Designing and implementing a training programme can help a company keep its drivers safe and reduce costs. Ben Rooth reports.
A robust driver training programme has numerous benefits for a company.
These include improving the safety of both employees and other road users, helping a company’s bottom line by reducing the need for repairs and vehicle downtime, and cutting insurance premiums.
However, a fleet manager considering introducing or refreshing their driver training regime faces a number of decisions, including: how do they identify who could benefit from training, what method is best and how do they implement their strategy?
We look at the three key steps.
1. Identify your driver training needs
“All training requirements need to be based on the fullest understanding of risk associated with the driver, vehicle and journey,” says Andy Phillips, director of driver risk manage-ment company Applied Driving Techniques (ADT).
Key to this is the accurate capture of data. This can come from a variety of sources such as collision reports, licence checks, telematics and online – as well as on-road – driver risk assessments.
Once this is collected, it needs to be correctly analysed – the most challenging part, according to driver training experts.
For example, looking at collision statistics will identify higher risk drivers, but only after they’ve had an incident.
Predicting who those individuals will be before an accident occurs is more challenging.
Chris Thornton, sales director of driver training company DriveTech, part of The AA, says: “It’s a well-established fact that drivers who crash are generally at higher risk exposure than others.
“As a result, many organisations use historic accident information to identify those drivers who need additional training.
“Using history, however, is, by definition, a reactive approach.
“If crash details are not known, the number of points on a licence can also be a good guide to a driver’s risk exposure but the number of points doesn’t give the whole story either.”
According to DriveTech, the best way to identify high-risk drivers is to combine all existing driver information with a formal assessment covering their ‘ABC’ – attitude, behaviour and competence – to provide the most comprehensive driver risk profile.
One way of creating wide-ranging driver profiles is the use of telematics, according to Beverley Wise (pictured), director UK and Ireland of TomTom Telematics.
“The data collected can form a foundation stone to help fleets create more accurate risk profiles for individual drivers, enabling them to identify the root causes of unsafe practice and track improvements over time,” she says.
“The technology can score drivers on areas including speeding, idling, harsh steering or braking and fuel consumption.
“This allows the easy establishment of performance benchmarks and the identification of problem trends.
“Managers are able to drill down into individual areas of performance to gain greater insights into specific problems.”
However, Gary Bates, a director at road safety charity IAM Roadsmart, says telematics on its own does not identify why vehicles are being driven in a particular way.
“The data generated may provide a helpful starting point for identifying specific areas of focus for individual drivers or a fleet as a whole, offering a picture based on mileages or average speeds,” he adds.
“But this data is always open to interpretation and is never a substitute for having a qualified instructor observe a driver’s behaviour and coming to an understanding of the real-world pressures affecting them on the road in their particular jobs.”
Some experts maintain that targeted online risk assessments are also essential when it comes to determining a driver training programme.
Jonathan Mosley (pictured below), sales director at E-Training World, an online driver profiling and e-training company, says: “The reason they’re so important is because they’re a pre-event mechanism that means you predict which drivers are at most risk.
“You can then intervene and provide relevant training before they have an incident.
“It’s also extremely quick and cost-effective – 20 minutes per driver and you have a profile of everyone’s risk ratings and training needs.”
2. Identify the right training methods
The best training methods will be determined from the training needs analysis (see point 1 facing) and subsequently deciding exactly what skills and knowledge drivers need to possess and develop.
This process often comes down to a balance between need and costs.
The options include online modular training courses, often referred to as e-learning, bespoke group training sessions, off-the-shelf group training sessions aimed at, for example, resolving common accidents like rear-end low-speed shunts, and one-to-one on-the-road training.
“Our belief is that the best way to change driver behaviour for the better is to work at a human level and coach drivers to make better driver decisions,” says DriveTech’s Thornton.
“This is best done face-to-face, usually by driving in the real world. It enables coach and driver to discuss issues so the driver can reflect on the training and make driving decisions based on more knowledge and a better understanding of defensive driving skills.
“However, not all drivers necessarily need this level of training, maybe just high-risk exposure drivers.
“Online learning and workshops for drivers and managers are less expensive to run and can deliver excellent results.”
E-Training World’s Mosley feels on-road one-to-one training is best for high-risk drivers who account for 10% of drivers according to his company’s online profiling system.
“Online training is perfect for medium-risk drivers – who account for approximately 70% of the total – and low risk drivers do not necessarily need training,” he adds.
“Nonetheless, some companies choose to put all drivers through courses such as avoiding rear-end collisions and parking and manoeuvring, given hitting third parties in the rear and small knocks and bumps tends to feature most frequently in their accident statistics.”
IAM’s Bates says business drivers covering high motorway mileage can particularly benefit from group sessions or e-learning modules focused on dealing with distractions, managing speed and the theoretical aspects of eco driving.
“These types of training are popular among businesses with field-based teams who may have limited opportunity to take part in on-road sessions, or perhaps for businesses with a large number of staff for whom driving for work is a less significant part of their job,” he adds.
