Bridging the Gap for Stronger, Consistent Results

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):

  1. Discuss the need fortop management supportfor the fleet safety program 
  2. Stress the need to have a written, enforced policy statement or handbook  
  3. Plead with the reader about recruiting properly, qualifying prospective hires thoroughly and thoughtfully – following any/all applicable regulations, checking MVRs against a standard criteria
  4. 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:

  1. Incentives may influence drivers to pay more attention to their driving
  2. Drivers need to report crashes,
  3. Supervisors need to investigate the incidents with great attention to detail
  4. 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:

Banner Typical safety programMy concern is filling or bridging that gap between thorough qualification and orientation/training processes and calculating results or offering incentives.

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?

  1. 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“)
  2. 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).
  3. 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
  4. 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.

For instance,

  • 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:

Banner gap filled 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.

Summary

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”.

Coaching

Safety Policy Expiration Date

EdiscoveryWhen did you last review and revise your company’s driver/vehicle safety policy?  What is it’s “expiration date”?

Creating an effective, enforceable safety policy to govern how drivers drive, how vehicles get maintained, what to do in the case of a crash and so on is vitally important for a host of reasons:

  1. Education:  you need to communicate your expectations as a management team so that the drivers know what to do and how to do it.
  2. Compliance:  your standard provides a benchmark for enforcement of minimum acceptable performance
  3. Anticipates contingencies:  well crafted and communicated policies enable managers to deal with the vast majority of situations that may arise during a day, week or month without having to seek guidance from above while providing an escalation path for true exceptions

One thing that the best policy can’t become is “timeless” — the world changes around us continually and as new technologies are introduced and case law is established our policies need to be reviewed to determine whether these changes warrant a revision to the policy.

Setting an artificial “expiration date” on driver/fleet safety policies would be one way to assure that the review is scheduled, budgeted and completed on a periodic basis.  Assuming that policies will be reviewed and revised “on the fly” as changes occur may be fruitless as the demands of the moment may rob even the most dedicated manager of the time needed to complete the review/revisions in a timely fashion.  By scheduling the review in advance, the manager can take a deliberate approach to the review.

ANSI Z15 2012 coverSelf Audit Against an Industry Standard

One way to assure that any policy review is comprehensive would be to conduct a self-audit of the existing policy against a published industry standard or benchmark.  The ANSI Z15.1 “sets forth practices for the safe operation of motor vehicles owned or operated by organizations” and was most recently revised in 2012.  The standard covers seven key areas including “Definitions, Management, Leadership and administration, Operational environment, Driver considerations, Vehicle considerations, Incident reporting and analysis.

While the standard may not cover all details of a specialty operation with unique exposures to loss, it does provide a baseline for comparison.  For the vast majority of fleets, it will cover those critical areas that are found in most driver/fleet safety policies.

Fleets who discover gaps in their current policy can document why the gap exists and whether the gap should be filled or ignored (i.e. the fleet doesn’t engage in that type of operation or the scenario will not present itself in the context of the fleet’s current or anticipated operations, etc.)

Realignment of Policies with Priorities

Many progressive fleet managers and safety managers take time during these reviews to realign safety goals and tactics to assure seamless compliance from both managers and Motivating Drivers to be saferdrivers — in the past, policies were often mis-aligned where drivers were expected to do X while managers told them to do Y. Recrafting the policy to make it work saves frustration, restores confidence in safety leadership and enables people to actually perform properly instead of ‘deceptively’ (either the manager or driver breaks the rules when goals are misaligned with policy).

This is also the time to address the effectiveness of the current policy as measured by past enforcement efforts — if the policy is unenforceable, or very difficult to monitor compliance, then a fresh discussion about compliance monitoring is appropriate.  A policy that is not followed, nor enforced isn’t much of a policy when called to testify on a witness stand following a tragic, and arguably preventable, collision.

All the News Fit To Print…

Another way to address periodic reviews/revisions is to keep a file of news articles announcing changes to regulations or laws that may affect your fleet operation.  Additionally, if any guidance is published about these changes by memorandum, keep a copy of each memo handy to incorporate into the review/revision at the scheduled date.

As the changes are incorporated into the new policy, keep a list of changes made to this edition so that it’s easier to communicate a short list of changes along with the final, revised policy.  This can boost your education efforts since most people would not want to have to re-read the entire policy solely to determine what has been updated.

Summary

Our company helps fleets to re-engineer their existing programs to get stronger results from the vendors they already use. Sometimes they’ve invested millions into programs that worked well for the pilot and then fell flat. Refreshing their approach and assigning Some parallels worth examininganalysts to “work the data mountain” into “urgently actionable” conclusions instead of frustrating “background noise” can rescue ROI from the gutter. Most of this comes from management teams who “wrote policies and bought silver-bullet systems” then stuck the notebook (policy) on a shelf and turned their attention back to their “day to day” after the vendor sales team leaves the building. Building discipline to deal with the mundane and tedious separates the winners from the whiners.

When was the last time your team reviewed your policy from start to finish?  Maybe you can leverage a standard like Z15 to help complete the review quickly, and focus on communicating the policy changes to your drivers and managers as a way to increase safety awareness and shake off complacency before any further collisions take place.

If you need help in conducting a review, call on us, we’re here to help.

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