Motorist Observation Reports – What’s the Point?

Another traffic picWhen a motorist calls a safety hotline reporting service, they usually call because they’re emotionally upset by what they’ve witnessed.

However, that statement doesn’t mean that the commercial driver “did something wrong” OR that the motorist “was just trying to get someone in trouble“.  Unfortunately, these assumptions lead to blame setting instead of no-fault coaching designed to reduce risk.

For instance, a motorist travelling in the middle lane (of three) is passed by a large commercial vehicle in the left lane.  The motorist looks at his or her speedometer and realizes they’re already five MPH above the posted limit of 65 (operating at 70 while being passed.)  The motorist is concerned since the commercial vehicle then begins to weave through traffic ahead of them without using signals.

  1. The call is made and the interview concludes with an estimate of the commercial vehicle’s speed being around 80 since they passed the motorist so quickly.  In ALERT CSAreality, the speed of the passing vehicle would be difficult to estimate, but since the motorist did check their own speedometer (at 70 MPH) it’s reasonable to estimate a speed in the 75-80 range.  
  2. In the process of making the report, the motorist is asked where this incident took place, and they cite a mile marker that they’ve just passed (even though the incident took place behind them, perhaps as much as 2-3 miles behind).
  3. Finally, the motorist is asked to leave a contact number and their name in case the safety manager would like to give them a call.  Having just seen a movie the night before about stalkers and such, the motorist is unwilling to give their name for fear that a driver might somehow get their information and harass them.

The report is filed with the motor carrier electronically, within an hour of the phone call.

  1. The motor carrier checks GPS records for the time of the incident and confirms that the vehicle was withing five to ten miles of the approximate location mentioned by the motorist; however,
  2. all of the trucks in that fleet are “governed” to a maximum speed of 70 MPH.  
  3. The manager sees that the report was filed anonymously. 

Critical decision time — is the point of the report to:

  1. set blame and initiate discipline for breach of a safety policy?
  2. offer “no-fault” coaching on safety practices to raise safety awareness, record the report in case subsequent reports are received on this same driver for similar situations?

If the goal is to set blame, then the report is a poor mechanism in this instance since there is an apparent conflict with the report of the speed and the “governor” settings (the manager could investigate to see if the settings have been altered), and the manager doesn’t like to deal with anonymous reports since he/she feels that there is a lack of credibility associated with the report.

However, if the goal is coaching/re-training, then the manager can:

  • have a face to face meeting about safety.  Even if the conversation is something as simple as:  “tire blowouts are caused by under-inflation and high speed operation which heats the sidewalls, tire blow outs are a primary contributor to truck rollovers, & truck rollovers are a key crash type that ends in fatalities not just simple injuries; therefore, you should be very careful to always check tire pressure and stay at or under the posted limit while not impeding traffic.  Additionally, signaling and proper passing technique is important to avoid side swipes and merge/pass collisions.  For CDL holders improper passing is also a disqualifying offense because it is such a serious safety issue”  This conversation would, naturally cover any specific company policies related to pre-trips, speeding and time management (not rushing due to poor planning, etc.)
  • schedule online refresher modules.  Many online programs are available that highlight risk-taking such as speeding, weaving in traffic, etc.  Our programs are focused on the possible consequences of such behavior which doesn’t focus on blame setting, just awareness by asking for a renewed commitment to drive professionally.  Our programs are also kept to 5 to 7 minutes out of respect for your driver and the need to be productive, too.
  • Another example of a blended scorekeep the report on file in case of subsequent reports for similar situations in the future.  Maintaining a file doesn’t have to imply punitive action against the driver, but without records, we’d never know if the driver may be slipping into a repeated pattern of habits.  
  • connect this report with the affected driver’s history of violations and past collisions. This report may be another piece of a complex puzzle indicating a need for management’s compassionate intervention.

Coaching Tips TitleTo ignore the report or delete the report shows the least care and concern for the professional driver — it says that we don’t care enough to offer safety coaching to help minimize the chances of becoming involved in a collision — preferring to wait for a violation (affecting their personal insurance rates, out of pocket fines, etc.) or waiting for an actual crash event to recognize the need to intervene.

Large_Trucks_Cover_Front-300x287The National Transportation Safety Board has previously issued written recommendations over this issue of deleting all anonymous reports.  The NTSB offered their opinion that while the individual report credibility may be called suspect, if subsequent reports of similar nature (anonymous or not) were later received about this same driver for the same (or similar) described habits, then there’s ample justification to provide “no fault” re-training in order to preserve the highest regard and practice of safety awareness within the professional driver population.

Other food for thought from very recent client case studies (past two years)…..

  • One of our clients operates 12,000 trucks.  They installed GPS.  They ignored the GPS alerts about speeding for the first year.  During the second year, all speed alerts (driving more than 80 MPH) came to us to be processed as MOR – none could be deleted, all must end up with coaching offered to the driver.  By the end of the second year, they had decreased GPS speed alerts by 600% (From 1700 down to 174).  This was by “no-fault” coaching instead of discipline and termination.
  • Another client with 450 tractor trailers (over the road trucking) has GPS.  They got 470 reports in the first year on the program (more than one per tractor!) – out of these only five were ‘inaccurate” based on GPS readings for location/speed at time of report – that’s 1% considered inaccurate and all remaining reports were used for coaching.  Their accident frequency has not changed, but severity per claim is “significantly lower” than the prior year and they believe it’s due to the drivers being aware of their surroundings and using the training we’ve provided to modify their habits. Further, the number of reports per month is dropping steadily as drivers modify their habits to be less aggressive as they maintain their productivity through careful route planning and time management.

These are just some of the tips and techniques that we provide to our clients, and the examples above are highly abbreviated versions of what we actually share.

So how about you?  Do you see a Motorist’s Observation as a chance to help a driver be safe or merely a punitive exercise?  

We think that it’s akin to a “near miss” report that’s actionable from a prevention standpoint that helps the driver avoid collisions and stay productive.  

This is based on a dozen+ studies conducted by both fleet managers and insurers who provide the hotline (and monitor the reporting over the shoulder of the enrolled fleet).  Those studies showed 20-35% reductions in frequency and larger savings from severity reductions.  When coupled with automated MVR profiling, GPS alerts and Online Training, the improvements increase.

www.safetyismygoal.com

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