Drivers behaving badly - and how to combat it

Ensuring your drivers stay on their best behaviour can lower your operating costs, reduce collisions and improve the public’s perception of your business. But drivers will only perform differently if you can make them think differently.

Driver training isn’t a new concept. Every driver has to learn certain skills to do their job. But there is a new buzz phrase in fleet and it’s ‘behaviour training’.

Since the mandatory Driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) for HGV drivers was introduced five years ago, heavier fleets have been obliged to invest heavily in training. Initially many fleets resisted, simply choosing the easiest and quickest routes to meet the requirements.

But times are changing. Now fleets are realising the value of training and are using the CPC as a way to encourage improvements across a number of business areas.

Van fleets are also seeing the benefit, with many now looking to qualify their drivers in the same way as those behind the wheel of heavier vehicles, through schemes such as Van Excellence from the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

To understand the concept of driver behaviour training you must first accept the difference between it and driver skill.

Driver training expert Sandra MacDonald-Ames explains: “Driver skill is the ability to operate the vehicle, whereas driver behaviour is the way you choose to apply the skill in any given moment.”

Traditional training has focused on the skill element of driving but behaviour-based courses go one step further, to ensure drivers put the theory into practice by getting them to understand why it’s important.

What about telematics?

Doesn’t telematics take care of driver behaviour? Not quite. Telematics is an important part of the driver behaviour puzzle, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

MacDonald-Ames, who is national training manager for Pertemps, says: “A driver could easily be cruising along at the speed limit, on a quiet dual carriageway with all his measured parameters in the green on telematics. But if no car crosses his path and he stays within the lane how do you know he isn’t on his phone or eating breakfast?

“Similarly a driver could repeatedly get flagged for heavy braking or accelerating – is this an angry, dangerous driver? Perhaps, but it could also be someone who is just a bad driver or unfamiliar with the vehicle.”

Behaviour isn’t something you can measure with tele-matics alone – unless the vehicle uses in-cab cameras. There needs to be a deeper understanding of what is going through the driver’s mind.

Establishing training needs

“The first step to effective driver training is a solid driving at work policy,” says Duncan Pickering, market development manager at IAM RoadSmart (Institute of Advanced Motorists, as was).

“A driving at work policy is fundamental. It underpins everything you expect your drivers to do and how they should behave. It also sets out how they should treat the vehicle, how they should look after it, when and where they can drive and for how many hours.”

In tandem, there should also be an audit trail confirming that the driver has read and understood the policy. 

“If something happens on the road and the paperwork is in place then the implication is with the driver, not the employer. If not, the responsibility for an incident can go all the way to top with the risk of custodial sentence if the incident is really serious,” Pickering adds.

The next step is to risk-assess your drivers. Risk assessments are readily available from most training suppliers or fleet management companies.

According to Pickering, risk assessments can be done cheaply and easily online: “Think of it like a filtering process – not all drivers will be high risk or ‘bad’ drivers in the traditional sense, but some will be driving long hours or at night, in varied vehicles or on unfamiliar roads. All these things add up to increase the risk.” 

Drivermetrics provides a more detailed analysis of a driver using a psychometrics-based system, called Driver Risk Index, developed in partnership with Cranfield University.

Freightliner introduced the initiative, scoring its existing drivers first to establish an ‘ideal driver’ profile then using it during recruitment.

Richard Branston, general manager for road transport at Freightliner, says: “For our last intake of 50 drivers there were 283 applications – only 103 passed the test so we effectively filtered out those more risky drivers before they even started.”

Where risk is identified, the driver and their line manager should then create a training plan to address the needs highlighted by the assessment.

Types of training

The majority of training provided is CPC-approved and is available widely from a number of sources. Trade bodies like the FTA and the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) offer training in-house and through third party suppliers like Fleet Source, DriveTech (part of The AA) and the IAM.

Fleet operators like Jacqueline O’Donovan, managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal, are also writing their own bespoke courses, which include job- or industry-specific attributes.

“I’ve written one driver CPC, which is geared solely to the waste industry, as I felt none of the existing courses covered the aspects that I wanted them to on the waste side,” she says. 

