Coaching for success

Telematics, data, cameras, ELD, we are in an age of trucking where the organization can be overwhelmed with information. Keeping our fleet safe and protected from the dreaded nuclear verdict is a major concern that keeps many a safety manager awake at night. I will go over some ways to look at the data and utilize it to coach your drivers.

There was a time when we did not know how a driver was performing until they called informing us that they were upset in a ditch. That time no longer exists. We’ve had the ability to track, monitor and report on drivers for several years now. Cameras have become commonplace in our fleets but how do we use this information? Do we use it to penalize or educate? Of course, if you do not have cameras, I strongly recommend you start your RFP process now! As much as drivers push back against the technology, we must help them understand that we live in an increasing litigious world and these cameras offer loads of protection for the fleet. Cameras offer some insight into what your driver’s habits are behind the wheel. Are they following too close? Speeding? Using the phone constantly? Or better yet are they in compliance with your company’s policies? All these questions are answered very quickly with a camera system. Like it or not, it looks like they are here to stay. A robust, transparent & fair camera program goes a long way towards fleet safety success. But it is one thing to install them, quite another to act on the information they show.

Failure to act on poor driving behaviour can lead to a nuclear verdict against you should a collision end up in front of a jury south of the border. Take for example a common behaviour I see day to day, following too close. While safe following distance can be very subjective, varying from person to person, the failure to act by documenting coaching, training and discipline can be used against you in court by plaintiff attorneys. Subjective topic or not, highlighting and changing behaviour is a difficult endeavour on the best of days. Policies not applied consistently and fairly aren’t worth the paper they’re written on when it comes to a court setting. 

Remember that policy you wrote up about safe driving and upholding the standards of the carrier? Yes, of course you do! Let’s have a look at it for a moment. Does it clearly outline the expectations you have? Have you and/or your trainers explained it to the fleet? Does the fleet show they understand by following the rules for the most part? When rules are broken, are they dealt with and documented in accordance with your policy? Each and every time? The answer in many cases is no. Why is it so hard to implement policy? Well, this is my most productive, tenured, skilled, insert adjective here driver! Our carrier doesn’t see some open-board drivers for weeks… Now, let me ask you, if your family member was harmed on the road would those excuses fly in your world? Probably not. So, let’s take some time and go over driver coaching.

Who should coach? Well, simple answer, the driver’s direct supervisor. They are in the best position to influence the driver’s behaviour and hey, get this, they have the authority to discipline if necessary if coaching and training fails, and likely have a prior relationship built. I’ve seen it time and again, safety’s problem, they can deal with the driver. Oftentimes, the safety department doesn’t have a pre-existing relationship with many of the drivers. Some drivers may have seen the safety guy in a classroom somewhere, sometime ago… insert turnover numbers north of 60% you have a safety department that is a bit distant from the fleet. Whereas the dispatcher, fleet manager or supervisor typically deal with drivers every day. Also, with large fleets with 100’s of drivers and vehicles managed by one safety person makes it difficult to have quality conversations. 

Coaching these days is a bit of a euphemism. Coaching should not be an unpleasant, or off-putting engagement. This is the chance to understand the core problem at hand. Over the years I’ve found that safety behaviour is in many cases, a function of the efficiency/thoroughness trade-off. We are amid a well published driver shortage; we have freight sitting in ports & on docks waiting, the pressure is on! Add in piecework as renumeration, people are bound to cut corners here and there. If this is not the case, this is your chance to get the driver’s opinion on things. 

Long story short, coaching should be a two-way street engagement, the coach should skillfully probe the driver and find out what exactly is keeping them from achieving the goal! A skilled coach will lead their driver to the answer rather than telling them the answer. For knowledge easily obtained is knowledge easily lost.

Jamie Beaudoin is a trucking health and safety specialist. He has been involved in the industry for 12 years in various capacities. He started as a driver and worked his way through the ranks. Currently works as a freelance consultant assisting companies in improving safety culture and regulatory compliance. He is currently pursuing his BCRSP designation. James Beaudoin Trucking Health and Safety Specialist