Right now, we are globally reliant on strained food supplies and logistics providers to deliver them. There has been a temporary change to driving hours regulations in order to accommodate these unprecedented times. But these temporary changes should not equate to a relaxation in a fleet operators’ driver safety management. In fact, driver safety should be managed more robustly than ever.

A substantial number of drivers are being asked to work longer hours, leading to an increased likelihood of suffering with fatigue and sleep issues. We have also seen an increase in speeding incidents that must be carefully managed.

Even in normal times, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in 2017 (latest figures available), 4,889 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes, a 9% increase from 2016. The critical pre-crash event for 73% of the large trucks in fatal crashes was another vehicle, person, animal, or object in the large truck’s lane or encroaching into it.

While truck drivers were not always at fault in these crashes, driver behavior certainly plays a role. Behaviors such as speeding and tailgating often contribute to crashes, or to a driver’s ability to avoid a crash even when he/she isn’t responsible for the pre-crash event.

To help reduce the odds for crashes, many fleets are monitoring and modifying driver behavior through telematics.

Thanks to the electronic logging device mandate, most U.S. heavy-duty fleets already have the ability to collect the data they need to monitor and modify driver behavior. At a minimum, fleets should collect data on:

  • Speeding incidents
  • Harsh acceleration and braking incidents
  • Corner handling incidents
  • Crashes

We recommend collecting baseline data for at least 30 days while managers formulate a driver monitoring strategy. Once you have the baseline data, here are seven steps in how to proceed using telematics to help improve driver safety.

Step 1: Create and publish safe driving policy and procedures.

You must let drivers know what your expectations are. This message should come straight from the top, to demonstrate the fleet’s commitment to protecting the safety of drivers and those with whom they share the roads. Key elements of the policy should include mobile phone usage, seatbelt requirements, speeding, rest breaks, drug and alcohol policies, etc.

Step 2: Implement defensive driver training.

As noted above, most of the time, truck drivers, while not being directly responsible for a crash, may well have been able to avoid being involved. Defensive driver training programs, provided by a certified third-party provider, can help. Training frequency should be dictated by need (e.g., driving behaviour, frequency of crashes), but at minimum be provided to drivers once every three years. It should also be part of the onboarding process for new hires.

Step 3: Conduct an initial assessment of all drivers.

This can be conducted by a certified driver trainer in one of two ways: a ride-along with the driver by a qualified trainer, or in-cab video (or a combination of the two). The most safety-conscious fleets do this upon initial employment and when a driver transfers locations, with an annual refresher for all. Trainers can provide on-the-spot feedback and may also recommend remedial training in certain areas.

Step 4: Leverage telematics data

Fleets should already be collecting safety data from their telematics/ELD systems. Many such systems also can be used as in-cab driving coaches. Alerting drivers to unsafe behavior allows them to recognize and change that behavior. Many ELDs can provide visual and audible prompts to drivers – for instance, a buzzer or alarm when a driver exceeds the local speed limit. Fleets that use in-cab video can also use ELDs to prompt or warn drivers about unsafe behaviour such as mobile phone usage.

Step 5: Regularly review driving behavior and share data with drivers.

Most telematics systems now provide fleet managers with safety reports or driver scorecards that rate and rank drivers based on their safety profile. These reports help managers identify drivers who may need additional training. They also can act as powerful incentives to drivers to improve on their own. Initially, fleet managers can make comparisons to baseline data. Over time, most fleets look at week-over-week, quarter-over-quarter, or year-over-year data. Large companies may break their analysis down into regions or teams.

Many fleets add a competitive or gamification aspect – for instance, rewarding drivers with the highest safety ratings. Rewards can range from cash to days off to gifts. We worked with one fleet that gave out a coveted belt buckle to one driver with the best safety record each year. Drivers competed fiercely for that belt buckle, and overall fleet safety improved markedly as a result.

Step 6: Provide pulse learning opportunities.

Supplement training with pulse learning opportunities – e-learning or app-based training, where learning is “pulsed” to a participant at regular small intervals, as opposed to traditional once-off training. It helps keep safe driving top of mind for drivers and keep their skills fresh.

Step 7: Make sure your company culture makes safe driving a top priority.

If you want drivers to change their behavior, they need to see visible and ongoing evidence of an organizational commitment to safe driving. That means regular communication and campaigns, including publishing goals and statistics. Drivers need to see a top-down commitment, with family and community involvement.

For example, some companies do a president’s message with a video-recorded interview emphasizing the importance of safe driving and getting home safe. Even if your fleet is taking advantage of relaxed hours-of-service rules for relief loads during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s essential to continue to track safety data. Some fleets have opted not to take advantage of the HOS exemption because of safety concerns. There cannot be a shift toward less-safe driving; fleets need to make sure they are putting safe drivers on the road, and should consider more drivers instead of more hours per driver.

The most successful fleets demonstrate an ongoing commitment to safe driving. This can’t be a one-off push or campaign. It requires a long-term commitment and regular review to be successful. Organizations should be mindful of complacency. A successful program requires regular review to evaluate its effectiveness and allow for adjustment as required.

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