In a fleet terminal of yesteryear, drivers would infrequently gather for a fleet-wide meeting, in a roughly quarterly cadence, and a fleet manager or safety director would offer a presentation on a certain point of emphasis, such as speeding, seat belts, following distance, or another topical issue. In addition to the presentation, the fleet might provide a handout and lunch, and then drivers would venture out and return to work.
Outside of that regular gathering, fleet managers dealt with drivers on an as-needed basis — maybe a disciplinary phone call for receiving a citation, or even firing or suspending drivers who caused a crash.
While this wasn’t true for every fleet, by and large it was the way many operated and managed their safety programs.
In today’s trucking landscape, fleet leadership no longer has the luxury of being that lax with safety protocol. Few still operate under that outdated approach, but the role of fleet manager is still rapidly in motion, evolving into a more proactive coaching role based on empirical data and holistic visibility into their fleet, rather than as a hands-off disciplinarian.
Table of Contents
Litigation’s Driving Change
Mounting settlements in crash lawsuits and the legal tactics behind them, are one of the main spurs reshaping the role of fleet managers and safety directors and how they interact with their drivers.
The environment for motor carriers has become increasingly litigious over the past decade, and the number of million-dollar-plus court-ordered payouts jumped 235% comparing the periods of 2012-2019 to 2005-2011, according to a report from the American Transportation Research Institute issued last year.
“That’s been a catalyst for many fleets to start streamlining their driver performance coaching,” said Adam Kahn, president of Netradyne. “Most of these aggressive lawsuits being cast on the industry are rooted in labeling the fleet as negligent — negligent in hiring, negligent in maintenance, or having a negligent safety program.”
Information and Data Become Indispensable
Fleet managers must arm themselves with the right technology to identify drivers who need intervention and coaching based on a total view of that driver’s performance — not just a single incident in which a fleet would traditionally call and reprimand a driver.
With Netradyne’s Driveri platform, fleets have a holistic view of driver’s safety performance and their fleet at large, available to them in a single portal. This allows them to track drivers’ performance in real-time and compare it to their historical data points. “Fleet managers are going to have to embrace technology, to use it, and to believe in it,” said Ryan Knight, Netradyne’s director of sales. “And then, they’re going to have to communicate with drivers and make them believe in it too.”
The Driveri platform and Netradyne’s corresponding GreenZone Score calculated for each driver present a clear, accurate, and fair view of a driver’s day, week, and month.
“With all of this information, they’re getting real visibility into what’s happening in their fleet,” said Knight. “This in turn enables them to do a much better job with coaching.”
Coaching Replaces Discipline
Actual driver coaching used to be “few and far between,” said Knight. Rather, fleet managers’ posture was tilted toward discipline. When a driver received a citation for speeding, running a red light, or following too closely, “that’s when a conversation would happen,” he said.
Now, with Driveri, fleets “can get to the driver quickly and get that conversation started with the driver the same day that events happen,” Knight said. Instead of a disciplinary or negative approach to the interaction with those drivers, managers can have positive interactions based around simple coaching.
“That makes drivers feel engaged and open to the conversation,” said Knight. “And they’re more in tune with the message of watching their speed or their following distance or whatever the issue was. That’s something we hear from fleets every day.”
Drivers respond much better to identifying areas for improvement and getting to the root of the issues, rather than simply relying on a “discipline heavy approach,” said Steve Dunn, Netradyne’s director of product and former safety manager at Ward Transport and XPO Logistics. “That’s where safety is evolving, by saying ‘you’re doing well here and here, but we want you to improve here.’ And drivers respond so much better to that type of meaningful coaching.”
In addition to one-on-one engagement with a phone call or meeting, Driveri also deploys a combination of remote coaching options like in-cab notifications and alerts within the mobile app on drivers’ phones and tablets. “You have a much more comprehensive way to talk to drivers than you did before,” said Kahn. This multi-pronged approach to driver coaching “is the most effective way to negate or neutralize claims of negligence,” he added.
Beyond those real-time interventions, fleets can also utilize Netradyne’s GreenZone Score to develop individual plans for drivers about their performance. “This gives everyone the ability to create their own success story,” said Kahn.
Your Best Drivers Remain Engaged
With fleet managers having a holistic view of their fleet, they also have the opportunity for recognition of their safest drivers, too, rather than simply only addressing negative incidents.
“I asked a fleet recently if they knew who their 10 best drivers are. They said no, but they knew who their 10 worst drivers were. They started working with Driveri, and a few months later I asked him again, and this time he said he knew who his top 10 drivers were,” said Kahn. “He even told me he had a driver of 12 years who he’d never met who had a perfect safety record. That’s what can happen when you shift your energy and resources and lean on things that work.”
Older drivers who’ve been in the industry a while respond particularly well to this kind of positive feedback, said Dunn.
“They’re not used to it, and when you tell them ‘hey, you’ve been doing a great job,’ and you give them an incentive to keep it up, it means something to them,” he said. “A lot of times, drivers are doing well in the background and they never hear from you, because you’re focused on the negative interactions and the drivers who need attention. Driveri technology allows you to know who those drivers are and let them know that you know and you appreciate their dedication to safety.”
You can’t do any of this without the right tools. A simple dashcam isn’t enough. It’s about making sense of the raw data that a dashcam collects. With a dashboard like Netradyne’s Driveri platform and AI-based GreenZone scoring system, fleet managers have a portal to understand their fleet’s safety and to target their coaching efforts.
A safety program isn’t a quarterly meeting about a high-level topic. It’s a daily work in progress that takes constant attention, work, and communication. And in the process, fleets can build a more engaged workforce and better relationships with their drivers overall, while building a true culture of safety for their organization.