By Mindy Long
Keeping drivers safe on the road is critical, and well-trained drivers can make the road safer for everyone, reduce a company's liability and improve efficiency. The National Safety Council reported that the most dangerous part of an employee's workday is when they are on the road, which is why it is vital to offer driver training, even to experienced drivers.
“To be effective, driver training has to be engaging, fun and applicable to your everyday driving,” said Keith Lindem, president of FrontLine Driver Training. “If you were to ask 1,000 people if they are good drivers, more than 90% would say ‘Yes.’ That is because people equate good driving with not having a crash. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Not having a crash means just that you haven’t crashed, not that you are a good driver.”
In the fleet industry, 20% of the fleet is going to crash a year, Lindem said. "Of those, each crash, the average number of a crash in soft costs is upwards of $20,000, and that is not including any lawsuits. That is lost wages, downtime, bent sheet metal, etc.," he said.
Those within the training industry said driving is an active skill that can be taught. “Most people are good drivers, but we’re going to make them safer drivers,” said Karl New, president of Advanced Driver Training Focus.
Driver error can be something as simple as not having the mirrors adjusted, Lindem said. "As drivers, it is our job to use everything available to us to avoid a crash. There is a way to use every tool properly," he said, adding that even sitting in the car the correct way can be taught and serves as a foundation for driver performance.
There are four essential components that driver training must include for adult learners to achieve driving excellence: competent vehicle control, situational awareness, decision making and self-awareness, said Art Liggio, president and CEO of Driving Dynamics Inc.
"Equally important, training must be designed and delivered in an instructionally sound manner, which makes drivers active participants in the learning process. This is an aspect often missing from many commercial training programs, or driver involvement is passive at best," Liggio said.
Curriculum also needs to allow sufficient time to practice, review progress and master techniques and principles taught, Liggio said. "Too often, programs significantly limit hands-on exercise time, creating a significant learning deficiency. A best practice is for behind-the-wheel time to be about equal to time spent learning concepts," he said.
Driver training programs must include a mix of technical skill training and behavioral training to encompass a holistic approach of safety awareness, said Brian Kinniry, senior director of strategic services, for CEI.
However, Kinniry said driver engagement and communication are the most critical elements of driver training. “The more engaged the driver is, the more likely a change in behavior will happen, either through improved skills or a more safety-conscious mindset,” he said.
Meeting Drivers’ Needs
New said customers’ needs vary. “The issues that one company has may not be the same as another company. They could have different vehicles or a different age group,” he said, adding that companies should look for a training program that is flexible and customizable.
Typically, New tells customers to break training into three buckets according to risk. He said high-risk drivers generally are a small percentage of the driver force, but they can create significant liability issues. "Training for them will be different than for everyone else," he said. "The second risk is a new hire. You don't know exactly what their risk is. The third bucket is your existing employees, and they're usually your lowest risk because you've had them for a while, and you have a sense if they’re risky or not.”
Kinniry said training for new hires ensures that they have the necessary skills, understanding of the company’s safety policy and safety-mindedness to represent the company. “Training as a remedial tool ensures that a company’s risk levels remain low by providing focused training that addresses performance shortfalls and reduces repeat offenders,” he said. “Finally, refresher training for all drivers serves as a reminder of the high value the company places on driver safety as well as refreshing the skill sets required to be a safe driver on a regular basis.”
Kinniry said training shouldn’t be something just assigned to the driver to complete and should be evidence of the company’s ongoing commitment to safety. “Training reinforces the messaging points, and communications contribute to the effectiveness of training,” he said.
When selecting a training program, companies should look for training content that reflects and addresses the safety issues drivers face today. "Too often, learning objectives, content and instructional design methods are decades old and very limited in scope," Liggio said.
Usually, the companies that have the lowest crash rates are the ones that have had a defined driver training program for at least four to five years, and they're consistent in that they require all of their drivers to do a certain level of driver training, New said. He also recommends companies provide behind-the-wheel training every three years.
New said companies should be vigilant in looking at their crash per million miles. "It allows you to look at how safe your drivers are driving," he said.
A CPMM of 5.0-6.0 is very solid, and companies with the CPMM usually have well-developed driver safety programs over a more extended period, New said. "A CPMM in the 10.0+ or higher range is what I typically see with companies that are just developing a driver safety program," New said, adding that companies with CPMM in this area can lower their rating and obtain significant benefits to everyone.
