Photo: Igor Stevanovic via Dreamstime
Dreamstime Xl 55412230 Photo Igor Stevanovic Via Dreamstime

Fleets talk safety and initiatives that work

Aug. 7, 2020
FMCSA fleet panel provides real-world feedback on spec'd safety technology, driver health initiatives, and the importance of communication and a defined safety culture.

Vehicle and driver safety tops the priority list for many fleets. There are several methods fleets have employed to ensure safety of drivers, cargo and the motoring public. A recent two-part panel discussion hosted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) highlighted a number of methods various fleets are employing to address safety concerns.

The FMCSA's recent virtual Trucking Safety Summit featured a two-part series from real-world feedback in the field. Two panelist sessions, both titled “What’s Working?” included numerous fleet and driver representatives to share insights.

The conversation centered around how a successful safety approach is driven through the safety systems available on equipment, and a focus on the health and well-being of drivers for the fleet.

Safety equipment on vehicles

A key safety technology that has helped to mitigate the frequency and severity of accidents has been the development of automated emergency braking. Also known as collision mitigation technology, this safety function equipped on new heavy-duty trucks uses radar and sensors to detect objects ahead of the vehicle and issues an audible or visual signal to the driver about an impending contact. If the driver does not intervene, the system will decelerate and derate the engine.

“What we found was that within the first three years we weren't even fully fielded yet. In the first three years we had dramatic success,” Thomas C. DiSalvi, CDS, VP, Safety Driver Training and Compliance, Schneider National, advised of spec'ing collision mitigation systems. “We had reduced our rear-end collision frequency by 68%, and more importantly, reduced the severity by 95%. What that meant was that it's doing just what it said: if it's not eliminating the crash, it is mitigating the impact of it.”

Dean Newell, VP Safety and Training, Maverick USA, also indicated the significant reduction in rear-end collisions since the for-hire fleet implemented automated braking technology on its equipment. Newell said the fleet first started spec'ing collision warning systems on tractors in 2004. The fleet has since worked to update current equipment with the latest collision mitigation technology. Newell notes the fleet in total had only three rear-end collisions reported in 2018, three incidents in 2019, and none for the first six months of 2020.

“[Collision mitigation technology] has cut our accident frequency over by half,” advised Jaime Maus, VP of Safety and Compliance, Werner Enterprises. “Looking at the severity, it's down tremendously, when you look at what once was a fatal accident is now an injury accident; what was an injury accident is now a property damage accident, and then property damage accidents became non-existent.”

Schneider National, Werner and Maverick all indicated their vehicles have some form of collision mitigation technology spec'd on current equipment. The challenge has been the necessity of spec'ing the technology during purchase since retrofit options are not viable, according to the panelists.

“It takes about three to five years to get it implemented into your fleet based on trade cycles, because it's not something that is retrofittable,” Newell indicated.

A panelist consensus acknowledged OEMs must consider making automated emergency braking technology standard on all heavy duty trucks.

“Knowing that the automobile industry has already made a collective arrangement that all automobiles will be outfitted [with collision mitigation technology] within the next year, I think there is an effort at the OEM level for trucks to do the same, and I do think that that's an area that FMCSA can lead,” suggested DiSalvi.

When it comes to video equipment to monitor safety, panelists confirmed they primarily use outward facing video recording equipment. There has been some reluctance on inward-facing cameras to directly monitor driver behavior.

As a commercial driver himself and member of America’s Road Team, YRCW’s Steve Fields confirmed that his company has only outward-facing cameras equipped on trucks. “As a driver I prefer that. It's kind of a distraction for me, if I know a camera is watching,” he said.

Driver acceptance of the equipment can come when a driver is exonerated from wrongdoing, which is documented on footage from inward-facing cameras. 

“We had one accident in one of those trucks where a car did U-turn in front of our driver,”  Newell said. “It clearly showed our driver was doing nothing wrong, paying attention and had done everything he could possibly do. That probably became our biggest selling points with that driver and with the rest of the guys that are learning.”

At this time, Werner and Schneider do not employ inward-facing cameras. Schneider’s DiSalvi advised his fleet has spec'd side cameras and digital video recorder (DVR) functionality. “We are adding DVR capability so that if an event isn’t triggered, we can go back and find it,” he said.

