Catalyst for safety improvement

Oct. 30, 2007
During the recent ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, FL, Fleet Owner editors had the opportunity to interview Schneider National’s vp-safety and driver training, Don Osterber

During the recent ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, FL, Fleet Owner editors had the opportunity to interview Schneider National’s vp-safety and driver training, Don Osterberg. A respected and long-time advocate for fleet safety, Osterberg offered his perspectives on technology, driver retention and reducing risk:

FO: Is there a correlation between driver retention and safety?

Osterberg: There is a very strong correlation between driver experience and safety. A new driver, that is a driver with less than 18 months of experience, is more apt to change jobs and more apt to be involved in an accident. At about 18 months that experience curve flattens out, according to our risk analysis. So if we are able to keep a driver beyond the 18-month mark, the probability of retaining him or her is very high and we have the benefits of a lower-risk driver.

FO: It seems easier to calculate the cost of replacing drivers than it does to measure the value of retaining drivers. Has Schneider developed metrics to quantify the value of retaining drivers?

Osterberg: We have been working with a firm called Cascade Consultants. They have enabled us to implement a decision support tool that helps us to quantify the value of the driver who stays. Using the tool helps us to take some of the emotion out of that process and to isolate causal relationships and then model them.

As an industry, I think we need to change our lexicon to talk about retention versus turnover. There is more positive energy in looking at this issue from the retention side. We need to focus on hiring the right drivers, training them effectively, managing them well and leveraging technology to facilitate this and to improve their quality of life on the road.

FO: Do you know what factors influence a driver’s decision to stay with your fleet or move on to another job?

Osterberg: We have been partnering with a Denver firm for about four years now to help us understand why drivers leave. They conduct driver exit interviews and then come in three times a year to review those survey results with us. We also conduct our own annual driver survey and compare the responses of drivers who stay versus drivers who leave. One thing we have learned is that causal factors differ depending on tenure. New drivers may leave because of personality conflicts, for instance, or to get a few more cents per mile. Drivers with more tenure are looking for other things, such as bonuses, the opportunity to advance within a fleet and so on.

Driver issues are also often more complex than they seem. For example, it is generally agreed that drivers want time at home. However, time at home has several dimensions, including predictability, frequency and duration. We have learned that predictability is the most important of these dimensions. Drivers want to be able to plan; they want to know that they will be home for a school play or a birthday or an anniversary dinner. So now we enable our drivers to schedule days off ahead of time.
Because we have our own driver-training program, we are also currently engaged in a three-year study to describe the characteristics that identify a “good” driver candidate, that is someone who is likely to become a safe, stable and productive driver. We want to focus our training efforts on the best possible applicants.

FO: Where would you like to see driver safety enhancement initiatives go next? Are there opportunities for improvement the industry has yet to explore?

Osterberg: Historically, safety has been viewed as the responsibility of the carrier. Actually, it is a supply chain challenge. We need to work collaboratively on safety, to focus on setting reasonable expectations for our drivers and then structuring the environment together to help assure success. Simple lack of awareness, for example, can trigger unsafe and inappropriate driver behaviors.

Shippers have visibility into the safety of carriers today and I would also like to see them give some consideration to fleets that are actively working to improve public safety. I am a big believer in using technology to help improve safety, too, but you can’t “buy a good golf game.” That is, simply implementing a new technology won’t make a fleet safer. Instead, it is more important to create a culture of safety within the industry and we should focus our efforts there.

Most of the externalities, things like congestion, the use of cell phones and even text messaging while driving, are working against us now when it comes to safety. That makes focusing on safety more important than ever.

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