Training During a Pandemic
Covid-19 has impacted driving and training as training that involved in-person, face-to-face contact has been limited. "At the onset of the pandemic, the first order of responsibility by employers and training provides was to quickly remove circumstances that put drivers at risk of exposure," Liggio said. "This reality caused a stop to most behind-the-wheel courses; however, this halt has, in turn, put drivers at greater risk of a crash."
Since the outbreak, agencies across the country have been reporting a rising rate of crashes and traffic fatalities, Liggio said. “Despite some business shutting down and the risk of exposure, many fleet drivers are still out on the road but now with insufficient driver training. The fact is putting all of our attention on a ‘new’ risk does not mean an existing risk goes away or can be ignored, at least not for long,” he said, adding that fleets need to ask themselves where they go from here and how they adapt to the new reality.
What’s more, Kinniry said CEI is finding that drivers may need to familiarize themselves again with driving skills since they may not have been on the road as much. “Changed traffic conditions present new challenges, including increased speed and distracted driving, and require that organizations renew their focus on training,” he said.
Some companies have turned to virtual training. “Social distancing has meant that traditional training methods, such as behind-the-wheel, ride-along and classroom training, have given way to online video training,” Kinniry said, adding that the key to online training is that it needs to be engaging and resonate with the driver. “We find that the more customer-specific and more personalized the lesson, the better the results.”
Advanced Driver Training Focus uses live classroom instructors and live behind-the-wheel training. With the advent and growth of third parties that offer screen sharing, the school has provided live, virtual presentations. However, New said one of the challenges with online training is the lack of interaction. "It is so much harder to get people pulled in to interact online," he said.
Since online training does have limitations, it should only be part of an overall driver training program, Lindem said.
“You may attend an online class, do online modules, watch a video and answer questions, etc., but the actual driver training aspects are devoid. The entire experiential learning component is gone,” he said. “The ability to ask questions and interact with a professional is paramount in the learning process – not just ‘checking the box’ that driver training is done.”
Liggio agreed online training is a viable option for the short term to offer some awareness and reinforcement. However, instructional design experts generally consider that for practical, non-theoretical, training, online lessons should play a supporting role in enhancing long-term understanding and retention of safety principles and techniques. "They do not replace the real-world value received though interaction with highly qualified, live instructors, especially when it comes to learning detailed and complex concepts," he said.
Liggio said Driving Dynamics worked with instructional design and road safety consultants to revamp its classroom training sessions, so they are conducted as interactive, instructor-led virtual training sessions. Plus, instructors have received training on how to deliver real-time virtual training courses, he said.
New said Advanced Driver Training Focus also changed its training when moving it online. “Typically, our classroom program live is a three-hour program, but I don’t think people want to be online for three hours,” he said, adding that the online version features the best parts of the program. “It isn’t as deep as our classroom because you don’t have the time, but it is better than abandoning driver training or doing nothing.”
New added that online learning can be beneficial if companies can refine it to a specific issue.
Behind-the-wheel exercises remain a critical, necessary component of driver training to produce exceptional results, Liggio said. Driving Dynamics has, for years, conducted behind-the-wheel training sessions in which instructors are communicating and coaching the drivers through FM radio station transmitters. "Drivers always stay with their own vehicles and have no exposure to anyone else. Our instructors, positioned at various locations throughout the exercise area, monitor drivers' performance, and coach them in real-time through each vehicle's FM radio. All of this meets the Covid-19 safety standards set by the CDC,” he said.
Even without a pandemic, driver training and technology are intertwined. “As online production value improves, so will our ability to engage drivers. We are already beginning to see such trends as social media, micro-learning, gamification, interactive design, user-generated content, and immersive learning, augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality in other fields of endeavor,” Kinniry said. “As the cost-value ratio allows, these technologies will enhance driver engagement and training effectiveness.”
Finding the Right Program
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When searching for the ideal program, Lindem recommends fleets look for a training program that is flexible and customizable. Training should also be able to adapt to the fleet's specific needs, whether that be the type of vehicle—pick-up trucks, SUVs, sedans—or kind of industry—corporate, municipality, law enforcement, etc., he said.
Fleets should also seek out programs with training content that reflects and addresses the safety issues drivers face today. “Too often, learning objectives, content and instructional design methods are decodes old and very limited in scope,” Liggio said.
Liggio added that fleets should use programs that have independent third-party credentialing and recognition and have qualified, professional instructors that have backgrounds and experience in advanced performance and driver safety.