Safety Tips: Driving in Reverse

In road safety education much time and effort are spent on avoiding road crashes such as the head-on, rear-end and vehicle rollover crashes. Too little attention is given to road crashes caused by drivers who are reversing. As the impact speed tends to be relatively low, many do not regard reversing as a significant hazard. Reversing/backing and slow-speed manoeuvring incidents, however, make up a large proportion of collisions and insurance claims.

How significant a Hazard is Reversing?

Insurance claims data and research by the University of Huddersfield reveal that approximately 25% of all reported collisions arise from vehicles reversing. Many of these occur at the workplace and in parking lots. In scenarios where other individuals are involved, serious damage can occur to the vehicle or the individual.

Although too many do not regard reversing as a significant hazard, a significant portion of commercial vehicle accident claims involves reversing vehicles. Research has shown that almost 60% of all commercial vehicle accident claims involve reversing and HGVs lead the way with 19% of these claims, vans 15% and company cars 10%.

Why is Reversing a Problem?

  • It amounts to a failure to manage the workplace, the vehicle, the driver, or a combination of these three aspects of workplace transport management safety.
  • Poor visibility, especially in larger vehicles, is regarded as a major threat to safety.
  • A driver’s awareness of people or objects may be hindered by various factors.
  • These include the size of the vehicle or equipment on the vehicle, the lack of functioning equipment on the vehicle such as badly positioned mirrors or non-functioning CCTV cameras etc.
  • Environmental noise or the noise of the vehicle when it is reversing can also be a driver distraction.
  • Driver distractions from activity nearby the vehicle can result in accidents occurring.
  • Environmental conditions such as poorly laid out sites or poor weather can hinder the driver’s visibility.
  • The risks are increased when the vehicle is reversed at an inappropriate speed.
  • Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to being injured or killed in reversing vehicles collisions.

Should we Reverse into Parking Spots?

  • Parking lots are hazardous places and backing out of space had resulted in numerous fatalities and injuries.
  • Lower speeds limits in parking lots do not mean lower risk. Distracted driving occurs also in parking lots, as well as on the road.
  • Tight corners, crowded lanes and distracted drivers make a dangerous combination.
  • Where possible, reverse into parking spaces rather than out of them.
  • Reverse parking means backing into space so you can drive forward out of the space after. It can be a simple way to reduce the risk of collisions.
  • The purpose of reverse parking is to make the environment safer when the driver leaves the parking space.
  • When leaving the parking space, the driver can see the surroundings more clearly.
  • It is much better to enter the flow of oncoming traffic with the front of your vehicle than to back into it.

Safety when Reversing : Defensive Reverse Techniques

All drivers should be encouraged to adopt the following advice for safe reversing/backing:

  • Walk around the vehicle and look for obstacles or hazards before moving.
  • Always beware of pedestrians, but especially children and the elderly. They are unpredictable!
  • Workers in the vicinity may be distracted or wear ear protection, hence their inability to observe and hear the vehicle.
  • Alert other workers and/or pedestrians and put on your hazard warning lights or sound your horn.
  • Even before you start reversing – Ensure you can use the relevant auxiliary devices and visibility aids provided.
  • Keep your vehicle mirrors and windscreen clean and in good repair.
  • Ensure that your mirrors are correctly aligned.
  • Make use of your rear-view mirrors and rear window (if there is one) before and during the process; do not open your door to look behind you.
  • Report any defects in equipment, such as faulty CCTV cameras or reversing sirens, or systems of work or any accidents, incidents or near misses to your employer.
  • If there are sites where reversing is unsafe notify your employer and the site management.
  • Reverse slowly – turn your head, use your mirrors all the time and check both sides.
  • Do not rush! If the view in your mirrors becomes obstructed, or you are unsure of distances, stop, get out of your vehicle and check access before continuing the manoeuvre.
  • Avoid reversing over a long distance.
  • Look behind before reversing – not as you take off.
  • When reversing and turning, remember to watch the front of your car as well.
  • If towing a trailer, practice reversing with the trailer in a safe location.
  • Where possible, reverse or ‘pull through’ into parking spaces rather than out of them.
  • It is much easier to reverse into a gap than out of it into flowing traffic.
  • If you are in a blind spot, beep your horn twice before reversing.
  • Watch out for overhead power lines or any other obstructions that you may encounter.
  • Do not reverse around corners or slip roads.

