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Driver training

A balancing act: How driver training can help or hurt in the courtroom

Feb. 22, 2024
How your fleet invests in driver training today can help avoid costly lawsuits tomorrow. Here are ways your training program can make it easier to defend drivers and fleets if you end up in court.

If a fleet must defend itself in a lawsuit, we’ve all heard how important it is to keep thorough records of documented driver training activities to prove to the court the company is doing what it can to keep its drivers and the public safe. But protecting yourself in court requires much more than simply having documentation that training is being delivered.

If one of your drivers has an accident and you must go to court, the plaintiff’s attorney will review your training and safety programs and policies. The attorney will attempt to construct a story about how your company is negligent or that you don’t take safety seriously—basically to scare a jury into believing that your company is a danger to everyone and that the accident was just waiting to happen. Regardless of whether that accurately reflects how you operate, the plaintiff’s lawyer will look for shortcomings in your training programs and policies to create that narrative.

Try working backward from an imaginary civil suit to determine if your training system is as defendable as your lawyer would like. If a plaintiff’s lawyer tries to paint you as not taking safety seriously, how can your approach to training counter that kind of narrative?

Driver training investments can pay off down the road

Training doesn’t have to cost the farm, but an investment can help show that you take safety seriously enough to spend money on it. If that investment includes access for everyone and you can show that you use it regularly, you’re off to a good start.

Automating training can make it more manageable

Using that training program doesn’t have to mean a ton of extra work. The right training platform will help you streamline and automate assignments and reporting processes so you can stay on top of them more easily.

See also: Fontana: Communication between fleet management and drivers is vital

No diving in the shallow end: Make training count

If a driver told you they could do a pre-trip inspection in five minutes, you’d know they weren’t doing it correctly. If your training lasts that long, a plaintiff’s attorney will jump on it for the same reason. If you want to demonstrate that you prioritize safety, look for training programs that reflect that seriousness and depth. Programs should include the following:

  • A deep dive into the content paired with real-world context so your drivers get a complete picture of the material and practical tips on applying it.
  • Rigorous testing at the end of each course. If people can guess answers and pass the test, it’s not hard enough. Challenging tests that require people to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the material will stand up to scrutiny better.
  • Detailed, granular tracking and reporting of driver activities and results so you can see where there are gaps and know what to focus on.

Balance online and in-person training offerings

Online training can help keep drivers trained, but it can’t completely replace in-person activities in the yard or on the road. Track those practical activities and classroom events alongside the online efforts, so there’s a complete picture of everything you did to improve that driver’s safety performance.

Benchmark your fleet’s training program

Even though you are trying to develop a manageable program for the size of your business, how do you know you are doing enough? Have a safety consultant evaluate your program against what’s being done at other fleets that are a similar size and configuration to yours because you don’t want to be that one fleet on the block doing less than everyone else. Are you worried about the cost of hiring a consultant? It isn’t nearly as expensive as losing a lawsuit.

For all the things you need to do to keep your business running, being a legal expert isn’t one of them. That’s your lawyer’s job. But there are ways of running your business—particularly when it comes to training—that can make it easier for them to defend you if you’re faced with a court case.

Mark Murrell is president of CarriersEdge, a leading provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, and co-creator of Best Fleets to Drive For, an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry. 

About the Author

Mark Murrell

Mark Murrell is president of CarriersEdge, a leading provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, and co-creator of Best Fleets to Drive For, an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry. 

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