Trucking industry execs discuss five best practices for safety, technology issues

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 259 views 

The culture of safety in fleets has changed from being just the safety department’s responsibility to the entire company’s responsibility, trucking executives said.

On Thursday (Aug. 17), executives of three carriers shared their best practices for fleet safety in a webinar hosted by Transport Topics, a publication of American Trucking Associations. Rob Abbott, commercial leader in trucking for Lytx, said their programs and initiatives often fall into five best practices: Accountability; Culture; Training; Communication; and Leveraging Technology.

Brian Kohlwes, general counsel and vice president of safety at Hirschbach, said when he started at the company, a clear culture was lacking. Barriers existed between the safety and operations sides the company. “Over the years, we’ve broken down these walls,” he said.

Safety is the company’s No. 1 value. He explained a value like one’s religious beliefs. When the company looks at preventing an accident, they look at all accidents the same, from a truck rollover to crashing into a pole.

“The outcome is merely a matter of luck,” Kohlwes said. “The behavior that led to the accident is the same.” The pole the driver hit could have been a teenager.

While Kohlwes considers the company’s more than 1,000 employees as part of the safety team, it has a safety department of eight employees. The department creates a safety scorecard and can rank the best drivers from a data standpoint.

“We’ve incentivized them very lucratively to not have any accidents,” he said. The company also hosts an awards banquet honoring the top 15% of the fleet as the best of the best.

David Tomshack, director of safety for U.S. Xpress Inc., said the company recently established bi-monthly training campaigns and seasonal training for winter and summer driving. Also, the company offers a defensive driving course as remedial training to change a driver’s behavior.

After completing training for a commercial driver’s license, the company provides drivers 175 hours of behind the wheel driving and 20 hours of that is backing up a truck. Each maneuver is scored, and drivers complete a written test. They have the opportunity to graduate to become a first seat driver. The company offers a train the trainer course where drivers teach the trainer a maneuver for the trainer to complete. It also has developed its own in-house training.

In 2008, the company began testing electronic logs, and the technology allows drivers to receive training in their vehicle. The company is working to install in-cab cameras and has them in about 250 trucks. It plans to complete the install across the fleet in April. Tomshack said the video captured has helped exonerate drivers. Attorneys have said the company would have paid out 85% of the time for a specific claim, but with the video, it will help the company save money.

Since he started at U.S. Xpress, he’s seen the safety culture at the company change greatly. Fleet managers have started giving safety messages to drivers, and to improve the delivery of the message, the company randomly reviews a phone call of a manager giving the message to a driver. They would receive feedback from other employees on the message’s delivery and if it was well received.

“It’s no more, ‘Safety’s making me do this,’” Tomshack said. The company’s staff also play out scenarios as if they were speaking to a driver.

Drivers with unsafe driving violations receive daily phone calls, and fleet managers with drivers who have violations also receive weekly phone calls.

“The organization as a whole has really developed the safety culture,” he said.

Some drivers who call in to payroll will sometimes ask about the safety message if they haven’t received it yet.

Lisa Gonnerman, vice president of safety for Ruan Transportation Management Systems, has seen a lot of changes in safety and culture in her past seven years at Ruan. Like at U.S. Xpress, Ruan has developed an in-house training program. Gonnerman explained the benefits of using an in-house training program over an off-the-shelf one, which often have missing components. The company uses its own pictures and its own examples of accidents. It can also change or add to the program as needed. It changed a part on fatigue several years ago.

The company developed an injury prevention program that’s not only for work but also for home because the company wants its employees to go home and come to work safely. It’s Megasafe5 rules are the backbone of injury prevention training, she said. The rules also were adapted to its warehousing segment of the business, which manages 1 million square feet of warehouse space.

In 2017, the company began Megasafe Family as a way to improve the image of the industry. It includes information for motorists, including how long it takes a big rig to stop or what truck drivers can see from their mirrors. Gonnerman said it’s important to make sure safety is enthusiastic, not stagnant. The company recently hosted a March Madness tournament for safe driving, and it’s working to implement a year-long program.

“Seems like competition brings out the best in us,” she said.

When asked about technology, such as in-cab cameras, contributing to distracted driving, Tomshack said the cameras cannot play back video while the driver is driving. Kohlwes said in-cab cameras can identify when a driver is distracted.

“I liken it to a golf swing,” he said. “We’re trying to improve their golf swing.”

When asked about how to handle cell phone usage, Tomshack said U.S. Xpress allows drivers to talk on the phone as long as they are using a hands free device. Those who don’t face consequences, leading up to being fired. Gonnerman said Ruan doesn’t allow drivers to use their cell phones while driving. But they can reach out to a fleet manager by pressing a button on their electronic logging device (ELD). Management can determine when they aren’t driving by checking their duty status on the ELD before calling the driver.

When asked how a carrier can get past the “big brother” aspect of technology, Kohlwes said the technology is event based, and drivers can decide when to turn it on. It’s on a small fraction of the time the driver is actually driving.

The American Transportation Research Institute, a research organization for the American Trucking Associations, has released the first phase of research looking into developing a Younger Driver Assessment Tool as a means to identify younger drivers who have the same qualities as safe, older commercial drivers.

“This report summarizes the psychology literature on early adulthood, and how characteristics of this age group relate to driving safety,” according to ATRI. “The research was conducted in conjunction with Dr. Monica Luciana, professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota.”

The report includes information on individual traits that reliably predict driver safety outcomes, including personality, health and cognition. The second phase of the research will include bringing together the relevant measures of the identified predictive factors and testing the assessment tool on a small sample of veteran and entry-level drivers. The result of the test will determine whether a larger scale study is needed.

“The potential to screen for the safest candidates among younger new entrants is an exciting step in the industry’s workforce expansion,” said Greg Koepel, vice president of workforce development and administration for Roehl Transport Inc. “We look forward to working with ATRI in the development and testing of the Younger Driver Assessment Tool.”

ATRI also is asking drivers and carriers to complete its 2017 Top Industry Issues. American Trucking Associations commissions the annual survey to rank the top issues in the industry along with strategies to address them. This is the 13th annual survey and results will be released at the Annual ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Orlando on Oct. 21-24.

“ATRI’s annual survey provides a chance for thousands of trucking industry professionals, from drivers to executives, to weigh in on the most important topics that affect trucking and collectively decide on the roadmap for addressing each,” said ATA Chairman Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express. “With your participation, we can speak with a collective industry voice on what is most importation to us.”