Around twenty years ago I was doing some subcontract work for a couple of fleet driver training companies, which involved working with drivers from a wide range of fleets. Most of these fleets were rank-and-file, while a select few were exceptional. And I do mean exceptional.
Whereas many fleets might average forty or fifty thousand vehicle miles between collisions, these exceptional fleets averaged half a million miles or more. So their crash-avoidance performance wasn’t a few percent better; it was a thousand percent better.
I was hired to deliver training (which the exceptional drivers didn’t need; a theme I’ve discussed in a number of articles). But I was also using the opportunity to learn all I could about the effective management of driver behaviour in businesses, having recently left the world of driving schools and instructor training.
The common characteristic
I found that there was one characteristic that was common to all the exceptional fleets: their drivers knew exactly how they were expected to behave.
The drivers all exhibited a very low-risk style of driving (not surprising given the fleets’ very low crash-rate). When I asked them why they drove in that manner, they invariably said something like: “Because the company clearly and frequently communicates that driving safely when we’re travelling by road is the highest priority. Nothing must interfere with safe driving; nothing is more important. We must never be in hurry, we must never drive while tired, and we must not allow ourselves to be distracted.”
Note that these companies did not assume that their drivers would behave in this manner, as seems to be the case in the majority of fleets; they communicated that policy clearly and frequently. And what worked twenty years ago works just as well today. Making sure that your drivers know exactly how they are expected to behave at the wheel is at the very foundation of any programme to measure and, as necessary, to improve driving performance.
That means that you have to define clearly the expected behaviour. There should be specific descriptions of appropriate behaviour and equally specific descriptions of behaviour that will not be tolerated, not vague generalisations like, “All employees must drive safely.” Then the policy has to be communicated effectively and repeatedly.
Don’t hide the message
It’s not enough to have clear descriptions of minimum standards of driver behaviour in contracts of employment—where they should be, because this is part of the description of the employee’s professional duties. Neither is it sufficient to set out acceptable (and unacceptable) driver behaviour in the company vehicle users’ handbook.
Documents such as those provide reference sources of policies, but the essential messages with regard to acceptable driver behaviour must be reinforced continually.
- When employees join the business, this should be an important part of their induction.
- When managers are delegating work that involves driving, they should remind workers of their responsibility to comply with acceptable standards of driver behaviour.
- Driver behaviour should be an important part of employees’ performance reviews.
- Driver behaviour should be part of awareness campaigns.
- And so on.
The aim is to make the expectation of high standards of driver behaviour an intrinsic part of the company’s culture. To the extent that it becomes a core value of the business. That is what the exceptional fleets do.