Maintaining a safe fleet is an ongoing process and there’s no one-size fits all solution for improving drivers’ skills and behaviors. And it’s certainly not uncommon to believe that training and coaching are interchangeable forms of instruction. However, while different, both methods are necessary for reducing incidents, injuries and fatalities, because each has its strength when it comes to addressing specific aspects of driving safety. Understanding the distinction will positively impact the effectiveness of your driver safety program.
Driver Safety Training: Teaching and reinforcing new skill or behavior
Training focuses on educating safe driving skills and maneuvers that prepare drivers to safely operate a vehicle and avoid or handle unexpected hazardous driving scenarios.
Driver safety training courses are based on a structured curriculum which teaches or reinforces concepts that all drivers must learn, including: rules of the road; safe driving techniques related to proper use of vision, steering and braking; how to use driver assist technologies; and understanding safety policies. Training can accommodate a class with only a few people to a large group, and it follows the ‘tell me, show me, let me’ format, an approach supported by Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction :
• Tell Me: Instructors educate drivers on pertinent driving techniques and basic vehicle control
• Show Me: Instructors show students how to put learning into action
• Let Me: Students test the new skills learned in the classroom, through behind-the-wheel exercises so instructors can ensure that these advanced safety skills are competently performed
To be effective, training must go beyond simply presenting new concepts. Drivers must be provided the opportunity to progress from a concept stage to properly executing the new skills.
Training is an ideal method for teaching critical safety skills to new hires or novice drivers and should be part of an ongoing strategy. Like any new skill, it must first be properly learned and if not actively practiced, it will diminish over time. Examples of where training is the right approach is learning to properly adjust mirrors to eliminate blind spots and understanding how to apply brakes to prepare for dangerous situations and warn drivers in the vehicle behind you.
Driver safety coaching is highly personalized to the individual and development focused, and because of this it should be conducted in one-to-one or one-to-two instructor to student ratios. It is an approach that is designed to guide the driver to self-identify deficiencies in their driving style and discover the potential root causes of those issues such as stress or time management issues or even health problems. Here the instructor uses tools and techniques such assessments and exploratory conversations to provide drivers with a new outlook into their current driving habits, motivating them to change poor behaviors and also encouraging them to retain positive attributes related to their driving.
A structured coaching process prepares instructors to first gain a clear understanding of a driver’s capabilities in order to direct the course to the specific needs of that driver. From there a discovery process reveals what issues need improvement, which may be a behavioral-based problem or possibly a diminished skill, followed by a plan for change and continuous improvement.
- Observation: Instructors review drivers’ behaviors and skillset through assessments or driving exercises to understand strengths and weaknesses
- Gaining Insight: Instructors use thought-provoking questions to guide drivers to self-identify the risks associated with poor behaviors and what is causing them
- Reaching Agreement: Drivers make an emotional connection to the consequences that can arise from poor driving habits and collaborate with the instructor to initiate change
- Action Planning: Instructors assist drivers in the creation of their own measurable plan to remove the risk
During this four-step process, instructors build an authentic relationship with drivers providing knowledge, opinions, and motivation but not specifically telling them how they should perform the skill or change a behavior.
Coaching is a highly effective form of instruction for managing at-risk drivers and addressing bad habits which may have been formed and reinforced over years as in the case of long-time drivers. For example, frequent fender-benders or receiving speeding tickets may stem from distracted driving or poor time management or perhaps the coaching process will reveal that the driver has developed his or her own “safe” behaviors, practicing incorrect skills and never knew it.
The drivers in your fleet have different backgrounds, life histories, and are at different levels of driving experience and each company also has its own unique set of circumstances. All these factors can help determine when training or coaching courses or a blend of both, is the right fit for your organization and the best approach for addressing specific driver deficiencies and enhancing overall competencies of the fleet. Consistently educating drivers of all experience levels and reinforcing safe driving skills and behaviors assures that your fleet will have a strong foundation of safety.