DRIVER TRAINING: Back to school behind the wheel
26 February 2013
Driver training continues to be a hot topic in the world of fleet as businesses battle to balance cost and risk management. Rachel Burgess considers the options available and their respective pros and cons.
It is the perennial question for business car managers: exactly what driver training is required?
Naturally it depends on what you want to achieve for your company car drivers and what budget you have. The most common training currently undertaken covers eco-driving techniques and risk management, but what is the most effective way of educating drivers - in-car, classroom teaching or online?
The biggest mistake that most companies make is to only train drivers once and then believe the
job is done, according to Graham Hurdle, the managing director of E-Training World. "Whether it's
for eco purposes or general risk management, companies must instill a culture within their business that will become part of the values of the employees who work for them," he says.
Gareth Morgan, driver training standards manager for South Wales Police, adds that it's essential in
these austere times to still deliver training. "We must be smarter, and by constantly reviewing our approach we can make effective efficiency savings across a range of interventions," he says. "And remember, you don't need to go on road to assess your fleet risk."
On the road
For many, though, training in a vehicle remains the best approach. Why? In so many cases, drivers will swear they are good at keeping their distance and slowing down in advance, but the number of shunt accidents indicates this is not the case, says John Davidge, head of fleet technical for Cardinus Risk Management. "Similarly, all drivers think they are good at observation, but the number of objects they reverse into or hit tells a different story! It is only when drivers go out on the road, for eco and risk management, that they really begin to see what can be learned or changed or done differently," according to Davidge.
Peak Performance's training director Les Hammond agrees: "Call me old-fashioned but there's really no substitute for a highly qualified driver trainer having a one-to-one session with a fleet driver, preferably in the vehicle that he or she drives on a regular basis.
"I can guarantee that the nuggets of information the trainer will come out with during that training session will make a lasting impression on the trainee, not only changing their attitude and behaviour for the better but also making them develop a thirst for more knowledge."
The Energy Saving Trust, which focuses on eco driving techniques has learned by trial and error that short-duration in-car training is most effective. "When we first got involved with eco-driving in 2005 we initially started with classroom training but we quickly decided that wasn't the best approach," explains Bob Saynor, manager of EST's driver training programme. "That was partly because feedback wasn't great but also because to those of us running the courses it was clear that the classroom situation wasn't ideal. For example, what do you really mean by 'greater anticipation' if you can't demonstrate it? And for gear changes in a classroom situation you're likely to fall back on simplified advice such as 'change up between X and Y rpm', whereas in-car you can help a driver to experiment a little to ascertain the correct revs according to the specific vehicle and situation."
In the classroom
Classroom training is a cheaper alternative to in-car training, educating people in groups but still taking employees away from the office. So, is it a worthwhile use of time and money? "With classroom scenarios, the trainer starts to get feedback very quickly and can gauge receptiveness in a short space of time," says AA DriveTech fleet director Simon Stammers. "If you provoke lots of interaction with the participants this can be a highly effective way of changing hearts and minds, and you are dealing with anything between six and 30 people at a time so in terms of economies of scales, it's a winner."
Educating drivers in the classroom can be a highly effective way of changing hearts and minds
While in-car training is most effective, Peak Performance's Hammond says it's important to be realistic and recognise that due to the relatively inexpensive method of delivery a group workshop is a good alternative: "You still have the interaction with a highly qualified and eloquent trainer but you can have 24 drivers receiving the information and advice at any one time. In terms of getting the message across to large numbers you just can't beat a driver-safety workshop."
Online training represents excellent value for money, taking away the manpower and also minimising employee downtime. South Wales Police's Morgan thinks online training can be cheaper and reach a wider audience very quickly, and in addition can be very effective at getting across a particular message, but must form part of a training programme.
Cardinus' Davidge says e-learning can be effective, depending on how good the programme is in engaging with the delegate. "This method is also a good way to reinforce messages or help someone who needs a reminder or just a 'light touch'," he adds. "Or it can provide a focus on more limited aspects that help to prick the conscience of a 'not-too-bad driver'." He says it's worth remembering that the cost of training needs to be proportionate to the expense/risk, but it must be good, targeted training.
