Because Results Count, What Training Approach Makes the Most Sense?

Guest Commentary from Joe Zingale, VP Business Development, SafetyFirst Systems, LLC

I was speaking to my CEO, Paul Farrell, at the SafetyFirst corporate office and we were discussing driver training and all the various types and formats that exist today: Online Training, Video, Audio, Written, Classroom, Behind the wheel, etc. We are in development of our own training program and we wanted to determine what would be the most effective, defined by the results it produced (reduced incidents/collisions).

We agreed that there are a lot of “good” training programs out there already, but when you look closely at the current offerings and then at the needs of the majority of fleets, we recognized some surprising things:

  1. There are a large range of industries, each with their own special concerns for drivers to address
  2. Most larger firms have multiple types of vehicles – each with special concerns that should be pointed out to drivers (i.e. blind areas, special equipment, handling concerns, etc.)
  3. Regardless of the size of the firm, drivers encounter wildly different road types and weather conditions throughout North America (i.e. “winter driving” is very different in Arizona versus Manitoba or even Maryland)
  4. There are differences in driving between the same vehicle type  (i.e. “VAN” could mean: cable companies driving tech vans vs. social services organizations driving 15 passenger vans.).  

We soon realized that each company would have to decide whether they wanted:

  1. To build a massive library to deal with each and every one of these variable factors, or
  2. Settle for a generic menu of courses (i.e. light versus large vehicles, “Defensive Driving” practices, or some variation of a “one size fits all” program) that would provide little impact to the driver taking the course.  After all, the phrase “Generic Focus” is an oxymoron in the training world for good reason. 

We admitted that we’ve heard from safety managers who feel the effort becomes pointless when, after a driver has taken the course, there is another incident recorded by the same driver.  We’re not undervaluing training mind you. It’s necessary and important; however, how do we know when it was fully effective?  What are the metrics that show us the results?  Is it reduced crash rates or test scores?  Is it the ease of implementation, or whether the drivers like theLMS/Content?

It’s amazing to think about the amount of hours invested in most fleets for: entry level driver training; training to learn new or advance current skills; regulatory compliance and policy training; even post-incident refresher training.

In the years that I have been designing and implementing fleet safety programs, I don’t believe I ever had a client who knowingly put a driver on the road that wasn’t: licensed; trained; experienced; and fully qualified to the various selection processes such as background checks, drug testing, medical certificates, etc.  So, once a driver is on the road and has an incident/crash that wasn’t due to a mechanical issue or clearly the fault of another motorist, doesn’t it boil down to either complacency (unaware of habits) or negligence (aware, but doesn’t care)It’s not a lack of training, skill or knowledge contributing to these incidents.  Bottomline:  I’m certain that most drivers wouldn’t have been entrusted with a set of keys and a company credit card if their results depended primarily on whether they had “enough” training – so how is “more training” going to fix the underlying performance issue?  (Again, training as a safety method isn’t the problem, I think it’s the over-reliance on training as a cure-all solution that gets some folks in deep water.  Also, check out the article on “training transfer” at 

With our “How’s My Driving?” program we find that it is a small percentage of drivers who ever receive reports (10-15%) but studies by our insurance partners and fleet clients show that drivers with multiple reports have a much greater risk of becoming involved in a crash. The typical response is to offer more “training” to these drivers in the hope that we can change their day-to-day performance by re-teaching the six second following rule.  Would that work if the underlying issue is attitude, not lack of knowledge? Also, if the supervisor’s attitude reflects that of the affected driver (just watch this video so we can both get back to work, OK?) why would the driver feel the need to change his/her behavior?