Using an Assistant or Spotter

  • Use a competent assistant or “spotter” where difficult to control the risks of reversing.
  • Their functions include guiding drivers and ensuring the reversing area is void of pedestrians.
  • The spotter should be asked to walk around the vehicle and survey the backing area to check for hazards.
  • Have him or her check your overhead clearance as well.
  • Such a person should be wearing appropriate high visibility personal protective equipment.
  • The spotter must be in a safe position where they can guide the vehicle and be a safe distance from the vehicle. [At least 2 metres away is often recommended]
  • The reversing assistant should never stand directly behind the vehicle.
  • The spotter must always be in full view of the driver and in eye contact during vehicle movements.
  • Drivers must stop immediately if the guide goes out of view at all. A clear signalling system should be agreed in advance with the driver prior to any reversing activities being carried out.
  • Portable radios or other communication devices may also be of assistance.
  • Some construction sites require flaggers. Stay aware of and work closely with these key members of your team when reversing.
A Spotter Sign

Designs and Layout of the Work Environment

Companies where Health & Safety at work is a priority, are well equipped to reduce the risks and design safety protocols and infrastructure for the safe reversing of vehicles. These include:

  • Good design and layout of the workplace, providing large reversing areas where possible.
  • Ensure that there is adequate lighting in the reversing area.
  • If the workplace is small, restrict the size and number of vehicles allowed to access your site.
  • Ensure that reversing areas are well laid out, clearly identifiable to both drivers and pedestrians.
  • Have adequate markings, signage and aids to increase visibility such as mirrors.
  • Provide longitudinal guides. Lateral white lines on the ground are good guidance to drivers and assistants.
  • Reorganize traffic routes and loading and unloading procedures, or increase the space for storing materials where possible, to avoid reversing.
  • Identify during the risk assessment what vehicle manoeuvres are necessary and to avoid the need to reverse where possible.
  • One-way traffic systems could remove the need for reversing.
  • Carefully plan the reversing area. Good all-round vision is essential if reversing is to be carried out.
  • Consult with staff, drivers and visiting drivers when planning the reversing area.
  • Take account of any previous reversing incidents.
  • Consider vehicle turning points, drive-through loading and unloading systems or engineering systems such as vehicle turntables.
  • Install fixed mirrors to increase visibility and stops such as barriers or buffers at loading bays.
  • Where vehicles must reverse up to structures, services or edges, provide physical stops such as barriers, bollards, buffers or wheel stops to warn drivers that they need to stop and to prevent vehicles from overrunning edges.
  • These physical stops should be highly visible, appropriately positioned and well maintained.
  • Segregate pedestrians and vehicles where possible.
  • Implement continuous training to ensure drivers and workers to have adequate instruction, information and safety awareness.
  • Ensure that any visiting drivers are familiar with the workplace, the site rules regarding reversing and the reversing areas.

Technology to assist drivers when Reversing

Modern technology is making a significant contribution to driver visibility and safety in areas of construction, mining, and other areas where vehicles are operated in close proximity to workers. Many companies have incorporated reverse parking into their corporate safety policies. Not only can this improve driver and pedestrian safety, but it can also help save costs. Some legislation such as construction and quarries legislation lay down specific legal requirements for certain auxiliary devices and visibility aids on specific vehicles.

It is important to recognize some of these features and how to optimize the benefit of vehicle technology:

  • The focus is to ensure that the driver has good all-round visibility.
  • It is important to recognize that these systems are aids and are no substitute for good all-round visibility and driver awareness.
  • Consider installing a speed limiting device to the vehicle when reversing.
  • With telematics, companies can monitor whether their drivers are following company rules.
  • Fleet managers can set up a safety rule for backing up when leaving. This rule identifies drivers who back out their vehicles when leaving a location.
  • The system can send a notification for when the rule is broken, either by email, popup, beep warning, or text message.
  • Audible reversing alarms which warn people of the danger can be of assistance in certain situations, however, they may not be heard by all people and can become part of the background noise on a busy site.
  • Alarms should not be considered fail-safe and should be used in conjunction with a combination of control measures.
  • Provide extra visibility aids if necessary, such as CCTV, convex internal rear-view mirrors or convex segment wing mirrors.
  • Reversing aids or safety devices such as for example “sensing” or “trip” systems can assist in the detection of people or obstacles behind the reversing vehicle.
  • Where multiple vehicles operate on a site, distinguishing the reversing vehicle can be difficult and in such cases, a flashing warning light may be more appropriate.
  • Fix guards where required to the rear wheels / hazardous vehicle access points to prevent people from being dragged under the vehicle.
  • Select conspicuous vehicle colours and markings to assist the vehicle in standing out.
  • Safety systems must be correctly installed, set up and maintained in working order.
  • Visibility aids and vehicle windscreens must be kept clean and well maintained.

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