DiSalvi added that telematics data can play a key role in reviewing safety issues as well, even without visual footage.

“We do capture telematics from our truck which also gives a great deal of information in terms of what the driver behind the wheel is doing, if needed,” DiSalvi noted. “But we find that by and large, without necessarily having the inward-facing camera, we were able to collect a just a wealth of information.”

Driver communication and training

“There is no silver bullet,” Newell related, when it comes to implementing safety standards within a fleet. "Driver communication and training is critical."

YRCW’s Fields advised having a lead driver to communicate to other drivers’ peer-to-peer can help build trust and encourage communication.

“We really want a truck driver in every seat who is conscientious, who is competent, and who is capable,” said Brett A Sant, SVP – Safety and Risk Management, Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc. “It's our responsibility to give the driver the training, the resources, the materials and the support that the driver needs to be successful, and to allow that driver to learn and to grow, so that the driver’s level of competency and conscientiousness is always growing.”

While driver training is major aspect of ensuring safety, education to the motoring public is also critical. Ingrid Brown, owner-operator and owner of Rollin’ B, is an ambassador with FMCSA for the Our Roads, Our Safety program. The program works to promote educating the general public on additional safety necessary around driving with tractor-trailers, such as the longer stopping distance and blind spots for heavy-duty trucks.

Individualized attention and one-on-one training can empower drivers to adopt a safety mindset. Mentoring from veteran drivers within a fleet can also provide newer drivers an outlet to ask questions. Dave Edmondson, VP of safety and compliance, J&M Truck Group, suggested identifying those “role models” within a fleet and leaning on them to provide guidance to other drivers.

“They tend to they tend to identify themselves,” said Edmondson. “They're the ones that other drivers look up to. They're the ones that other drivers ask questions of.”

Panelists agreed that a safety culture from top to bottom is what truly drives buy-in from everyone within the company. It is important to recognize that compliance and safety are not the same thing.

“Simply being compliant doesn't make you safe,” advised Edmondson. “We can do the minimum things and be compliant, but if you don't go that extra distance to train drivers, communicate with them, empower them, hold them accountable when you need to, leverage technology. That's what makes you safe or empowers the driver to make the company safe.”

While not all situations can be fully controlled by the driver, Sant suggests there are four key areas that inherently safe drivers will focus on when operating a commercial truck:

  • Managing vehicle speed for proper traffic and weather conditions
  • Managing the space around the vehicle, such as following distance
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Managing fatigue, and recognizing when it is necessary to pull over and rest

Sant also stressed the importance of communication with drivers.

“Knowing that the driver is going to be dealing with all kinds of different possibilities and complications throughout the day; stay connected, communicate, have an open two-way, dialogue going. It’s really important,” said Sant.

A safety culture adopted throughout an organization is what can truly drive fleets to go above and beyond compliance, suggested Edmondson.  

“You have to show the driver that you care about them,” Edmondson said. “Once you establish that culture in your company—that you truly care about the driver and how his safety and well-being for him and for you makes you both successful—I think that is the number one thing someone can do.”

Driver health

When it comes to drug testing drivers, panelists agreed hair testing provided a much more thorough assessment of habitual drug use compared to the traditional urine drug testing.

Schneider National began using hair testing in 2008 for pre-employment screening, said DiSalvi. He confirmed the fleet has since expanded the practice to random drug testing for current drivers.

“We really believed that that the urine-based testing was underreporting what we felt that drug use was in reality,” he said. “Through hair testing we have tested over 100,000 pre-employment applicants and what we're finding now — even though we tell the applicants that they're going to take a hair test for drugs — we still run between a 4 to 4.5% positive rate versus the standard urine test, which is more around 0.4% positive rate.”

Werner’s Maus confirmed their team noticed a substantial difference in positive drug use verified through hair testing compared to urine testing. More surprising, she said, were the types of illicit substances used.

“Number one within what we see is cocaine and amphetamines,” Maus noted, of positive hair test results. “Then, opioids. Marijuana is not even in that top tier.” She advised the hair testing provides her fleet the ability to catch habitual drug offenders.

