Truck drivers are the life blood of the food transportation business. Without them product would languish at the dock and thanks to the ongoing truck driver shortage, qualified drivers are hard to find and even harder to keep.
In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that fatal crashes involving large trucks--with a gross vehicle weight greater than 10,000 pounds--have been rising by hundreds of incidents each year, since 2001. In 2005, there were 4,533 crashes that claimed the lives of 5,212 people.
With this in mind, it is in the best interest of a company to do all it can to keep its drivers safe while they're on the road. In order to do this, fleet managers have to not only examine the attitudes of the drivers they're employing, but they also have to examine their organizations' safety culture and the ways they can bring the two together.
"When you're someone who spends his days driving an 80,000 pound rig, you tend to feel like you're invincible," notes Michael Kolodzie, safety director at G&C Foods, a Syracuse, NY-based re-distributor of boxed beef as well as frozen, refrigerated and dry products. G&C maintains a staff of approximately 45 drivers.
"It's hard as a director to try and take that invincibility away from the drivers and say they have to take 10 hours off from driving because that's what the law says they must do," says Kolodize.
He adds that he's not trying to play big brother. "I try to coach them to follow the rules and directions because I don't want them to get hurt." The buy-in happens when he lets them know the company just wants them to get home safe to their families each day. "After that it's an easy sell."
The "bullet proof" attitude is even stronger with experienced drivers, according to Gary Petty, president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), Arlington, VA. According to Petty, this ingrained attitude can have serious repercussions for everyone on the road.
"They've been so successful at having never had an accident that they get overconfident," he says. "They overestimate their skills and underestimate the risks."
Petty explains that most of these drivers have never been trained in essential crash survival skills such as decision driving, crash avoidance and pre-emptive strategic visioning--which are specific skills that can dramatically mitigate a drivers' experience in an accident situation. The NPTC has been arranging training sessions for its members that demonstrates these skills.
Panic breaking, Petty says, is an all-too-frequent tactic that experienced drivers fall back on in crash situations that leads to jackknifing--a problem that could be avoided by encouraging them to develop more cautionary practices such as giving themselves more time and distance between the vehicle they are following.
"At only 29 mph, a tractor trailer still needs at least 460 feet to come to a complete stop," he says. "Realizing the physics of your equipment and braking capacity are critical."
Getting drivers to attend training can help them see how they overestimate their skill set and teach them new crash avoidance skills such as chop or shuttle steering--where the driver shimmies the steering wheel left/right/left/right in skid situations. "It changes their behavior," he adds.
Orient Toward Safety
Time and again, industry professionals point to the fact that if an organization changes its culture, it will change the level of safety the individuals in it experience--but the only direction it works from is the top-down.
"It really starts with our CEO and his leadership team," says Tony Montalbano, group director of safety division, for supply chain solutions at Ryder System Inc., Miami. "Their level of commitment has helped us earn our reputation for safety."
From there, the company's emphasis on safety works its way down to the drivers themselves. Ryder has found great success with indoctrinating drivers into their safety culture through computer-based training. It begins with eight hours of employee safety orientation that can be done remotely. When new employees arrive for work, they receive location specific information during the face-to-face orientation.