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How to start a new driver training regime

Date: 16 February 2017   |   Author: Debbie Wood

It's crazy to think that employees who work in a warehouse sometimes need a full health and risk assessment to do their job, yet a company car driver can be given the keys to a car without any training at all. Just a glance at the statistics would tell you which is usually the most dangerous.

Safety, compliance and duty of care are all terms that have grown in importance among fleets in recent years and driver training is one of the necessary steps to help companies support their drivers and ensure they are as safe as possible when out on the road.

However, what isn't always clear is the best approach for companies to take when introducing training, how to convince drivers to buy into it, and when the right time is to introduce practical one-to-one instruction.

Most training providers agree that an online risk assessment is the most effective first step and should be introduced as early as possible, ideally during the company induction process.

Knowing your drivers and being able to rate them as high, medium or low risk enables fleet managers to then formulate next steps, plus new starters, according to John Davidge, head of fleet technical at Cardinus Risk Management, are normally more susceptible and open for training too.

"Newbies are at their most compliant and ready to take onboard new information. Not to include it is a significant missed opportunity," he tells BusinessCar. "Driving risk management should be targeted at reducing risks - before they happen."

Duncan Pickering, marketing development manager at road safety charity  IAM RoadSmart, agrees with Davidge and believes introducing risk management in the early employment stage enables companies to set out their stance on driver training from the beginning.

"The key to saving the most in bent metal costs is to address the problem before it becomes a big issue. The induction process is a great way to introduce the culture of road safety at the workplace and is the ideal time for a new employee to digest the driving at work policy," he says.

And the savings are clear to see: CE Electric saw a 27% reduction in on-road accidents following their adoption of IAM RoadSmart's online risk assessment, which equated to a 35% reduction in associated costs.

According to Graham Hurdle, managing director at E-Training World, there are some fleets that risk-assess drivers before they even offer a job.

"We have several clients who now risk-assess drivers 'pre-employment' to avoid taking on high-risk drivers who are most likely to have an accident with all the resulting costs, downtime and administration - let alone risk to life."

Proactive or reactive?

Although it is important to risk-assess your drivers on mass, most providers suggest that when it comes to further training, fleets need to look at each individual driver's needs and their performance to determine which steps to take next.

Rather than introducing an annual review or refresher training for all drivers, Pickering believes a change in circumstances, including a change in vehicle,  the type of roads now being driven or working hours, should trigger some sort of further training. He adds that buy-in from senior management is essential for any training to be successful.

"It has to start at the very top of the organisation chart - the MD/CEO/owner has to be seen as an advocate for road safety and for the measures being implemented. It is then much easier to cascade the programme through the rest of the organisation," he says.

Hurdle believes that safety should be something which is imbedded as part of the company culture and regular reminders of safety can be more effective than annual training.

"For driver training it's not an annual event but something that is ongoing," he tells BusinessCar. "A 20-minute online course every month goes a long way to reducing accidents and building a safe culture in the business, and is far better than a one-off annual training course."

According to Chris Thornton, sales director at AA DriveTech, once your
drivers have been highlighted as high-risk, practical training is almost always the most effective choice, but finances can govern company decisions.

"Practical training is generally accepted to be the most effective intervention for training high-risk drivers as it is considered to be the best way to influence and change driver behaviour. We recognise, however, that budgetary constraints may be an issue for organisations and the only option may be workshops or online training," he says.

Davidge agrees that on-road training is the most effective step for high-risk drivers, rather than waiting for an accident to occur or installing textbook-based learning.

"All too often drivers think that what they hear in a classroom or see online is what they are actually doing - until they spend time on-road with a fully qualified and experienced fleet trainer who is used to working with qualified business drivers and used to inspiring those drivers to want to change. Then they begin to see things differently. You can't pass a driving test by reading a book alone, or just doing an online test, can you?" he says. 

Carrot vs Stick

When it comes to whether a carrot or stick approach works best for drivers, most providers agree that rewarding drivers works better than disciplinary action. 

"I think that the best results are usually achieved when the employer works to find the optimum compromise for his own workplace and employees. Reward for not crashing, is much better than sack them once they have crashed," says Davidge.

Pickering believes that disciplinary action can be more time-consuming and have an effect on drivers' morale, and will prove, in most cases, less effective than rewarding good drivers, while AA DriveTech believes that having a disciplinary approach could discourage drivers from reporting incidents all together.

"Some employers don't reward employees for doing what is expected of them - i.e. driving safely - others incentivise their drivers for good driving behaviour," says Thornton. "There are pros and cons to both, and it largely depends on the organisation's culture. In our experience, the threat of disciplinary action may lead to collisions going unreported and being driven underground."

Hurdle suggests that both approaches have a place as there needs to be some form of consequence for repeat offenders, but discovering the root cause should be the priority, while he also advises fleets to watch out for how many high-risk drivers are highlighted. He suggests that you shouldn't have more than 8-10% of drivers in this category, and if it's above that figure perhaps re-visit the quality  of the assessment process.

"Put positive measures in place to train, encourage and reward drivers to have fewer accidents and be safer - but then also have punitive measures in place for repeat offenders," he tells BusinessCar. "Look for the root cause as to why it's happening - if you don't establish this, you may be tackling the wrong issue. Behaviour is often triggered by something, so try and decipher what may be causing it."

'Each driver is different'

Chris Thornton, sales director at driver training firm AA DriveTech, describes how best to tailor courses for individual drivers.

The days of delivering the same driver training to every driver - the 'sheep dip' approach - are long gone. Organisations now rightly expect that the money they invest in driver training not only means safer drivers and duty-of-care compliance, but that it also delivers significant financial costs savings.

At AA DriveTech, experience shows us that one size does not fit all. The company is in the business of challenging a driver's core beliefs and changing hearts and minds. We call this 'driver ABC' - attitude, behaviour and competence - and each driver is different.

So how do you tailor a course to the needs of the driver? We believe that gathering data about your driver, you might call this a 'driving DNA profile', is the best approach.

Clearly, online assessment results, points on a licence and collision statistics can all play a part in building up an individual profile. In addition, the use of in-car telematics delivering real-time data on speeding, acceleration and braking profiles can also help piece together the jigsaw. In-car cameras - both forward and rear-facing - can bring new insights, and driver biometrics, an emerging technology that identifies stress events while driving, will also play its part in the future.

By building this information at an individual driver level, and then aggregating this data to give an overall view of an entire business driving community, is very powerful and delivers real insight.