Trucks at Work

Driving safer … and smarter

We need to look at the thousands of decisions a driver makes every day, not just the ones that result in a speeding ticket, fender bender, or fatality.” –Karen White, vice president-product marketing, GreenRoad

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I’ve been mulling over some interesting thoughts from a couple of different sources concerning the ever-pertinent topic of “safe driving.” How do fleets get drivers – raw newbies and seasoned professionals alike – to keep striving for safety improvements day in and day out, despite the ups and downs built in to any human endeavor?

This is important because, as I’ve noted in this space time and time again, driving is act taken for granted by most of us in this country – and taking something as fraught with danger as operating a motor vehicle at high speeds for granted leads to all sorts of trouble.

“Whether traveling to meetings or delivering products, employees’ actions on the road can directly impact a business’ bottom line,” noted Kate Lohner, assistant marketing manager-first aid & safety for the Cintas Corp. in a recent missive.

“To reduce costs and increase driver productivity, businesses should equip drivers with the information and resources they need to stay focused and promote safe driving habits,” she added. “Even the most tenured driver can lose focus and have an accident – an accident that can cause a business its reputation and thousands of dollars.”

[Truckers of course have added responsibilities -- one of which is conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection of their rigs before starting down the road. Here, Dave Gundt, a recruiter and former driver for Schneider National, provides a nice overview of some things to watch out for while conducting a pre-trip inspection.]

Chew on this fact, for example: as we know, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics, approximately 30,000 people each year dies in a vehicle accident on U.S. roadways. Here’s the scary part: that equates to a death every 18 minutes – roughly the time it will take you to wade through this post.

Yet improving driving safety shouldn’t be all about “focusing on the negatives,” if you will – a point Karen White, vice president-product marketing for GreenRoad, made in comments in a memo earlier this year.

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White (at left) explained that she’d spent a lot of time on the road in 2011 meeting with a variety of GreenRoad customers – managers of fleets ranging from 26 vehicles to over 9,000 – to discuss the challenges endemic to creating what she called a “safety culture” around the operation of vehicles large and small. To that end, she suggested the following “resolutions” for fleets large and small:

Resolve to look at driver behaviors, not just outcomes. “Every safety manager can rattle off stats about accident rates, but accidents only tell us about those touch points between unsafe behavior and poor luck,” White noted. “Zoom in, and we find that there is often a predictive trail of risky maneuvers and bad habits leading up to an accident. We need to look at the thousands of decisions a driver makes every day, not just the ones that result in a speeding ticket, fender bender, or fatality. Thus you need understand what your drivers are doing, every trip – because what you learn could save a life.”

Resolve to help your drivers help themselves. “There’s a behavioral expert named B.J. Fogg who talks about the three things that need to converge for a corrective behavior to occur: motivation, ability, and trigger,” White explained. “Drivers are professionals; most of them already have the ability to drive safely and fuel-efficiently. The key is making sure you provide triggers: in other words, signals, preferably real-time and in-vehicle, that flag the need for a behavioral adjustment such as speeding or harsh braking. Accurate, real-time feedback gives the drivers tools to self-correct, drive more safely, and save fuel and wear-and-tear in the process.”

Resolve to recognize and reward success. “For most drivers, contact with the safety team means somebody’s in trouble; but safety can also mean a celebration of progress and achievement,” White said. “Not to downplay the importance of the stick, but imagine a driver getting called into your safety director’s office, head already spinning as he tries to remember what he could have done wrong, and instead, he gets a handshake and a Starbuck’s gift card to celebrate his improved safety metrics. He may not be your top driver, but all of a sudden, his relationship with safety has changed, and the cultural shift begins. Pair that with a creative rewards system, and you’re on your way to a very different place to work.”

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Jamie Samide, Cintas’ director of marketing-emerging business, also had some thoughts about the things drivers can do when behind the wheel to make operating their vehicles (and thus the roadway space surround them) a whole lot safer:

Avoid Distractions. Each day, more than 15 people are killed and 1,200 people are injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Cell phones are the newest and biggest distraction on the road, and while many states have passed laws banning the usage of phones while driving, many people continue to use them. Using a cell phone behind the wheel can delay reaction time by as much as 20%. Additional distractions include eating, changing the radio station and looking at directions. “If the driver needs to engage in any of these activities, they should pull off the road until the task is completed,” Samide said.

[By the way, did you know that Erin Andrews, noted ESPN broadcaster, is a spokesperson for Cintas? Neither did I!]

Slow Down. If a company delivery is behind schedule or an employee is late to an appointment, the driver may try to save time by exceeding the speed limit. Statistics show that not only is this dangerous, but it can also cause an accident. “If an employee causes injury to someone due to negligent conduct, the employer can be liable for damages,” Samide warned. “To reduce opportunities for a collision and legal ramifications, remind drivers to just slow down.”

Maintain Following Distance. No matter how careful the driver, it’s impossible to predict the actions of other drivers—particularly whether they will stop suddenly. To prevent drivers from rear-ending other vehicles, encourage them to follow the “three-second rule,” which requires motorists to maintain at least a three-second distance behind other vehicles. “Maintaining a safe distance is particularly important during inclement weather, as rain, snow and ice all contribute to treacherous road conditions and will increase stopping time,” Samide pointed out. “In this type of weather, it is suggested to increase stop time to six seconds.”

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Wear Your Seat Belt. NHTSA studies show that more than half of all accident fatalities were people who weren’t using a seat belt. “Properly worn seat belts help prevent occupants from being ejected in the vehicle during an accident, particularly in the cabins of trucks,” Samide stressed. “Broken bones, lacerations and even death can be avoided by simply wearing a seat belt.”

Remain Calm. Remind drivers that delays are a part of driving, while also encouraging them to yield to other drivers and refrain from aggressive actions that could trigger road rage or an accident.

“By practicing safe driving techniques, workers can protect themselves and others on the road,” Samide said. “It also has the added benefit of improving productivity and lowering insurance premiums, which helps improve a business’ bottom line.”

Most season truckers have heard all of this before, in one form or another. But it’s always helpful to dwell on this topic anew, if only to refresh the safety knowledge that can often go dormant as the long, lonely miles of highway go by.

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