I’ve read a LOT of “Driver Safety” or “Fleet Safety” articles over the course of my 27 year career. They all look the same, they all cover the “basics” or “essentials” in the same way.
And many of them miss the mark in the same way.
You see, they’re not bad articles and the tips are meaningful, but instead fall short in one key area: managing the performance of your fleet drivers on a day to day basis.
The articles typically follow the same outline (highlighting import and valuable steps in the process):
- Discuss the need for “top management support” for the fleet safety program
- Stress the need to have a written, enforced policy statement or handbook
- Plead with the reader about recruiting properly, qualifying prospective hires thoroughly and thoughtfully – following any/all applicable regulations, checking MVRs against a standard criteria
- Emphasize the need to “train-train-train” the drivers (before they drive, as they drive and after they crash).
Then, alarmingly, these authors jump to the end of the story and tell you how:
- Incentives may influence drivers to pay more attention to their driving
- Drivers need to report crashes,
- Supervisors need to investigate the incidents with great attention to detail
- Management teams ought to calculate their incident rates and benchmark against peers to see if they’re trending up or down.
Looking at this visually, this is the picture I see in my mind:
There’s a huge gap between the initial approach and the off ramp in that visualization.
In between initial hire and final exit interview should be many years of productive activity; therefore, finding ways to actively manage a group relationship with the cadre of drivers during their tenure as a productive employees becomes critical to leveraging consistent results.
The question may be “so how do I do that?” It can be a huge challenge, especially when we recognize that the drivers are largely away from the office for most of their working day. Further, many technological monitoring tools are both expensive (when you multiply the per vehicle per month cost across a larger fleet of vehicles) and burdensome (separating the “urgently actionable” conclusions from the “background noise” of excessive data).
What’s available in the toolbox to monitor and manage driver relationships, combat safety complacency, and promote proper vigilance or awareness on a daily basis?
- Driver Communications Plans: Two-Way communication with drivers through posters, postcards, payroll stuffers, tailgate talks, surveys, polls, small group discussions, newsletters, tailored reminder training, targeted refresher training, etc. (see also – “Driver Communication Plans Part One“, “Driver Communication Plans Part Two“, “Motivating Drivers to Make Safer Choices“; “Holding onto the Best Drivers“; “Driver Incentives“)
- Driver observations: ride alongs; commentary drives, drive-behinds, how’s my driving alerts (run stop signs, run red lights, improper weaving/passing, etc.), camera-in-cab recordings (hitting things).
- Technology: EOBR, GPS, TeleMatics, ELDs for reporting on vehicle activity such as harsh braking, hard acceleration, swerving, speeding. See also “The Vulnerability of Telematics as a Stand Alone Safety Solution“
- Periodic or targeted MVR monitoring: more states are providing dynamic (through the course of the year) updates to previously purchased MVRs enabling near-real-time updates of driver scores and status. Other systems enable your team to prioritize select drivers for annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or monthly updates based on risk score. See also “Why Order MVRs“; “Deciphering MVR Profiling“; “Digging into the MVR – For Stronger Results“; “MVRs and Risk Scores“; “Do you know if your drivers are properly licensed“; “Identifying Drivers Who May Be “At-Risk” of Becoming Involved in a Collision: MVR Analysis” (Page 8)
Some fleets pick one of these monitoring/managing practices and run with it. This is certainly better than running bare and hoping for the best, but I’d submit that relying on only one strategy presents a pretty wobbly bridge that sways and flexes a lot. Adding layers builds strength and predictability in the program by covering up gaps that any one program may lack.
- if I were to rely on GPS alone, I wouldn’t know about red light running unless the drivers were stopped and ticketed by the police. GPS systems are not equipped to detect red light running.
- if I were to rely on camera-in-cabin videos alone, I’d only find out about actual collisions in most cases (most systems rely on a triggering event to save the short loop of video and most drivers realize that by hitting curbs during the “break in period” the management team will adjust the sensitivity to the point where the system becomes a post-incident-event-recorder). This does not invalidate the program nor am I trying to dissuade its use, but as a “stand alone” system it may have a vulnerability.
- if I were to rely only on driver education without other systems to alert me to actual driver habits, I’d be asking drivers to give up productive drive time to train on topics that may not be a fit to each driver’s own habits.
By combining data inputs from how’s my driving, telematics, cameras, etc. I can tailor the coaching and education to accomplish more in less time: train the right drivers on the right topics at the right time (when they really need it).
Here’s how I see the fleet that prioritizes building layers to give a solid foundation to their fleet safety program:
The other very real advantage to drivers is that by being a benevolent “big brother” the management team has the ability to help them modify habits before incurring violations (which are typically paid out of pocket, influence personal/family insurance costs, and negatively affect future employment prospects).
Most critically, when these layers appropriately target drivers who may be “at-risk” of becoming involved in a collision, there is a greater opportunity for a “compassionate intervention” by management that could prevent a collision with it’s potential for injuries or death.
The authors who’ve published the “high level overview” of fleet safety programs are brilliant professionals with many years of experience — I don’t doubt their knowledge, ability, experience or caring; however, I wonder why we keep seeing so many of the “same” articles that go on for pages about pre-qualification and on-boarding.
If the average tenure of a driver was under a month or two, it would make sense to constantly be replacing and training drivers as your primary day-to-day safety activity, but we know that’s not reality (or shouldn’t be).
Sure there’s turnover, but what are safety managers doing in between that initial driver training class and the next accident investigation?
It seems to me that if a realistic “driver management” program were in place (as suggested by ANSI Z15 and illustrated by the multi-layer program, above), then the safety manager would spend much of his/her time working that program to PREVENT collisions, injuries and moving violations.
Drivers are bright, caring people doing a difficult job in most circumstances. Likewise, safety managers genuinely care about helping drivers be safe. We need to be vigilant in all areas of our driver safety programs to be effective.
The missing bridge between effective driver qualification and minimized crash events is an effective driver management program! Layering multiple data inputs and washing them through a database to deliver “tip of the iceberg” conclusions helps managers focus their time and energy on those drivers who need the most urgent attention on specific topics. As you re-evaluate your current program, look for gaps in developing key data that would be useful in helping zero-in on select drivers for meaningful coaching interventions.
Similarly, ensure that your front line supervisors are versed in conducting positive coaching sessions designed to illustrate the cooperative nature of safety teamwork — drivers and managers working together to be safe instead of playing the “blame game”.