Martin Lamb, head of training at Fleet Source, says the training needs of an organisation should be constantly reviewed, refreshed and revised to ensure that training delivery remains current and not dated.
“Consideration needs to be given to the nature and functions of the workforce as well as the roles and responsibilities associated with them,” he adds.
3. Implement your driver training plan
Implementing the plan is “the most crucial element to get right”, says Andy Wheeler, business development director at driver training company TTC DriverProtect.
“Drivers need to know why they are undertaking a driver assessment or training programme, what the outcomes are if they require additional training and what the benefits to them are personally,” he adds.
“Consequently, a full communication strategy and proper launch with the drivers is essential and this should involve senior management leading by example.
“This means that they should undertake the same assessment and training process as the rest of their staff.”
DriveTech’s Thornton agrees that senior leadership buy-in is a vital component in launching a successful programme.
“In addition, the programme must be consistent with – and aligned with – the safety culture of the business,” he adds.
“In some industries, safety is a number one priority and therefore a road risk reduction programme can fit easily into the business and drivers will be receptive to participating.
“In companies where safety is not such a strategic issue, appropriate communications can play a vital part in underpinning the success of the new programme.”
Training pros and cons
The main advantages and disadvantages of the different types of training sessions are:
- Full on-road driving for work courses
Advantages: Usually carried out on a one-to-one basis which means the instructor can observe and work directly with the delegate. It allows principles to be put into practice with immediate and memorable results.
Disadvantages: This method can be time-consuming and more expensive than group seminars or e-learning.
- Modular on-road training courses
Advantages: Less time-consuming and costly than full courses as they can be focused specifically on identified business needs.
Disadvantages: Limited in scope compared with a full driving for work course.
- Seminars and group workshops
Advantages: They’re inexpensive to run and allow you to train a lot of people at once.
Disadvantages: There’s no practical element and no individual driver assessment.
Advantages: Convenient and inexpensive – and a quick and easy way to record training compliance.
Disadvantages: Once again, there’s no practical element and “less engaging” than face-to-face training.
Source: IAM Roadsmart
Case study: Rhodar
Specialist asbestos removal company Rhodar has implemented a driver training programme that will ensure all its drivers have received one-to-one training by October.
The move is intended to ensure the company’s fleet consistently operates as safely as possible.
Steve Haigh, group transport manager at Rhodar (pictured), says: “As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth every penny to pay for the services of a professional driver training company.
Within weeks of colleagues attending this course we noticed improved collision rates and I’m convinced the cost of the course quickly pays for itself in terms of reduced repair costs and insurance premiums.
“We’ve told colleagues what we’re doing and why we’re doing it throughout the whole process and I think that this has resulted in great acceptance.”
Rhodar operates 200 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, 100 company cars and up to 50 daily rental vehicles.
Haigh decided to change Rhodar’s driver training programme at the start of the new financial year after accident reports showed that there had been a “marked increase” in like-for-like collisions between 2015 and 2016.
He attributes this to issues linked to amalgamating a newly purchased company into Rhodar’s operations, colleagues being asked to drive larger vans and the recruitment of younger drivers.
Haigh subsequently recruited DriveTech to train every driver. “We found ourselves having a few low-level, but expensive, accidents like colleagues reversing into posts because they were unfamiliar with their vehicle’s size,” he says.
“The situation instantly improved after they’d spent time with the trainers. My view is the best results tend to come from one-to-one training, especially if that colleague knows their performance will be appraised and sent back to the management team. I also had the buy-in from the board here, which I regard to be imperative.”
Case study: The Clancy Group
National construction business The Clancy Group relies on carefully analysed data to shape its award-winning driver training programme.
This data is sourced from telematics, particularly statistics relating to fuel consumption and braking, as well as forward-facing cameras.
Colin Knight (pictured), head of fleet safety management and compliance at Clancy, says: “Our programme is consistently shaped by the best possible data at our disposal which is then carefully analysed to ensure the programme we implement is entirely appropriate for drivers.”
The company operates a combined fleet of 150 HGVs, 1,400 vans and 400 company cars as well as 100 grey fleet vehicles across seven depots nationally.
Earlier this summer, Bernie Stack – one of the group’s directors – was presented with a RoSPA Gold Fleet Safety award for the driver training programme.
This programme initially identified about 20% of all drivers to be ‘higher’ – rather than ‘high’ – risk.
“One of the keys to improving this situation has been engagement,” says Knight. “We’ve consistently told colleagues about the programme we’re implementing as part of our 2020 Vision to cut carbon dioxide emissions and driver collisions.
“Once we’ve identified through the data that a colleague is higher risk, we talk to them and decide whether there’s a need for a speeding or a collision workshop. We have our own team of five driver mentors who can work with them as well as their immediate line managers.
“Over the past seven consecutive months, we’ve seen a reduction in collisions, and have every intention of maintaining this momentum.”
Knight advises fleet managers to “examine the data holistically” before drawing up a carefully tailored plan.
“Once you’ve identified the right way forward for your organisation, it’s then imperative that you get buy-in from senior management,” he says.