Ensuring driver safety is a top priority in fleet management, but the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the road makes this a challenge. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 42,795 fatalities in 2022 as a result of motor vehicle crashes. Effective fleet safety is paramount in the face of such a statistic.
While there are several approaches fleet managers can take to shore up safety, one stands out among the rest: implementing a successful driver coaching program.
With the right coaching program, drivers develop the necessary skills and attitudes to navigate the roads safely every day. By rewarding positive driving and leveraging technology to help drivers self-coach, your drivers do better at mitigating risks and reducing the likelihood of collisions.
This guide reveals everything you need to know about effective commercial driver coaching and best practices for implementing the right program.
What Is Driver Coaching?
Driver coaching is a set of programs, techniques, and training that educates drivers about safety requirements, your safety department’s goals, and best practices for staying safe on the road. There are many options for driver coaching such as having training come from human managers or technology, or implementing gamification to motivate drivers to reach safety goals. Ultimately, driver coaching aims to consistently help drivers improve safe driving habits and demonstrate stellar performance on the road.
Benefits of Driver Coaching
Implementing a driver coaching program as part of your overall fleet management:
- Increases safe driving behavior: Reduce collisions and incidents and promote safer driving at every turn.
- Improves overall safety awareness: Drivers demonstrate enhanced safety awareness when coached at regular intervals about signaling, braking, the rules of the road, and what to do in an emergency.
- Prevents accidents before they happen: With technology that delivers in-cab audio alerts, drivers get a verbal nudge to let them know they are approaching a vehicle too fast or they need to create space. As part of coaching, these alerts help drivers develop better habits.
- Supports drivers’ self-improvement: Coaching that recognizes positive driving behaviors results in more motivated drivers. If your positive recognition also involves a reward system or gamification, you’ll see even greater motivation from your drivers to do better. For example, setting GreenZone Score thresholds in Netradyne’s Driver•i system encourages drivers to meet or exceed the fleet goal.
- Improves communication between fleet managers and drivers: If your coaching program includes technology that allows you to remotely connect with drivers through an app, you’ll streamline communication, be able to pass along positive and constructive feedback, and stay in better touch with drivers.
- Reduces churn: Safe drivers mean fewer accidents and third-party claims, but better safety also means happier drivers. The more satisfied they are with their work, the more likely they are to stick with your team and make positive contributions.
- Decrease at-fault accident rates: If your coaching program includes HD-quality cameras that deliver increased visibility, drivers are able to see their blindspots and practice better defensive driving. You’ll also be able to capture who is at fault in an accident — helping to exonerate your drivers.
Driver coaching is necessary to achieve all of the above, but implementing a driver coaching program can seem overwhelming if you’re not sure where to start.
In the next section, we’ll reveal how top driving coaching programs do it: what coaching techniques they use, when they coach their drivers, and what technology makes it all happen.
What Top Driving Coaching Programs Include
The most effective fleet safety programs include driver coaching programs that combine advanced technology with positive driving recognition.
Top trucking company Veriha Trucking also includes biannual driver simulations, monthly safety tips, and safety meetings. The fleet uses Netradyne’s six recommended coaching techniques to empower their drivers to make better decisions:
- In-cab audio alerts offer drivers real-time automated coaching, guiding them to take corrective action in the moment. These alerts operate independently from fleet management and are designed to notify drivers when they take — or don’t take — certain actions. For example, Netradyne’s Driver•i app delivers these coaching reminders directly to the driver through audio signals such as beeps or spoken words. This system provides instant guidance to drivers when needed.
“Real-time alerts for behavior change are huge. We all have bad habits, and they won’t change overnight. If it’s an experienced driver, the roots of a habit are pretty deep. The habits are often so ingrained that the drivers don’t think they’re driving distracted until we show them the videos. With these alerts, we have seen an improvement in behavior change.” — Karen Smerchek, President of Veriha Trucking
You can set alerts for a variety of safety reminders:
- Following distance: The distance to the vehicle ahead, measured in seconds based on the current speed. A warning is triggered when a driver gets too close.
- Speed limits: An alert sounds when a driver exceeds the fleet’s maximum speed threshold.
- Distracted driving: According to a Netradyne survey, almost 47% of drivers said they checked their phones while driving. The distracted driving alert is triggered if a driver’s eyes are off the road for more than a few seconds because of phone use, eating, or other distracted driving behaviors.
- Virtual coaching is another level of automated coaching which addresses specific driving behaviors. This system sends a focused message to drivers, so they can make improvements without requiring an active review by their managers. Using algorithms focused on specific traffic safety alerts, the virtual coaching system reviews severe alerts generated by drivers during the previous week. It provides a small subset of signals for them to review.
By leveraging virtual coaching, Veriha’s managers spend 50% less time reviewing videos. They access all the data they need in their portal summary which highlights trends like extreme increases or decreases in scores — potentially signifying a driver who is embracing coaching or one who needs support.
- Remote coaching through the Netradyne Driver•i app shares information with a driver so managers can remotely provide alerts, DriverStars, and relevant comments. The main difference between remote coaching and virtual coaching is that virtual coaching comes from the technology system while remote coaching comes from the human manager.
