Making driver training last
18 February 2020
Author: Sean Keywood
Sean Keywood investigates how fleets seeking lasting benefits from driver training need far more than a tick-box approach.
If employee safety is as big a priority in the management of your fleet as it should be, then some form of driver training is likely to at least be a consideration at some point.
If you decide it is right for your fleet, there are a wide range of options available, from quick computer-based learning modules to in-person coaching, either in the office or out on the road. But how can you be confident that your organisation is getting lasting benefits, and therefore ensuring value for money? After all, it is no good to you if drivers can just go through the motions during a training session, then revert to old, bad habits once they are out on the road.
Road safety charity IAM Roadsmart is one organisation that runs the gamut of training options, from e-learning - soon to be updated to offer more specific options for individual fleets - to in-car training modules that last for several hours. Business development director Tony Greenidge is confident about the long-term effectiveness of its courses.
"We have had a company that has only done e-learning with us, and I think they said their crash rate had dropped by 50% and their insurance premium has dropped by a very healthy number," he says.
"Of the last 4,000 or so drivers on our eco-driving course, the average fuel saving on the day is 12% - but EST, who sponsor that element of the course, estimate that the long-term impact of that training is about 6%."
For Greenidge, among the keys to long-term results from training are organisational engagement and aiming for achievable progress rather than trying to do too much in one go.
He says: "You have got to have a culture of training embedded in the first place, and e-learning gives you very inexpensive access to a platform that allows you to grade people by response to certain questions.
"It is about giving access to high-quality information, in some cases specific to their business, to just get one or two things to register. Rather than [aiming] for the holy grail of 'spend £5 on this e-learning module and change a driver's life', we are saying if they only pick up one thing then that might just make a difference.
"If you get your driver to make bite-sized chunks of [progress] in different areas, and on content that is very specific to what they do, we feel you have got a better chance of getting a return on your investment."
When it comes to on-road training, Greenidge highlights the quality of instructors as a factor, and says the three-and-a-half hour length of sessions makes it difficult for drivers to keep up a 'pretend' act of driving well for the duration.
"[Our trainers] are very good at dealing with the Mr Know-all who says 'you can't teach me anything' - they have heard it all before," he says.
"What we say to organisations is give us the driver who you think will be the most resistant to this and we will take them out first, because if you convince that individual they will become your best advocate.
"We don't just put people in a car, go through a programme and tick a box. It is very engaged and very interactive."
Someone with strong views on the effectiveness of different driver training methods is Dr Lisa Dorn, associate professor of driver behaviour at Cranfield University.
For her, the problem with much driver training is it doesn't address the main issues behind unsafe driving, which can be the fault of employers rather than drivers.
"Driver training does not cover what causes driver distraction and inattention, nor does it consider how these human factors can be improved," she says.
"Even experienced, highly trained drivers fail on the basic driving task when they are under pressure, tired or stressed.
"Being driven to distraction due to work demands can lead to several outcomes, including a failure to respond in time to hazards, misjudging distances when emerging from junctions, and failure to accurately perceive the speed of other vehicles."
Dorn says that managers wanting to establish if work demands are to blame for poor driving performance could consider assessing their drivers' stress levels.
"You can administer a survey and look at where you have got the highest level of stress," she says. "You can target individuals as well as departments, and the kinds of interventions you would design would be specifically focused on stress reduction strategies.
"When you have identified who seems to be suffering then you can target improvement."
According to Dorn, if training for drivers is required, it should be based around behavioural change techniques (BCTs), which research has found can modify and maintain behaviour over time, even with entrenched, addictive behaviours.
"Going on driver training courses developing skills and knowledge isn't how you change the kind of behaviours [that create risk]," she says.
"BCTs that are congruent with the target behaviour can be incorporated into fleet driver safety interventions and have a more lasting effect on fleet driver behaviour.
"Driving coaching incorporating several BCTs is now being used for stressed, bored, angry, fatigued, distracted drivers."
While Greenidge is confident of the merits of in-car training, he does have similar views on how operational factors have a major part to play in fleet safety, and says feedback from training courses can be used to address this.
"There is a very comprehensive report that the trainer has to complete after each session," he explains. "What that does is allows us to look at the outcome and say 'drivers in this division of the business seem to have a problem with speed, or in this area on motorways'.
"So we can start to identify trends and then go back to the employer and see what sits behind that. And often you will find there can be a business reason, like 'they are the ones that are really under pressure because they do 20 calls in a day and they are rushing from one to the next'. So then you start to potentially work with them as to how they might mitigate that."
For Greenidge, businesses that use this sort of feedback to, for instance, change the way drivers are scheduled, will see lasting improvement.
"If you can get the right level of engagement, then there is typically always a powerful return on investment in training that can be demonstrated," he adds.
Dorn says that fleets implementing training should be sure to monitor drivers both before and after to make sure it has been effective.
"Whatever measurement you use - survey-based, telematics-based or whatever - you would do that before an intervention, then follow it up afterwards," she says.
"I would recommend following up perhaps within a couple of weeks or immediately, and then you would look at it perhaps in a month's time or two to three months and see whether or not the change has been sustained."
Dorn says BCT training does not require a driving instructor and can be handled in-house.
She says: "A driving instructor knows how to teach driving skills. Sometimes you have new drivers or foreign workers who need some updating, but mostly it is not about skills, it is about behaviour, and you don't need a driving instructor, you just need somebody that is good with personal skills.
"I have suggested in the past you could make driver record part of the appraisal process. Then the line manager is able to target it.
"[But] you should have some designated person - rather than HR or a boss - who is just there to act as the coach. If it is a small company you can have that one person recruited, with a psychology degree or who has been through coaching courses, or someone external that comes in."
Dorn says that getting employees to buy into the training is also important.
"There always needs to be quite good communication before any change to a management programme is implemented, so the workforce understand what is going to happen," she says.
"Often I have found that if you don't do that, drivers start imagining there will be some kind of restriction of their freedom, or redundancy if they don't do well. It is important employers talk about duty of care, that they want to make sure their workforce is safe, and they might also mention [the cost] of a crash, with insurance costs and so on, and mention how if they had more resources available they could do this or that instead."