A safety-first culture

From the April 2024 print edition

Most organizations prioritize vehicle safety.

They try to pick the right employees, train them on the equipment they will use, and educate them on policies and procedures regarding the operation of vehicles. These are worthwhile practices and will contribute to lowering the risks in the organization. One important element, however, is missing. That element is the ongoing driver coaching that is aimed at identifying and changing risky driver behaviour.

Dr. Alison Betz of ABA Technologies is a noted authority on behaviour change. She says that there are three reasons why people do things they know that they shouldn’t when it comes to driving. Those reasons are:

Kate Vigneau, CAFM, is director of fleet MCG Consulting Solutions.

1. Motivation from the inside is not enough. Drivers do not practice safe driving for the thrill of it. They won’t wear a seatbelt or avoid speeding for the good feeling that comes with obeying the law. There has to be an exterior benefit (or punishment) to encourage safe behaviours.

2. Competing behaviours may have more attractive consequences. Drivers may fail to comply with safe driving behaviours when the consequences of another choice are attractive. Texting while driving provides the satisfaction of social contact with no negative consequences most of the time.

3. Consequences for risky behaviour are improbable and delayed. The infrequency of distracted driving resulting in fines or crashes leads an individual to feel secure with the risky behaviours. And even if a driver does get fined or reprimanded for risky driving, it is often too far removed from the behaviour to make a direct impact.

These reasons explain why traditional driver training programs, at least on their own, do not work. It is simply not enough to provide
a short defensive driving course and expect drivers to consistently apply what they have learned. Without constant reminders, drivers revert to what brings the most immediate satisfaction, whether that means speeding to arrive home a little earlier or sending a text to stay in touch. They definitely know that these practices are unsafe, but negative consequences are unlikely.

A coaching relationship
NAFA’s Risk Management Guide likens the relationship between a driver and their supervisor to that of an athlete and a coach. To ensure drivers do the right thing, even when the supervisor and consequences are not present, requires a nurturing and supportive relationship aimed at permanently changing risky behaviour. Here are five steps to help bolster effective driver coaching:

  • Get full visibility on driver behaviour and risky situations through the installation of appropriate technology. Without visibility into driver activity, there’s a lot of unnecessary guesswork involved and some of the greatest risks to the organization may go unidentified. Dash cameras and global positioning systems (GPS) provide the information needed to launch needed change. Initial resistance to their installation by drivers can be overcome by emphasizing the benefits to them. The technology keeps employees safer and provides them protection in a lawsuit (if they were doing the right thing).
  • Work with drivers to define what safe driving looks like. Setting standards for the classification of preventable crashes is a starting point. The industry classifies preventability based on whether a driver did everything reasonable to prevent the crash from occurring. The interpretation of that standard is crucial – setting the bar too low breeds complacency. At the same time, setting the standard too high creates a situation in which that standard is impossible to reach and drivers may give up. Involving driver representatives in the safety committee making the decisions will help get their support.
  • Provide ongoing coaching. Drivers learn when the consequence is immediate and clearly linked to the behaviour. This is why real-time technological solutions that vocally alert the driver to unsafe issues and include the supervisor can have a significant impact. Supervisors do not have to wait until a driver returns to home base. They can reach out when good or bad behav­iours are observed to address them.
  • Make your drivers into safety advocates. Safe driving should be their goal every time they get behind the wheel. Drivers and supervisors should commit to never passing a fault, in themselves or others. Only when safe driving behaviour becomes an integrated part of the organizational culture will drivers do the right thing – even when no one is watching or there is no obvious negative consequence.

Take disciplinary action if positive change is not happening. Although coaching reinforces the positive to achieve desired behaviours, it is important to remember that negative behaviour left unchecked will continue. In a sense, an absence of consequences for the negative behaviour reinforces it. Negative consequences should be delivered as soon as practical after the event, always used in combination with reinforcement strategies, and not be delivered in public.

Reinforce the benefits
As highlighted by Dr. Betz, “the good news is that the environment, including consequences, can be deliberately arranged to support safe driving behaviour.” Organizations that are successful in eliminating unsafe practices do so by consistently reinforcing the benefits of safe driving. A safety minute before formal meetings, signage with reminders, a leaderboard showing kilometres driven since the last crash and daily updates on safety indicators all contribute to a safety-rich environment. Positive reinforcement will help safe driving behaviours to grow. This growth in safe driving has a snowball effect and will permeate the organization, changing its culture to one of “safety first.”
To learn more about changing risky driver behaviour, see Affecting Risky Driver Behaviour: https://tinyurl.com/mtc2unkb.