With remote coaching, the goal is to recognize positive patterns in driver behavior while also sharing feedback about negative ones. Managers can address specific areas for improvement in real time or acknowledge drivers’ commendable performance — eliminating the need for one-on-one sessions.
- Managed coaching uses the Netradyne portal to prepare and document coaching sessions with a driver. While face-to-face coaching is the most time-consuming, it can also be the most rewarding. The manager should prepare for the coaching session by adding the necessary alerts or DriverStars to the record, bookmarking specific alerts to share with the driver, and adding comments pertinent to review. This type of coaching is typically called for with drivers who regularly commit infractions or exceed thresholds like speed limits.
- Establish clear fleet safety policies that may include conducting regular training for drivers, implementing a system for reporting and addressing safety concerns, and/or regularly inspecting vehicles. By establishing clear guidelines for safe driving behaviors and communicating those guidelines, managers ensure drivers bear a certain level of responsibility for upholding the policies.
- Establish an incentive program for safe driving. First, identify the goal of the incentive program, such as reducing accidents. Then, create a clear structure for the incentive program which should include a list of unbiased criteria for evaluating drivers’ performance and determining their incentive eligibility.
Designing a simple and easy-to-follow system ensures all drivers understand and follow the criteria. This may involve creating a simple scoring system and providing examples of safe driving behavior. Delivering ongoing feedback and support to drivers is also essential, so they can continue to improve their performance and receive the rewards they deserve.,
“It’s important to stay disciplined with coaching, build relationships with drivers, and provide positive recognition. It’s like a bank account – you can’t make a withdrawal unless you have sufficient deposits.”
— Karen Smerchek, President of Veriha Trucking
When to Coach Drivers
Conventional wisdom says it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but the reality is more complicated. Coaching is never a one-and-done process but an ongoing conversation between managers and drivers. You want to coach your drivers consistently through the following stages:
- Onboarding: Regardless of where they are in their careers, new hires should go through a specific onboarding program, including fleet safety, technology, and systems.
- Incidents: Accidents will happen. It’s important to address what went wrong and what to do instead as soon as possible after the incident. Following up with incidents like hard braking, collisions, seat belt compliance, or stop sign violations is essential.
- Ongoing: Coaching doesn’t just mean drawing attention to what can be improved. Showing your drivers that you care about their career development — and rewarding them for what they do well — is just as important.
Stages of a Successful In-Person Driver Coaching Session
A successful in-person driver coaching session typically involves the following stages:
- Schedule a meeting with your driver.
Meeting your driver face-to-face is an excellent opportunity to establish a solid rapport and build trust. It’s a time when the driver can openly discuss their goals and concerns about the job.
Create an environment where the driver feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. The coach must encourage them to speak openly and honestly and actively listen to their responses. Preparing a list of open-ended questions to guide the conversation and show interest in their perspective is best. Investing in these face-to-face meetings can strengthen the relationship with your driver and improve their job satisfaction and performance.
While coaching should ideally be conducted proactively, you might find you need an in-person session following an incident. For example, if a serious accident occurs, the manager or coach should set up a meeting with the driver within 24 to 48 hours to discuss what happened and ways to avoid similar situations in the future.
- Gather your data and prepare to record.
The manager should remain as objective as possible by getting all the facts from both the driver and the fleet management system’s telematics. Be prepared to also document or record the in-person session to identify trends and areas where drivers may need additional support in the future.
- Be sure to include positive recognition.
In addition to discussing areas for improvement, coaching sessions can also be an opportunity for managers to recognize and celebrate the driver’s positive safety history. For example, Netradyne’s GreenZone Score provides a holistic view of the driver’s safety history and allows managers to highlight positive behaviors.
In case of risky driving behaviors, the manager can use video captured by the AI dash cam to show particular incidents deemed dangerous. When feedback about negative behavior is delivered alongside positive recognition, managers create a more supportive coaching environment.
How Fleet Management Technology Supports Driver Coaching Programs
Fleet management systems like Netradyne’s Driver•i transform the coaching environment. Driver•i gives drivers full visibility into their surroundings and vehicle with AI-powered dash cams, and it delivers personalized feedback so drivers can improve in the moment. With in-cab alerts and safety prompts that come through the Driver•i system, drivers can self-coach and retain a sense of autonomy while improving their safety performance.
Managers also get access to real-time, relevant data through Driver•i’s telematics — helping them to identify emerging trends with drivers, offer constructive feedback, and support drivers in their efforts to reach safety goals. With Driver•i, managers leverage advanced technology as part of their coaching programs to reduce the amount of time spent reviewing videos, improve their ability to train drivers, and even hand off some of that training to the Driver•i system. When combined with an incentive program, this sophisticated fleet management technology revolutionizes commercial driver coaching programs.
Get the Right Technology for Your Driver Coaching Program
With AI-powered driver cams and Netradyne’s comprehensive coaching platform, you’ll establish an effective commercial driver coaching program that keeps every driver, asset, and vehicle safe on the road.
Ready to step up your coaching game with Netradyne? Book your demo with us today.