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Under pressure: how stress affects driver behaviour

By Jim Billings
Practice Leader, Motor Risk Solutions

Time pressure leads to a deterioration in driver performance

Everyone handles pressure differently, and work pressure is no different. While some degree of pressure can be beneficial ("No pressure, no diamonds," as Thomas Carlyle phrased it), too much pressure can lead to feelings of stress and tension.

In the context of professional driving responsibilities, employees who are operating under time pressure, experiencing personal stress or suffering from fatigue will find their driver behaviour impacted, leading to a deterioration in driving performance and an increased risk of collision.

Why is this important?

The frequency of incidents while driving at work is high. In the UK, a third of all crashes on the road are estimated to occur whilst driving at work, and around 200 road deaths and serious injuries every week involve someone driving at work.


How can time pressure increase risk?

Time-related pressures can come from all directions. They can arise as scheduling targets, threat of disciplinary action, deadlines, or employer demands. In addition, driver stress can also be steered by external factors including delays, driving conditions, fitness to work and personal issues. 

High stress levels and an increase in crashes and near-accidents are frequently linked to time-related demands, according to research published by Drivermetrics with Cranfield University. Driving under time pressure – perceived or otherwise – leads directly to a deterioration in driving performance and an increase in crash risk.

For example, time pressured environments can influence the driver’s seat position and may narrow their field of vision, alongside impacting energy levels and personal wellbeing.

QBE’s collaboration with Cranfield University shows us that drivers in a hurry are almost eight times more likely to be impatient, leading to risky or aggressive driving behaviours such as speeding, dangerous overtaking, or committing traffic rule violations.


Common oversights

Driver managers should be aware that repeated exposure to time pressure when driving for work can lead to burnout amongst professional drivers.

Assigning journeys with compulsory time limits and associated sanctions might at first seem like effective management but can more often create a feeling of time pressure, and even job insecurity. Drivers in these circumstances are likely to be motivated to avoid questioning rather than prioritising road safety.

Interviews with individual drivers undertaking multi-drop roles have confirmed that feeling under pressure results in speeding and taking risks on the road. Drivers also disclosed that feeling distracted by sat nav systems and delivery management apps was another common oversight which negatively impacts driving performance.


Risky behaviour and managing performance

Failing to establish the link between an adverse outcome and risky behaviours means that drivers are more likely to repeat risky behaviours, believing that a collision or accident is unlikely to occur.

However, it has also been documented that penalties for unsafe driving behaviours are not a straightforward solution to this issue. Operating under a punishment system directly correlates with an increase in under-reporting, poor motivation, and poorer work performance generally.

In search of a balanced approach, the Inverted-U Theory (also known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law) is a helpful model, suggesting that performance deteriorates when individuals experience excessive pressure, but too little pressure reduces motivation. Staying in the centre of the inverted U ensures that the right amount of pressure gives peak performance.

A driver’s position on the U curve can change over time and can be determined by a range of factors including skill level, personality, task anxiety and/or complexity, alongside personal circumstances, varying from person to person. So, what can employers do?


Building a culture of safety

Managers who get to know their drivers and who are familiar with the driving activity they undertake can offer a greater depth of understanding and more meaningful communication. A culture of safety is more than individual compliance, but a commitment from all levels to address risks, evaluation and improvements.

Engaged insight facilitates the path to more appropriate scheduling, route planning, journey allocation and targets.

Employers can:

  • Regularly engage with drivers regarding schedules and set achievable targets.
  • Ensure training covers journey planning, taking breaks and awareness of stressors.
  • Structure reward schemes to promote safe driving standards, avoiding time-based sanctions.
  • Monitor available telematics data for harsh braking and acceleration and refer drivers for coaching as needed.
  • Encourage sufficient levels of sleep, nutrition and exercise – are you fit to drive today?
  • Use online driver profiling to identify drivers more likely to engage in high-risk behaviours

Senior leaders set the tone for safety and risk management, and it’s essential for management at all levels to foster a culture of blameless reporting, safe driving behaviours and responsible policies. In a setting where safety is valued first, there will always be reduced risk.



Risk management services for QBE customers

QBE helps businesses build resilience through risk management and insurance.

With almost a century of insuring commercial vehicles, 50 years’ experience in insuring bus and coach fleets, and 30 years as the UK leader in minibus insurance, QBE is fully committed to the motor sector and proactively helping customers to manage risk and drive down claims. This approach has made QBE a name to trust in commercial motor insurance.

Depending upon the size and complexity of the business needs, QBE customers can access a wide range of risk management services, self-assessment questionnaires and risk management toolkits which are focused on the key causes of claims, and on generating action plans for improved outcomes - including protecting employees, reducing risk and making claims less likely. You can find out more about how QBE helps businesses to manage risk here.

Your contact

Your contact

James Billings

James Billings

Practice Leader

Need to claim? Report it early

A reminder that if you have an incident and need to make an insurance claim, it’s important that you report it as soon as possible, ideally the same day.

Reporting a claim early can save time and help you to receive any claim payments faster, as well as allowing us to help mitigate the cost of third-party claims.