O’Donovan is now three-quarters of the way through her next driver CPC, ‘doing it right’. It incorporates in-cab cameras and other upcoming technology such as mobile phone signal blockers – so the drivers are ready for when the technology is installed.

“They are small elements, but they are important to the future of the company,” she adds. 

Bespoke training can also be provided by third parties. 

“What companies are looking for is a return on investment,” says Mick Kemp, head of training at FORS. “We have to establish which courses are going to benefit them to improve their business. A lot of operators come to us with issues looking to find a solution through training.

“Many contracts now request specific training, too. Fleets working on Crossrail have to do the Crossrail course and there is talk that HS2 will require a course to include protestors and rural roads.

“As companies start looking at new vehicles – such as electric - there is a new issue of range anxiety. It’s about understanding the limitations of new vehicles. People were against driver vision aids when they first came out but, if you don’t get trained on it, how do you know how good it is?”

Flexibility is key for Graham Bellman, fleet director at Travis Perkins, which is why he uses national training provider Fleet Source to deliver the majority of his training.

He says: “We need a supplier that can train en masse across the UK. We have to take a group of drivers off the road so we look for suppliers that offer flexibility in timings – such as the ability to train on a Saturday. Some suppliers also have the ability to bring the training to your site – we have used some of our facilities to host training in the past.

“IT reporting is also important, you need to know which drivers are trained and which are due.” 

Online training is the quickest and easiest way to get a training message across. Fitting training into a driver’s schedule is often challenging but online courses can be completed in and around the requirements of the business while still contributing to a driver’s CPC.

Classroom-based training is far more engaging and allows drivers to interact in an open platform. 

O’Donovan originally used external trainers but felt they weren’t getting the attention of her drivers and they weren’t getting the best out of them in a classroom scenario, so she took the DIY route.

She says: “I have been instructed as a trainer, so I deliver a lot of the courses. The drivers feel they are being put under pressure to get trained but vulnerable road users aren’t getting any training, so it allows us to have a debate.  

“We wanted the ability to be able to say ‘we can do this today’ and work to schedules that suit us.”

The ideal class size is 20, O’Donovan adds. She says the drivers don’t interact as well in smaller numbers, but too many can be equally unproductive as not everyone can have a voice.

She says: “When we identified that outside trainers weren’t engaging with the staff, it reaffirmed that being a training centre ourselves was in our best interest as they feel more at home and they are familiar with the layout. Drivers can be quite shy when they are in a gang.”

Branston fits training in from day one. All new recruits must sit a five-day induction which incorporates all of the company’s safety initiatives. Freightliner customises all its training, which is delivered by employees after they attend train-the-trainer sessions.

On-road training is widely considered the most beneficial and can combat one of the most challenging aspects of behaviour training – attitude. 

MacDonald-Ames says: “We are very intolerant as people. We are all busy and you can train people about saving time but attitude to other road users is a hard one to change. We can’t easily put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.”

The most effective method when looking at tackling behavioural issues is simply to talk to drivers and help them to see things from a different perspective. 

“That type of perspective training is something you have to do on-road, it’s really effective,” adds MacDonald-Ames.

She believes the Vulnerable Road Users course, which is required by FORS and was developed in conjunction with Transport for London (TfL), is the best example as it gets drivers to physically switch roles with a cyclist for half a day.

Be prepared for culture change

Changing behaviour requires a two-pronged attack. Drivers need to be trained, but the business needs to adopt a culture that nurtures safety and lives by its policies.

Branston says: “The Freightliner board gives me 100% support on everything in relation to safety.”

By investing in the safety of its people, the business has reduced staff turnover to 0.4% and increased its miles per incident by 400%.

Bellman has seen similar success: a top-down focus on safety, combined with proactive training, has gradually reduced incidents across his 4,250 vehicles and 5,000 drivers.

“If you are going to embark on this be prepared for a culture change in the business. To do this effectively it is about changing to a culture that embraces road safety and health and safety,” says Pickering.

In a lot of businesses, especially larger fleets, there might be several drivers with the same risk profiles. Sometimes these risks are due to business processes or procedures rather than the driver’s behaviour. 

MacDonald-Ames says: “You may want to look at shift patterns or working conditions before committing to training. If you don’t get manager buy-in for road safety then why would the driver do it? If you are putting on CPC and the transport managers don’t care, then actually you’ll get a load of drivers not caring either.”

