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Training day

Date: 05 November 2018   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Jack Carfrae asks road safety and training specialists whether incentives or punitive measures are superior for influencing driver behaviour, and which methods generate the best results.

Draconian teaching methods are less popular than they used to be, but you still find the occasional individual who thinks we should bring back caning at schools. Granted, that's a tad extreme, but balanced education systems typically necessitate a yin and yang of incentive and punishment - rewards for the best performers and penalties for repeat offenders. 

The same applies to driver training. It's often implemented only when a company realises it has a problem with rogue employees, so there can be a temptation to go in heavy handed, but specialists agree that the best programmes mix motivation and consequence. 

"The key is getting the balance right," says Graham Hurdle, managing director of online driver training firm E-Training World. "Drivers who are punished for small misdemeanours are going to become resentful, so penalties should only be imposed for repeat offenders and those with a complete disregard for their company vehicle. For example, if someone has had more than one at-fault incident in a year, it doesn't seem unreasonable to charge them a portion towards the repairs, and if they then have more incidents, the bill should go up. 


"But if a driver with an impeccable track record has a one-off incident, it would seem harsh to make them pay. Likewise, if you make the reward too easy, it won't motivate drivers properly, so rewards should be geared towards drivers whose vehicle is not only undamaged, but well driven, regularly safety checked and clean." 

"I think carrot's always better than stick - but stick's got its place," adds David Higginbottom, CEO of Driver First Assist, which specialises in training at-work drivers to assist at accident scenes. "Stick is more appropriate when people don't respond to reasonable incentives - when they just disregard whatever you're trying to do to improve safety."

Conversely, some businesses approach training with trepidation. They may be faced with glaringly problematic drivers, but can be reluctant to address them because they don't want to upset critical employees. It happens more frequently than you'd think, according to Tony Greenidge, business development director at road safety charity and training provider IAM Roadsmart. 

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"We find that most organisations err on the side of, 'we'll do whatever we can get away with without upsetting the driver'. It's a case of do you want to take your best engineer or sales person to task over their driving ability and risk them saying, 'I'm going to go and join A, B or C competitor'? Very often, the people that make the strategic decisions want to put them through training, but where you get the resistance is that immediate middle management, the line manager, who says 'I can't afford to upset him', so they end up just putting it off." 

Line managers are vital to the success of a training programme. As much as fleet operators and company directors might be behind it, there's a strong chance that best practice won't filter through to drivers unless their immediate superiors are willing to practice what they preach - and keep preaching. 

Hurdle explains, "The person the drivers report to is critical to success. Take, for example, two different types of sales manager. One tells his team not to worry about what the fleet manager is saying about accidents; just get out there and hit your targets. The other is supporting the fleet manager and taking any form of vehicle damage seriously. Those are the people who are pivotal for a company's road safety culture to work or not. 

Mark Cartwright

"We once worked with two depots of a major supermarket to prove this point. We invested time with middle managers [at one site] and the accident rates plummeted compared to the rest of their depots across the country."

It's been said before, but any initiatives also need to come from the top down. Fundamental though line managers are, watching the managing director exit the car park at speed, phone pressed to ear, isn't likely to encourage other members of staff to buy into a recently announced safety scheme, but those that start by training upper management set a strong precedent from the off.   

"We work with Certas Energy, which is the biggest oil distribution company in the UK," says Higginbottom. "We're on a programme to train all 1,000 of their drivers, which started with their senior management team to lead by example. If you're in a training programme, make sure you've got all your key people on it. You'll get far better engagement if everybody realises that the people who are doing the telling are actually doing the doing."

That's part of a wider initiative of convincing staff that training is genuinely in their best interests, rather than a prosaic procedure. According to Higginbottom, it's well worth ensuring that employees know any kind of driver training is for their benefit as much as anything, as the reaction and subsequent results will be far better than if it's presented as an anonymous and mundane formality. 

"If you can demonstrate to drivers that your safety strategy is well meaning, sincere and genuine - in other words, you are genuinely trying to improve or maintain the health and safety of your guys rather than it solely being a compliance, box-ticking exercise - then you're more likely to get people to engage, and the outcomes generally tend to be much better," he says.

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Training is obviously not mandatory for anyone operating conventional vehicles that weigh less than 3.5t and that alone is a selling point to drivers. It proves that, if you're doing it, it's not because of an enforced regulation, and the act of clearly stating as much cannot be underestimated. 

Mark Cartwright, head of vans at the Freight Transport Association, which runs its own LCV driver training scheme, explains why it's all in the communication: "A couple of years ago, we had a phone call from one of our major fleets, who had decided of their own volition to put their van drivers through a truck driver CPC. 

"They didn't have to do it; it was a fleet with something like 1,000 van drivers and 100 truck drivers, but they also had their own in-house training facility that could deliver CPC, so other than a bit of time off the road, it wasn't too much of a problem. The majority of the van drivers responded really well to it, mainly because they felt that they were being taken seriously and invested in as a professional driver. 

"They saw improvements in mpg, they saw improvements in crash rates and, actually, one of the things that was really important to them was that they saw an improvement in their driver retention rate, because driver recruitment is a big cost for them. If you take that as a model, I think there is a massive opportunity for well-placed, well-designed training for all types of drivers." 

Another point on which specialists agree is that the delivery of the course itself - be it in a classroom, in-vehicle or online - will absolutely determine whether or not the messages sink in. It's therefore worth doing your homework before buying into a programme, and may even be worth trying a few for size from a delegate's perspective if possible. 

David Higginbottom

"If the content of the training is good and the objectives are clear then it all becomes a great leveller; everybody just buys in and gets on with it," says Higginbottom. "It's invariably down to quality and people on the course believing in the integrity of the people delivering it."

"One of the things that's always very, very keen is having decent trainers," adds Cartwright. "You need people who can engage, because it's probably been a long time since the delegates have been in a classroom." 

Finally, it is worth considering the way in which the concept of training is framed. It again comes back to adept communication, but reinforcing the idea that driving is very much part of what the individual is paid to do and likely the riskiest component of their job, puts a different spin on it. Considering it an essential activity, instead of a supplementary one, can lead employees to think differently about their approach to driving for work, as Cartwright explains. 

"Whether it's a high-mileage company car driver or a van driver, it's about the recognition of their responsibilities. If somebody asked me what I did for a living, I wouldn't say I'm a professional driver - but I do 35,000 miles a year, so I am, but I wouldn't describe myself as such. I'm not a professional driver in the way that Lewis Hamilton is or the way that somebody driving for Stobart is, but the biggest risk I've got of killing myself is while I'm driving, and I think a good chunk of the individual's response to training is actually about their self-esteem and their recognition of their role as a professional driver.

"A big part of any safety, compliance and even efficiency training is about the driver recognising their responsibilities and wanting to aspire to and be recognised as being better, and also becoming aware of their limitations."