The cost of evasion—can you afford not to invest in driver training?


From the February 2019 print edition

Driver training is important, yet it often gets pushed to the back burner because it takes drivers off the road and consumes valuable resources. It can be hard to justify the resources invested because, when an effective program is in place, nothing happens. This is why data is so important. Knowing your crash and incident rates pre- and post-implementation of a training initiative can make the case for continuing with it and help in designing a program to be delivered to the right people, in the right circumstances, at the right time.

Who is the right target for driver training? The obvious pick is employees who drive work vehicles daily. While this is certainly true, consider training other groups such as those who drive occasionally for work, those who only operate personal vehicles and even spouses and dependants of employees. The fact is, a crash involving an employee’s spouse can be just as detrimental to your organization in terms of lost productivity as your employee takes time off to deal with the consequences.

Managing risk
Under what circumstances is driver training the best answer? To deal with this, we can consult the risk management grid that categorizes risks according to how often they occur and how damaging they are. The grid provides the ideal mitigation strategy for each quadrant. High – High risks should be avoided or reduced if that is not possible. High Severity, Low Frequency risks should be transferred (usually through insurance). Low-Low risks are retained and the High Frequency, Low Severity risks are also retained and reduced. Loss reduction strategies, of which driver training is one, should be applied to high frequency risks in both the high and low severity quadrants.

Take backing crashes as an example. In many fleets they are a primary crash cause, in other words, high frequency. Yet, they rarely cause significant damage, and so are rated as low severity. They are an ideal candidate for loss reduction moves such as driver training to reduce the frequency and therefore the overall cost of these risks.

The most effective time for training is right after the driver is hired and before he or she is assigned to a vehicle. Subsequent refresher training usually consists of one or two days of classroom instruction in which initial training material is reviewed, or updated material is presented to familiarize drivers with new equipment, operating problems or regulations. Refresher trainings should take place annually, or as needed. Remedial training, in the case of a crash or other breach, should happen as soon as possible after an incident.

Keep in mind, when measuring training benefits that they go beyond the obvious and may include the following:

  • Reduction in crashes: The number of crashes and crash-related costs are greatly reduced. Trained drivers know how to act safety and what situations to avoid.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: A driver who knows a vehicle’s mechanical limitations and respects the vehicle will develop good operating habits, take better care of the vehicle and cooperate more fully with the maintenance department.
  • Reduced absenteeism and labor turnover: Training helps a driver develop a better understanding of both the job and fleet problems and increases the person’s job satisfaction.
  • Reduced supervisory burden: Training establishes a standard of performance and a basis for effective corrective action by supervisors when needed. Well-trained drivers usually require less supervision because they understand these standards clearly and know how to meet them without continued reminders from a supervisor.
  • Improved public relations: Drivers represent the organization in daily contacts with customers and other users of the highway. Good training reflects credit not only on drivers but also on the company.

Once you establish the need for a driver training program, there are three main steps in its creation.

Step 1: skill evaluation
Organizations that employ drivers have a responsibility to ensure their employees are equipped with the highest level of skills and knowledge when it comes to all aspects of their job, including safe and sustainable vehicle operation. Best-in-class training programs use driver skill assessments to gather data about the driver’s strengths and weaknesses. These skill assessments can be conducted by supervisors in actual driving situations, or through a series of online tests.

Step 2: gap assessment
Existing performance can be compared to organizational targets to see where gaps lie. Targets should be objective and attainable. A target of zero crashes in the next 12 months may be dismissed as unachievable while a target of a 20 per cent reduction in preventable crashes may be embraced.

Step 3: training delivery
Training can range from familiarizing new drivers with the operation of equipment, to modifying the behavior of all drivers and can take place in many forms, three of which are described below.

Behind-the-wheel training
Behind-the-wheel training should address safe driving concepts such as defensive driving, driver reaction times and vehicle mechanics. Defensive driving means the driver must have both the desire and the ability to control crash-producing situations. Drivers accept responsibility for avoiding crashes rather than passively surrendering to an adverse situation. They have a positive attitude and expect to prevent crashes by taking the initiative. However, attitude alone is not enough. The defensive driver must also demonstrate alertness, foresight, knowledge, judgment and skill.

Commentary driving
Here, the supervisor rides with the driver and the driver describes what he or she sees in the traffic situation ahead and how to adjust to it. Commentary driving allows the supervisor to gauge how much a driver notices in any traffic situation. It also teaches the driver how to use eye movement more effectively and note all the elements that enter into any driving situation.

Equipment familiarization training
Drivers should be trained to avoid hazards and take appropriate preventive measures for the specific type of equipment they are using or service they need to perform. For example, the following should be part of a school bus driver’s training:

● Boarding procedure: Driver to motion child across street; bus to remain stationary until students are seated
● De-boarding procedure: Driver to stop bus where it can be seen; driver to leave door closed until traffic stops
● Driver to inspect equipment: Emergency door function; push-out windows; emergency equipment
● Driver to train children in proper passenger procedures
● Driver to be trained to be assertive towards student control

There is demonstrable value in driver training programs that are creatively assembled and selectively targeted. Check out our online story in which three use cases of value-added training are showcased. Ultimately, what these managers learned is that, if you think training is expensive, see how much it costs to avoid it.

Material for this article has been drawn from NAFA Fleet Management Association’s Risk Management Guide.