Fleets are using Lytx's in-cab safety technology to coach and exonerate drivers.

How fleets can tackle driver challenges head-on

Dec. 9, 2021
Commercial carriers and industry experts have stressed the importance of putting a greater emphasis on truck driver training and safety amid capacity challenges and the Great Resignation of 2021.

When Rhonda McKown started her career as a professional truck driver, she was 22 and couldn’t imagine having a camera in the cab of her truck. Today, she’s the senior safety manager for Ryder’s Safety Standards and Technology Department and sees driver training and safety through an entirely different lens.

McKown manages Ryder’s Lytx Driver Safety program, which consists of about 8,000 devices and 11,000 drivers in Ryder’s network. Ryder has installed Lytx DriveCams in all of its logistics vehicles—and a key for McKown has been figuring out how to coach drivers effectively when the technology shows them exhibiting high-risk behaviors.

“Effectively means where our driver understands and comprehends what we’re trying to convey,” McKown explained during a FleetOwner webinar on "The Top Challenges Fleets Faced in 2021 & What’s to Come in 2022," which was sponsored by Lytx.

See also: A multifaceted approach to safety

“One of the challenges is effectively training managers to be able to pick up all the signs that a driver may be struggling in terms of comprehension,” McKown added. “A lot of times, a driver might get really defensive if they truly don’t understand. And we don’t want a driver to walk away from a situation in which we could help that driver reduce their risk and become safer on the road.”

She stressed that in-cab cameras are not used as 24/7 surveillance but as triggering devices to prevent high-risk behaviors better or even to exonerate drivers in the event of a crash that they did not cause.

Driver training starts with listening to the driver

Truck driver training and safety has become increasingly more important amid the global pandemic that has upended the supply chain and prompted a slew of labor challenges, which society has deemed the Great Resignation of 2021. On top of fleetwide driver training efforts, Ellen Voie, president of the Women in Trucking Association, said she regularly advises carriers to sit down with their drivers and listen to them, particularly when it comes to how they want to be trained and treated.

Voie is a member of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC), and for the first time this year, MCSAC has a driver subcommittee, which is headed by Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

She explained that members of the driver subcommittee had expressed concern over typical industry issues like recruiting and retention, detention time, and truck parking. Committee members also addressed potential concerns about the influx of light-duty final-mile commercial vehicles sharing the road with much larger and heavier Class 8s.

See also: WIT, FMCSA's Joshi address trucking's harassment problem

“An issue came up about all the smaller vehicles on the road and if they are safer or if the drivers are being monitored and if their qualifications are up to certain standards,” Voie pointed out during the webinar. “Recommendations are being made on how the industry can address the influx of all these smaller vehicles and making sure that both the drivers and the vehicles follow our standards for safety.”

McKown stressed the importance of getting and keeping drivers involved when it comes to best practices for rolling out new technology. She urged any commercial motor carrier looking to install in-cab cameras or any new technology to develop a driver committee and be transparent about the program's purpose.

“Before we implement anything, we ask, ‘How is this going to benefit our drivers,’” McKown said. “Because if it’s going to benefit our drivers, it’s definitely going to benefit us.”

Facing capacity challenges head-on

During FleetOwner’s webinar, Jeremy Reymer, CEO of DriverReach, pointed to the industry-wide challenge of recruiting and retaining over-the-road truck drivers. He explained that he believes the industry will continue to embrace diversity to get there.

“For a greater embracing of diversity and awareness, we have to look at things through the lens of the driver,” Reymer advised.

Reymer added that the industry also has an opportunity to improve its image in 2022 due to the momentum and public perception of trucking’s essentiality gained over the course of the pandemic. He also said attracting more women into trucking’s ranks will help improve the industry’s image.

For McKown, retaining drivers is all about communication.

“As a driver, I never left for money. I would leave because of deception,” she said. “Transparency is so important. Communication is absolutely No. 1, so there are no mixed messages. We are measuring events and looking at what we can do better. It’s about constant training and coaching, listening to drivers, and having a committee where we talk about driver concerns.”

Heading into 2022, Voie said she anticipates that because of the attention the supply chain has been getting, the industry will likely see an increase in regulations.

“The legislature is asking for solutions to supply chain challenges whether it’s at the port or driver fatigue,” she said, adding that FMCSA’s acting administrator Meera Joshi’s appointment has been delayed, and agencies are holding the transportation officials accountable for solving some of these problems. “I think that is going to end up increasing regulations on the industry, which is not a good thing in my opinion.”

At the start of 2022, new federal Entry-Level Driver Training requirements will go into effect on Feb. 7, establishing a national standard for obtaining a commercial driver’s license. In addition, the new infrastructure bill, signed into law on Nov. 15, includes programs to help recruit more people—women, minorities, and younger drivers—into the trucking industry. The bill creates a Women of Trucking Advisory Board and a pilot program that would allow drivers younger than 21 to be part of mentorship programs allowing them to operate in interstate commerce, which is currently against federal regulations. 

About the Author

Cristina Commendatore

Cristina Commendatore was previously the Editor-in-chief of FleetOwner magazine. She reported on the transportation industry since 2015, covering topics such as business operational challenges, driver and technician shortages, truck safety, and new vehicle technologies. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

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