Maus noted it is critical to assess current drug testing practices in order to ensure the safety of drivers overall. “The scariest part of it is, while a driver can be disqualified from driving for Werner Enterprises, they can go to the next carrier and drive because that (hair testing) isn't recognized under federal regulations,” she said. “Out of 5,000 positive hair tests we had within the last couple of years, only a handful of those also tested positive in urine, so only a handful of those would have been reported to (the Drug & Alcohol) Clearinghouse or other companies.”

Maverick’s Newell also confirmed his fleet began hair testing for drug use in August 2012. Between that time and June of this year, “I have had 324 failed hair tests and I've only had 18 failed urine tests that were taken at the exact same time,” he noted. He echoed Maus’ concerns that since hair testing is not federally mandated or reported, the driver could work for another fleet without alerting that company of the positive drug test.

As it relates to driver health, fatigue management is also a key initiative for many fleets to help improve safety and mitigate risk. But proper rest can be difficult for those challenged with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep-related breathing disorder which can cause partial or full obstruction of a person’s airway.

“We wanted to go a step beyond just awareness and that was to actually help and treat those that either suspected they had a sleep disorder,” said DiSalvi.

Schneider has since implemented a comprehensive program to help drivers suffering from sleep apnea through a partnership with a network of clinics that can test drivers for the sleep apnea, and train drivers on the risks of the sleep disorder.

“With a sleep apnea program you're not only helping short-term safety of a driver, improving vigilance, but you're also vastly improving their health, and long term healthcare,” said DiSalvi.

“I'm very passionate about it. I think that's because of my experience with it,” said Maverick’s Newell. Newell was diagnosed with sleep apnea 14 years ago, and has since become an advocate for other drivers. He is still a CDL holder with a valid federal medical card.

Maverick provides a pre-employment screening for sleep apnea, and will issue the necessary equipment to treat symptoms for incoming drivers. “If they meet the qualifications we can test right here on site for them and we give them the machine,” Newell said. “Then all they have to do is be compliant. We monitor the compliance. We have a third party that does it.”

Werner Enterprises has a similar program to diagnose and treat sleep apnea. Maus noted the importance of breaking down the stigma with the sleep disorder, to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

“The driver perception of OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) in general has improved because companies are bringing this topic to light, they're making sure that drivers know it's not a bad thing," Maus said. "We can get you treated, we can get you healthy. And it shows in their performance. Their safety performance looks better after having been diagnosed and treated."

About the Author

Erica Schueller | Editorial Director | Commercial Vehicle Group

Erica Schueller is the Editorial Director of the Endeavor Commercial Vehicle Group. The commercial vehicle group includes the following brands: American Trucker, Bulk Transporter, Fleet Maintenance, FleetOwner, Refrigerated Transporter, and Trailer/Body Builders brands.

An award-winning journalist, Schueller has reported and written about the vehicle maintenance and repair industry her entire career. She has received accolades for her reporting and editing in the commercial and automotive vehicle fields by the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA), the International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC), the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Azbee Awards.

Schueller has received recognition among her publishing industry peers as a recipient of the 2014 Folio Top Women in Media Rising Stars award, acknowledging her accomplishments of digital content management and assistance with improving the print and digital products in the Vehicle Repair Group. She was also named one Women in Trucking’s 2018 Top Women in Transportation to Watch.

She is an active member of a number of industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC),  the Auto Care Association's Young Auto Care Networking Group, GenNext, and Women in Trucking.

In December 2018, Schueller graduated at the top of her class from the Waukesha County Technical College's 10-week professional truck driving program, earning her Class A commercial driver's license (CDL).  

She has worked in the vehicle repair and maintenance industry since 2008.

Sponsored Recommendations

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...

80% Fewer Towable Accidents - 10 Key Strategies

After installing grille guards on all of their Class 8 trucks, a major Midwest fleet reported they had reduced their number of towable accidents by 80% post installation – including...

Proactive Fleet Safety: A Guide to Improved Efficiency and Profitability

Each year, carriers lose around 32.6 billion vehicle hours as a result of weather-related congestion. Discover how to shift from reactive to proactive, improve efficiency, and...

Tackling the Tech Shortage: Lessons in Recruiting Talent and Reducing Turnover

Discover innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining tech talent in the trucking industry during this informative webinar, where experts will share insights on competitive...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!