Maintaining standards

Getting drivers to pass a course is only half the battle. Ensuring the training sticks and allows your business to reap the rewards of better driver behaviour is a separate challenge.

“Supervision is key to monitoring compliance,” says Kemp. He recommends that a company monitors drivers after they have completed training for things like fuel consumption and manoeuvring. 

“Managers should also actively ensure things like walk-round checks are being performed correctly to enforce the message that the driver is being monitored,” Kemp says.

MacDonald-Ames adds: “If a driver knows they are being monitored or watched, they will change their behaviour – but it has to be something they agree to. They have to buy into that change process and understand it because if they don’t believe it will work for them  they won’t do it.”

Telematics provides the proof, according to O’Donovan. 

She sends selected drivers to get trained as trainers. If a driver does fall into the red on telematics, the business will deal with it internally.

“We sit down with the drivers and they have their own personal development plan. If a driver says they want to go further up the career ladder, they can,” she adds.

Pickering says its human nature for bad habits to creep back in. He recommends that fleets revisit training regularly and carry out risk assessments no less than every 24 months. Branston does it every six.

But MacDonald-Ames reinforces the importance of finding and understanding the root cause of behaviour issues.

“Poor performance such as speeding might provide a trigger for intervention, such as a conversation from a manager. Sometimes a conversation with that driver away from their line manager can come up with surprising results,” she says. 

“If you have a driver with an unblemished record there might be something in their private life that has put them out of kilter. It might be nothing to do with training, just what’s going on in their head.” 

What fleets are doing to tackle driver behaviour

Jacqueline O’Donovan, MD of O’Donovan Waste Disposal: “In a year, each of our drivers will sit through no less than four training sessions, so they are well over their required hours. It’s all certified CPC training and we log it because it’s a way of proving they’ve had the training and it gives us the ability to issue certificates as well.”

Graham Bellman, fleet director Travis Perkins: “Our drivers generally have to undergo a day’s training every year. We also have a team of safety coaches that do practical training with the drivers, giving hints and tips plus safe and efficient driving guidance. 

“From a legal point of view the CPC is a requirement for those driving vehicles in excess of 3.5 tonnes but we put all our drivers through it – it’s a FORS requirement – plus a good driver is a good driver, irrespective of the size of vehicle.”

Richard Branston, general manager for road transport at Freightliner: “When we first looked at training our focus was on reducing mpg. From that we did a large amount of training with our truck suppliers. We learned fairly quickly that we were saving a considerable amount on friction  linings, tyres and accidents.

“The next step was to look more closely at safety. At this point we almost did a complete u-turn and moved away from mpg, instead looking at improving safety.”

Helen Brislane, commercial manager at Momentum Instore: “Just this month our training provider has unveiled a new online training module for driving skills, a half-hour interactive session covering essentials such as vehicle maintenance, time management and defensive driving.  

“We have only recently made this course a mandatory one for all new temporary drivers to be completed before they come on board with us,  and we will be rolling out the course to existing temporary drivers to complete within the coming months.”

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  • aidanr - 01/06/2017 11:38

    Without a video based risk management solution, it is impossible to identify and address 'root cause' driver behaviours that will result in 'bad costs' to your business and will ultimately cost lives. Drivers appreciate companies who approach this from a skills improvement and training perspective and not a crude disciplinary focus. At SmartDrive Systems we recognize that driver acceptance is key to success and we work closely with all stakeholders to ensure that drivers, customers and the general public benefit from a safer and more efficient driving culture.

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  • Pete Gutteridge - 06/06/2017 22:26

    A well written article on driver behaviour. As is often the case, best results are achieved by those companies that take a 360 degree view and can manage the people aspects with their drivers, the work processes and procedures they follow and then combine these with supportive technology like telematics and cameras.

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  • John 4870 - 13/06/2017 13:19

    Driver behavioural training is most definitely nothing new and was the start of the Fleet training revolution 35yrs ago (even though many failed to appreciate it). Drivers only ever do what they want to do - the key is to inspire them to WANT to do things differently so nothing to do with skill, but all about attitude.

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