Effective Driver Training Starts with a Focus on Process

When drivers receive training in proper context, fleets reduce their litigation risks.

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When developing driver training courses, particularly accident response training, fleets often focus on the wrong thing. They typically start with a long list of dos and don’ts without the proper context. Fleets, and in extension their drivers, need to know the importance of following the right protocol. When it comes to accident reporting, it’s crucial. 

As I have learned from transportation lawyers at leading industry conferences, the kind of training fleets offer matters. If you’re involved in an accident, the trial lawyer will look at all of your procedures (not just the accident itself) and poke holes in your defense. Juries tend to look upon companies more favorably when a company can demonstrate an active interest in developing and training drivers. 

Did you know that roughly one out of 10 collisions annually involve a heavy-duty truck? Whether drivers are rookies or long-time seasoned pros with a million or more accident-free miles under their belt, accidents can happen to any of them, at any time. No matter who’s at fault, drivers should be prepared to follow post-accident procedures and regulations at an accident scene, help others who are injured, gather as much information as possible to protect themselves and their carriers, and do their best to keep themselves and others out of danger. 

Accident Response Training 

Accident response training works more effectively when drivers can better comprehend its context and then practice it until it’s almost second nature. It shouldn’t be a one-time course taken during their new employee orientation. Since accidents are often infrequent, high-stress situations, response training must be a continual process. 

Good accident training minimizes a fleet’s risk by giving drivers the opportunity to:

  • Discuss what to expect at the accident scene and afterwards;
  • Learn the major steps to complete. The steps should be minimized and simplified, so they are easier for drivers to remember. If possible, develop each of the steps by arranging the words so their first letters spell out an acronym or word. There’s the three C’s of first aid—Check. Call. Care. Or METHANEMajor incident declared. Exact location. Type of incident. Hazards (present and future). Access. Number, type, severity of casualties. Emergency services now present and those required;
  • Find out how to stay relatively calm, how to behave, and how to respond at the accident scene to those who are not calm;
  • Discover how the company will handle communications with their family members immediately following the accident;
  • Examine what to do and say and to whom and what not to do and say at the scene and afterwards;
  • Discuss post-traumatic stress disorder, which can occur after an accident, particularly when it has involved tremendous property loss, serious injuries, fatalities or all of the above;
  • Receive periodic refresher training including regular practice exercises and mock accident scenes where they can demonstrate their knowledge of the process. 

More Processes, Fewer Rules

While training to drive home the steps needed in accident reporting is vital, training to avoid accidents in the first place is also needed.  

The importance of developing good driver training processes became very clear when I attended the Truckload Carrier Association’s Safety and Security conference in Phoenix earlier this year. Statistically, distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents. That’s why much of the discussion focused on distracted driving policies and discipline, particularly which offenses constituted a “strike” in a three-strike policy and which were grounds for immediate termination. 

At a safety-in-the-round break-out session, where fleets shared top-of-mind safety issues, I learned many of the fleets with the best safety records don’t issue concrete rules regarding the use of handheld devices while driving. Instead they employ a process, which provides, among other things, additional training and coaching for drivers who make such mistakes. 

After listening to conference speakers and talking with fleet managers in between sessions, I concluded that whether the issue at hand is training drivers to avoid distracted driving or to respond to an accident, fleets must focus more on the process and less on the rules. 

Fleets with a multitude of black and white policies about what drivers MUST and MUST NOT do can end up in far worse shape than their counterparts for the simple reason that the world isn’t black and white. It’s a million different shades of grey. There has to be some leeway for those many grey situations in which drivers must make judgement calls.

Fleets with the best safety records have a process for evaluating each situation, creating a plan of action, then executing that plan. Their process calls for taking different steps for each situation and driver. And that’s the point. Because then the training is more personalized and effective as a result. 

Whether teaching drivers how to avoid being distracted while driving or how to properly respond in an accident, fleets really can’t reduce their litigation risks if all they’ve done is create a box for drivers to check or a test for them to pass at the end of the training session. If drivers promptly forget everything they’ve learned the next time their handheld device rings or a text appears on their screen or when accidents happen, then really how effective is that fleet’s driver training program? 

Establishing policies and checklists simply isn’t adequate for developing good driver training. Plaintiff lawyers are just too good at finding potentially damaging details by asking such questions as how often are those policies reviewed and updated? They’re also very adept at finding situations where policies weren’t followed, then using those incidents to “prove” a history of negligence. 

By focusing instead on a great development process for driver training, fleets are more likely to achieve success and are far less likely to be hauled into a court of law or the potentially far more damaging court of public opinion.