December 2010 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Driven to Succeed: Building a Safer Fleet

Tags: Safety

Dan Steere is CEO of GreenRoad. 650-551-1542

When it comes to managing fleets, we all want to make safety a top priority. But creating a safety culture isn’t easy. And the unfortunate fact is that much of what we do to promote safety simply isn’t effective.

States that passed anti-texting bans actually saw an increase in accidents, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Legislation and regulation— negative reinforcement— alone cannot change driving behavior or create a culture of safety. Data shows that the carrot is just as important as the stick— maybe more so.

Valuable and productive feedback must come in two forms. Drivers must know what they are doing wrong, such as speeding, weaving between lanes, or not allowing enough following distance. But they must also be told what they are doing right— for example, preparing in advance for a turn, reading the road, and maintaining appropriate speed.

We all know how high the stakes can be when it comes to driving safety. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of work-related deaths, and they cost more than $230 billion a year in the United States alone. For fleets, the associated insurance, maintenance, and new vehicle costs represent large expenditures and cost-savings opportunities.

Companies can improve driver safety by using the following five principles to create a culture of safety:

1. Take a balanced approach. Are your safety efforts focused solely on punishing or removing poorly performing drivers? In motivating behavioral improvement, keep in mind that positive reinforcement for a job well done is as important as punitive measures. Avoid approaches that focus primarily on “claims and blames.”

2. Motivate through competition. Most professional drivers are innately competitive— they want to be the best at what they do. Fleet managers who foster an environment of healthy, safety-focused competition can create a culture that values safety. Some innovative ideas that fleet companies have started to employ include providing monthly rankings of driver safety performance and letting fleets compete against each other for safety performance.

3. Use recognition and rewards. Sincere and public recognition of good performers, and monetary rewards— even modest amounts— make a big difference. And because fleets that improve their safety also improve their bottom line by reducing repair, maintenance, and insurance costs, passing along some of the savings can be a great motivator.

4. Understand the route. No matter how good the driver, some intersections and turns are simply unsafe. Collecting internal reports and reviewing external data on the locations of accidents can quickly illuminate high-risk routes to avoid whenever possible.

5. Provide the guidance your drivers need to be successful. Drivers need guidance tailored to their unique driving styles. They will make little lasting improvement without targeted instruction. Make sure you have a support system in place that provides the personalized guidance drivers need to meet the objectives you’ve set for them.

The stakes are high. The time is now. We must abandon the traditional, punitive models of driving safety and recognize that constant feedback and reinforcement are the only truly effective ways to make sustainable changes in the way we drive.