But while a combination of workshop and online-based modules can deliver affordable driving courses fairly effectively, AA DriveTech's Stammers warns that the only way to influence a driver with a history of repeat collisions is to sit him in with a professional trainer. Indeed, both in-car and classroom works effectively for behaviour change, while e-learning is a useful tool to provide knowledge training, says RoSPA's head of driver training Rick Wood.
Vehicle running costs can represent a significant proportion of an organisation's budget, so if you reduce crashes and fuel expenditure you can make a big difference to profitability - and in this tough economic climate, any savings are welcome. "Keeping drivers out of trouble and mindful of the significance of cutting down on fuel usage are dual benefits that every modern business should be embracing," says Hammond.
EST's Saynor adds that for eco driving, fleets would see better returns by spreading the budget to train a larger number of drivers with short-duration training rather than a small proportion on full- or half-day courses costing hundreds of pounds. Fleets too should also pay more attention to fuel economy: "Many now focus greatly on official mpg figures when procuring vehicles but tend to neglect the role of the driver in delivering the actual mpg," he explains.
Institute of Car Fleet Management council member Mark Holyoake continues: "Often overlooked is that experienced fleet managers understand the requirements of both the business and the business drivers and can specify the right fleet mix. There is no point in specifying under-powered, large diesel cars if the end result is that drivers rev them hard and destroy the anticipated fuel consumption figures. Initial careful specification of the right fleet mix should come first before eco driver training."
When it comes to risk management training there are relevant questions that a fleet manager should be asking, such as who seems to be more prone to having collisions, and who is less experienced, in a strange vehicle or a different area of the country.
"It is very tempting to look for those who have had collisions and just target them," comments Davidge, "but it does miss the point that the aim of any risk management process should be to identify areas of risk and to take appropriate measures before the incident actually happens. Good risk management should be about saving money - beforehand."
Planning is everything, says Stammers. "If you have no benchmark to start from you cannot set your objectives and plan the most effective way of meeting them. We always encourage our customers to involve us at an early stage to assess what needs doing and how. By working together you don't go up any blind alleys, alleys that inevitably waste time and money." IAM Drive & Survive head of training Simon Elstow adds that firms can judge what driver training is needed and effectiveness through risk assessment online that identifies high-mileage drivers, as well as telematics, fuel card data and asking drivers themselves - a suggestion that often surprises companies, he says.
Unsurprisingly, combining online, classroom and in-car training is widely thought to be the best approach to driver training. "It's not really a case of deciding which individual forms of training and intervention are most suitable and effective," says E-Training World's Hurdle. "For example, is in-vehicle training better than classroom workshops or online training? The reality is they should all be utilised to provide ongoing education to drivers, while also keeping the topic of safe- and eco-driving at the forefront of their minds."
He continues: "The reality is that on-road and online firms both sit comfortably side by side. A driver who has benefitted from on-road training can have his education topped up frequently and at very low cost by online courses. Likewise, some drivers who have been on an online driver training course never quite grasp certain aspects of safe- and eco-driving and need the personal tuition of someone in a vehicle alongside them."
Online training is a good way of reinforcing a particular message and represents value for money
Driver training is not something that you can just pick up and put down on a whim, according to Hammond. He says to really make a difference you have to keep drip-feeding the messages over time: "It doesn't always have to be face-to-face training either. A mixture of activity is best because it keeps it fresh. You might do an in-vehicle session for high-mileage drivers once every two years, run an annual driver of the year competition and put on a target topic workshop every six months. This pro-active training can be supplemented with emailing regular driver-safety bulletins or offering attractive bonuses for those that avoid collisions."
South Wales Police's Morgan concludes: "Too many [firms] look solely at the 'we've always done it this way perspective' rather than an enhanced blended approach by looking at individual and organisation needs. By bringing together relevant players such as fleet, HSE and training, you're better enabled to point the training where it is needed rather than doing a one-cap-fits-all corporate box-ticking exercise."