Fleet operators are perplexed. In the past few years sizable investments have been made in equipping vehicles with the newest safety technologies, implementing telematics, perhaps trying predictive analytics, increasing the frequency.
Consider this. The latest estimate is that last year traffic crashes cost employers approximately $67 billion. Five years ago this amount was nearly $57 billion [Note: on-the-job crashes represent about 44 percent of these costs]. That is a $10 billion swing in the past five years. It is the same five years during which fleet operators began taking advantage of all the available safety technologies.
With the extra dollars invested in these technological advancements, shouldn’t the numbers be improving for fleet operators who have done an impressive job focusing on safety using these resources? In many individual cases, numbers are improving however, overall, fleet operators continue to be challenged with poorer than anticipated results. Why is that?
There is no one specific answer. Traffic safety professionals can identify several factors which contribute to this troubling trend but a key factor, which ironically is seldom mentioned, is that fleet operators are hiring essentially "unskilled" workers. These individuals may be highly adept in their field, whether it’s as a service technician or sales person, etc., however, when it comes to safely and skillfully operating a vehicle, most candidates are woefully under qualified.
Are Your Fleet Drivers "Unskilled"?
Under qualified? Yes. Over the years training standards to obtain a driver’s license have eroded. At public schools, funding has been an issue and in too many cases, driver’s education has been dropped from school programs. Fewer people are receiving any professional training whatsoever to obtain a license. John Ulczycki, former National Safety Council VP of strategic initiatives, while discussing this very topic stated, “There are more kids on the road without even the basic education and skills that kids used to get”.
Exacerbating this dilemma further, the national average for the hands-on portion of driver’s education is now only six hours. There are even some states that have no minimum time requirements. Peter Kissinger, president and chief executive of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said that cutbacks have spawned “faster, cheaper, but not necessarily better programs.” Online programs, which are available in 15 states, he said, “are virtually unregulated”.
To be fair, most driver education courses actually do cover at least some of the psycho-motor, perceptual, and cognitive skills which are fundamental to collision avoidance. The problem is that they are usually covered in a relatively superficial manner, owing to the scope of topics being presented and the limited time frame available.
Best Practices Versus Self-Learned Habits
Who really trained that applicant you will be entrusting to safely operate your company vehicle? And, did that instruction include a focus on safe driving practices or was the time spent learning how to successfully parallel park? After those initial, if that, six hours, who followed up with the newly licensed driver to make sure that this novice operator continued learning and practicing solid defensive driving techniques and habits? Did he or she learn any to begin with? Or once receiving a license, was your applicant’s continued learning just a form of self-taught trial and error? What poor habits were unwittingly hardwired over the years which he or she is now bringing to your fleet?
If you are relying on whatever form of driver’s education training that they may have participated in, then the investment you have made in vehicle technology is resting on a weak foundation and your organization will be at a disadvantage to achieve its safety goals. As fleet operators continue to leverage many of the latest digital technologies remember that the most effective and sophisticated vehicle upgrade is installing a highly skilled and self-aware operator behind the wheel.