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Training is everything: Three focuses to keep in mind when training your fleet drivers

by Andy Haman, managing editor

In a recent webinar from the National Safety Council, Matthew Camden of Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute spoke about reducing risk factors for your occupational drivers through proper training procedures.

Matthew Camden, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

Camden is described as an expert in occupational driving safety, with over 15 years’ experience solving complex challenges to improve vehicle and driver safety. He specializes in developing, evaluating and implementing occupational safety programs and outreach initiatives to reduce crashes, prevent injuries and eliminate driving fatalities in the workplace.

Camden laid the groundwork with some basic statistics: Vehicle crashes are the #1 cause of work-related deaths, accounting for 37% of all fatal injuries. People tend to think of tractor trailer drivers or bus drivers, but the subset of industries that are affected is much wider – 55% of workers affected do not work in a motor vehicle operator job.

These fatalities also result in a $72 billion cost to companies. A wide berth of statistics on fatal occupational injuries and worker compensation backs these findings up.

What is a professional, an occupational or a fleet driver? Camden said, “If you have an employee who needs to drive a vehicle to complete their job responsibility effectively and efficiently, they are by nature a professional driver.”

Professional drivers are susceptible to risk. They are on the road more frequently than average drivers and clock more mileage. Increased time on the road increases the odds of a traffic-related incident. They may be unfamiliar with the fleet vehicle; variations in the fleet vehicles’ dynamics or controls may prove confusing.

Whether it’s fleet-owned or a rental, statistically we drive differently in a vehicle we don’t own. Non-owner vehicle accidents result in 15% – 20% higher fatal crash rates, per the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

We need to create a thorough safety program built on education, engineering solutions and enforcement of results.

The first tier of Camden’s proposed platform: Developing a culture to improve roadway safety.

Every fleet has a corporate culture – is yours focused where it needs to be? Many companies are too focused on the job site and not the transportation aspect – “How are we getting from point A to point B? What’s our safety culture on the roads?”

A good culture involves everyone in the operation, considering who is being hired, their past experience and all their training.

Once they’ve been trained, are we implementing periodic maintenance to make sure they’re up-to-date? Are we utilizing performance management through performance reviews? Are we planning our drivers’ schedules for maximum success?

Every part of the operation has to generate buy-in. It starts at the top – workers need to see upper management modelling the safety program. Everyone needs to follow the same protocols.

Sharing data helps create awareness. Make risks and crash data available to your drivers. It helps to highlight the importance of your safety culture and it ensures greater visibility on how each person’s driving affects others.

Seek feedback, listen and act. What are drivers seeing? What problems are they noticing on the road? Incentivize the process – help them see the payoff for both themselves and the fleet at large. Get them involved in tracking their own data and performance. Last but not least, identify and celebrate your safety leaders.

Driver accountability was a huge component of Camden’s thesis. We have to get our fleet moved away from “other-directed accountability” (following the rules of the road just enough to not get caught) to a more self-directed accountability.

As a fleet manager, do this by:

  • Encouraging and recognizing active participation in road safety
  • Considering factors that influence decisions (tight schedules/running behind, etc.)
  • Setting productive and efficient goals
  • Focusing on the facts when evaluating – not finding faults
  • Offering constructive criticism
  • Incorporating driver feedback and suggestion

The second tier of Camden’s platform: A focus on driver behavior. Driver behavior has been the primary contributing factor to most roadway incidents over the last 50 years. As with the previous point, an evaluation process is necessary.

Focus first on the leading indicators of risk: speeding, tailgating, etc. Beyond that, what is prompting this behavior and what’s reinforcing it? Drivers rarely drive this way “just because.” There is typically a cause-and-effect at play.

Are other policies effecting the way they drive? Camden used the example of reaching for a cell phone because existing policies insist you don’t miss phone calls from supervisors under any circumstances.

A wide variety of errors increase risk on the part of the driver: performance-related, judgement-related and those related to inattention. Performance errors include things like failing to signal or a right of way error (incidentally, right of way errors increased drivers’ risk of being involved in an accident or close call by almost 1000 times the norm).

Judgement-related errors include things like generally aggressive driving, signal violations and unsafe passing. Examples of inattention are self-explanatory: things that take the drivers’ eyes off the road. A diversion of more than two seconds is all it takes to dramatically increase risk for accidents. Examples given include things like phone usage, adjusting clothes, putting on makeup and more.

Camden noted that various automotive technologies are available and should be leveraged to help drivers. From forward collision warning to automatic emergency braking to lane departure warning, there are many manufacturer offerings that can assist your drivers.

The third tier of Camden’s platform: Driver training – and follow-up – is critical. Your drivers need to know organizational expectations as well as the how and why of roadway safety.

Quality training reinforces the value of roadway safety. It’s important to involve the entire team – people become complacent, fall back into old habits, etc. Cohesive training ensures everyone is held to the same standard. Leverage assistive technology whenever possible.

The focus of driver education and training should include:

  • Focusing on organizational expectations
  • Targeted, vehicle-specific training
  • Route and locality-specific information (environmental factors can have a huge effect on one’s driving)
  • Focusing on preventing driver distraction
  • Focusing on fatigue management

You can evaluate much of this by analyzing your fleet’s data. What are the most common factors in your incidents? Where are the incidents occurring? What is the frequency and severity? Is there a disparity between vehicles and drivers?

The big takeaways of the session? Training for new hires is effective. Refresher training for all drivers is effective.

The data are clear. Proper training for your fleet team is always a win. You can help steer them toward success and optimal safety on the roadway.

Explore the NSC’s “Fleet Essentials Online Training” here at any time.


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