we had delivered education to over 22,000 offenders
Working with UKROEd (the governing body for the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme), police forces and our technology partners Microsoft and Ricoh, we were able to set up online virtual classrooms more or less immediately. It was quite extraordinary and genuinely very pleasing to see both our staff and our clients adapt so quickly to the new delivery model. Within the first five weeks, we had delivered education to over 22,000 offenders.
The course has been amended: each virtual classroom has fewer students than was the case when courses were delivered face to face and the course length has been reduced substantially. But the fundamental principle of delivering behavioural change through education, taught by highly trained experts, remains.
The most surprising thing is that early indications from our clients, the offending motorists who attend the courses, suggest they think that this emergency way of delivering the course is excellent and perhaps even an improvement on “business as usual”. It’s going to be hard to go back.
They like the more intimate feel of smaller groups and the convenience of not needing to travel significant distances. They also welcome the fact that some of the awkwardness and embarrassment of having to go through this experience with strangers has been reduced. This lets them focus on the learning – and we have technology that enables us to be sure that they do so.
“The message from this it is quite simple: motorists both like and prefer the alternative way of receiving this valuable training."
The concept of Net Promoter Score “(NPS)” is widely used across the private sector. In essence, you ask people about whether they would recommend your service. You then subtract the number of people who would not recommend you from the number of people that would. Ideally, you end up with a positive number. For several years, DriveTech has been monitoring its NPS very closely and working hard to drive it upwards. A NPS of over 50 is generally thought to be excellent and anything over 70 is exceptional and considered world class. Before COVID-19 came along, we were very happy with our average NPS of 62 and were slightly anxious that the move to online delivery might result in a fall. In fact, the opposite has happened; our NPS has actually gone up to 72.
The message from this it is quite simple: motorists both like and prefer the alternative way of receiving this valuable training. I think we should pay attention. As we have seen in recent press coverage, the public have been overwhelmingly compliant with the new ‘normal’ of lockdown Britain, but there have been exceptions. Several of the more notable examples have involved vehicles being driven at excessive, sometimes dangerous speeds. The worst cases will rightly head to the courts, but the evidence says that a non-judicial intervention, namely retraining and awareness-raising are effective in producing lasting behaviour change. The current crisis has enabled our customers to tell us that this doesn’t always need to be in a physical classroom to be effective. It would be a great shame if we and our Police partners don’t listen to them.
DriveTech is a safety organisation with an on-road focus that helps drivers remain safe on the roads, supporting commercial businesses with their duty of care and legal obligations towards employed drivers, and also delivering police-referred driver offender courses on behalf of a large number of UK police forces.