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Test drives: Car dealers need to manage the risks better

Dealers have to make risk management a core part of the test drive process to keep employees and customers safe on the road, AM research has shown.

Two-thirds of dealers in AM's recent research say employees have been subjected to driving that made them feel unsafe during test drives, while 60% of dealers experienced incidents of speeding by customers.

More worryingly, half of dealers say test drives have resulted in a near-miss incident, with one-third suffering actual crashes during test drives and a quarter experiencing aggressive or suggestive behaviour from customers towards staff who are in the car.

One in 10 dealers say they have experienced test drives that resulted in a road rage incident and a quarter of dealers say test drives have ended in theft or attempted theft of the vehicle.

Despite this, more than one-third of dealers say they have no formal debrief process following incidents that occur.

This could help identify danger drivers before they get behind the wheel. In one case a customer crashed while in the dealer’s car park.

Other incidents range from rear-end shunts to more serious crashes involving high-performance cars, such as one where a vehicle was rolled on a short test drive.

In one incident, widely reported last year, a car salesman saved the life of a stockbroker who crashed a £245,000 McLaren 650S on a test drive.

The salesman pulled his customer from the burning wreckage of the test vehicle and was subsequently given an award following the accident in Cheshire.

Although theft is rare, it can be costly, with dealers reporting incidents ranging from thieves driving away when salespeople get out to swap places to more serious cases, such robberies at gun or knife point.

When dealers allow unaccompanied test drives, the risks can escalate too, such as the case where a 28-year-old driver in Tamworth was allowed a 30-minute test of a car, but failed to return, leading to the police being called.

Other risks range from older or inexperienced drivers making mistakes on the road to customers being confused by vehicle controls or getting lost.

Incidents of staff being made to feel uncomfortable relate almost exclusively to female salespeople and revolve around drivers making suggestive or lewd comments.

Six of the worst: AM’s ‘danger drivers’  - the customers who carry the biggest test drive risk

1. Old and infirmary

Although millions of older drivers are perfectly safe, salespeople may not realise until they are on the road if there are problems with a customer’s eyesight, lane discipline and general road awareness.

2. Lost in translation

A new car or unfamiliar test route can be a distraction to some drivers, who begin to make mistakes, such as pulling in front of oncoming cars at roundabouts and junctions, making sudden turns after getting lost or spending more time looking at instruments and switches than at the road.

3. Letch turn ahead

The scourge of saleswomen everywhere, customers assume their interest in the car can extend to the person trying to sell it. Relying on the salesperson’s politeness and professionalism, the confines of the car provide a great playground for trying out their best lines.

4. The fast and the talentless

Typically drawn to the faster cars in the range, the limits of talent and the law are no restriction to these drivers. Eager to prove themselves to the unwilling onlooker in the passenger seat, they take an all-or-nothing approach to the road to prove their prowess, but instead exhibit the traits of a perfect loser, especially when they run out of ability and then Tarmac.

5. Blag and rag

No money? No problem! Without wealth, there is always a way, particularly at the local dealer. A bit of bluff is often easy to spot, but some more practised ‘customers’ could win an Oscar with their performances designed to extract a free ride, often in exotic machinery, just to earn bragging rights at the pub as they feast on half a lager and a packet of pork scratchings with the last scrapings from their piggy bank.

6. Hard steal

A thankfully rare event, this test drive will only end one way for the dealer. Once on the test route, the salesman is ditched at the roadside in a cloud of dust after reviewing assorted weaponry belonging to the driver. The car is then sent on its way through the criminal injustice system to a new owner, or back to the dealership thanks to the wonders of modern vehicle tracking systems.

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