Interestingly, our clients experience the highest report volume during the first several months of the program. It reinforces a theory I’ve long held – drivers who are “at-risk” of becoming involved in a collision (so-called “Unsafe Drivers” by the CSA program) either don’t recognize their risk taking habits or don’t care about them.  Those clients who invest the time to look these drivers in the eye and really coach them on specific issues received a noticeable reduction after the first few months.  Clearly, the drivers that “don’t care” that will continue to receive reports (ignoring the coaching/training efforts and sadly moving on to other means to motivate a change in performance) and those that “didn’t know” that they had slipped into habits, once they have been made aware of them, do not receive a second report. So, back to our discussion on our training program development.  As mentioned earlier, because of the size of the library needed to cover all the variables, and the low impact of generic training, we looked for a different solution.

In my experience, the best and most successful safety directors are those that take safety and make it personal – compassionately intervening to impress upon their drivers a need to change before something bad happens.

I have always admired the passion they bring to their work. It’s not about numbers for them. After all, it’s about motivating their team to perform, not how to avoid getting caught. Offense rather than defense! One analogy I have used when speaking to various groups is the Safety Director/Employee relationship is very much akin to the relationship between a parent and teenager (who feels “invincible” and safety is a message really intended for their peers, not themselves).

If you were concerned about your teenager’s safety and well-being, you’d talk to them about consequences, reasons to choose safety over the dares and “counsel” of their peers.  You’d look them in the eye and talk about why it is so important that they understand how much you care for them and why you don’t ever want to see them get hurt. In short, you’d “discipline them” where “discipline” is defined as; “…training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”  We want to know that they’ll behave a certain, predictable way when we’re not there to watch them or intervene on their behalf.

What we wouldn’t do with our own teenagers is sit them in front of a television, pop in a DVD and cross our collective fingers that the “training takes hold”.   Paul and I further agreed that we’d spend time driving with our sons and daughters and restrict them from driving with friends who’ll distract them and other steps.  Would you do any less for your own son/daughter when they’re driving for the first time?  How about when they’ve been driving for five years, ten years or twenty – the time we spend with them now pays dividends in continued safety – later (when we’re not with them).  I’m not going to trust aDVDor online course to build their internal “discipline” – would you? 

We recognized that the best way we could impact a commercial driver safety program would be to help the Safety Directors by giving them coaching strategies and tactics! I haven’t met with a Safety Director that isn’t already working 60+ hours a week going 100 mph with their hair on fire, running multiple programs at the same time across a number of areas beyond the fleet aspect of their job. We have, and are continuing to, develop our “training” to do two things:

  1. Address the actual performance issue through coaching and use training only as a reminder of what they should already know. In the case of a Motor Observation Report that could be tailgating, unsafe lane changes, speeding, etc.   We’ll coach on why these behaviors necessarily lead down the road to “bad stuff happening”, but then we’ll also coach on how the driver can/should self-monitor and correct those habits and performance issues while behind the wheel.
  2. Equip, enable and empower the Safety Director so that each meeting with an affected driver can be used as an opportunity instead of turning into a confrontation.  It’s not about “blaming”, it’s actually about “training reminders” – so that the performance (whether “attitude” or “complacency” based) improves to everyone’s benefit.  The driver reduces the likelihood of getting a ticket or injury, and the fleet improves their CSA scores and maintains reasonable insurance pricing.

Our coaching program covers the comments and responses between driver and management, based on feedback we have collected from our clients, so that conversation is positive and the effect is the driver is a better driver!   To introduce our coaching program (an opportunity that really is best addressed through education) we have produced a brief, but powerful video package for supervisors to learn how to implement these concepts.

As our decals state; “Safety Is My Goal” – getting to that state of “safety” takes eyeball to eyeball conversations – training by proxy through an internet connection may be “easy” but only gets results defined by needing to buy more training.  We’d rather measure success by fewer injuries — Does anything else matter?

Joe Zingale recently joined SafetyFirst as our VP of Business Development and can be reached toll free at855-229-3220.  Joe has 17 years experience in driver safety having previously worked at Driver’s Alert, but finally “seeing the light” and making the change to SafetyFirst during 2011.


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