According to the American Trucking Association, driver turnover continues to present major challenges for fleets. In the third-quarter of 2019 (the latest figures available), turnover topped out at 92% for large fleets and 74% for smaller ones. Within those numbers, 85% of turnover occurs among new drivers with less than 180 days of tenure.
Turnover causes several problems: it raises costs considerably by forcing fleets to constantly recruit and train new drivers, it impacts the customer experience by removing the consistency of a regular route driver, and it impacts safety.
The latter is perhaps the most important. Engaged, experienced drivers are the best way to run a safe fleet. Engaged drivers feel more connected to their workplaces (their vehicles). This makes them more aware of their surroundings and more focused on the task at hand. Research has shown that 70% fewer safety incidents occur in highly engaged workplaces.
Top Elements of a Driver-Engagement Program
A formal driver-engagement program can help – however, in my experience, very few fleets have one.
Here are 5 key elements of a driver engagement program, proven to keep your drivers happy and safe.
- Create an internal communications program that helps drivers understand the impact their individual actions have on organization-wide safety. Drivers who understand where they fit in the big picture are more likely to be aware of their impact, and drive accordingly. Share companywide safety benchmarks and goals.
- Share individual and fleet-wide safety progress with all drivers. This can be done very simply with leaderboard reports posted in a breakroom, anonymously ranking all drivers. Should they have a low rank on the leaderboard, it can serve as motivation for them to do better. Should they rank high, it urges them to continue to drive safely to stay at the position, a definite plus for your fleet.
Many fleets are starting to take this a step further by providing drivers with apps where they can see their own data, fleet-wide data, and even participate in games or contests (known in the industry as “gamification”) designed to inspire safe driving practices by using rewards at the end. For instances, the driving team that has the highest safety scores wins a cash prize, extra paid time off, or a team dinner. (We worked with one fleet in Texas whose drivers all wanted a coveted company belt buckle that was bestowed once a year on the driver with the top safety profile – you’ll know best what motivates your drivers.)
Drivers scores are triggered by their behavior on the road, such as speeding or braking too harshly. These scores are then collated and displayed in the app so that drivers can log in to see whether they fall in the red, amber or green zone. Drivers can drill down to see what behaviors impacted their scores, helping them assess their performance and determine in which areas they need to improve.
- Provide in-cab coaching to drivers to help improve safety. Some fleet management systems now allow fleets to coach drivers right in the cab based on engine and telematics data. This could be as simple as an automatic audio alert from the on-board computer when a driver is approaching a speed limit – or as sophisticated as a personal audio message from a manager reminding the driver to slow down, be mindful of harsh braking, or be aware of impending bad weather.
- Layer on video coaching. In-cab video is one of the fastest-growing areas of telematics. According to Frost & Sullivan, the market for video telematics will grow by 22.2% from 2020-2025, to 3.2 million subscribers. Video telematics can reduce collisions by 60%, and can reduce collision costs by 75%. Visual evidence collected by in-cab cameras is a powerful tool for insurance claims and driver safety training.
While few fleets have the resources to monitor live video feeds, many are capturing video when an event – such as harsh braking or a crash – occur. These videos are training gold, enabling managers to review a specific incident and coach drivers on how they might handle things better next time. Coaching can be on an individual level, or one-to-many via Zoom or on-demand online videos.
- Provide drivers with a playbook based on advocacy from other drivers. When your fleet has a safety or driving win – such as bringing a driver from a mediocre safety rating to a high one through training, or proving with video that a driver was not responsible for a crash – share that success with all drivers. Testimonials from other drivers may be the best way to get your team to be more aware of the impact their driving practices have, not just on your fleet but on others with whom they share the roads.
4 Best Practices for Safety Feedback
Here are some best practices for sharing safety feedback with drivers:
- Be specific. Don’t just say their performance is poor. Give the driver specific examples of why this is the case.
- Describe practical actions that drivers can take to do something about negative performance feedback they may be receiving.
- Ask for the driver’s feedback as well, as it shouldn’t be a one-way street. Give drivers the opportunity to voice their opinion.
- Be honest and sincere in your approach. Most people can detect insincerity and will not respond positively when this is the case.
Fleets – and drivers, for that matter – can’t fix what they can’t measure. Data collection is the key to improving driver engagement and a fleet’s overall safety profile. Taking these steps demonstrates to drivers that you care about their safety, value their contribution to safety, and are taking active steps to help them improve their skills over time.
About the Author: Jonathan Bates, Executive Vice President of Marketing at MiX Telematics has worked passionately in the fleet industry for more than 15 years, both at a leading commercial vehicle OEM and at MiX Telematics. His experience spans product management and market strategy, focused on road-related safety and best practices. This article was authored and edited according to WT editorial standards and style to provide useful information to our readers. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.