Ensuring drivers’ safety is the top priority in fleet management. 

With the ever-increasing number of vehicles on the road, accidents inevitably happen at any notice. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 42,795 fatalities in 2022 due to motor vehicle crashes. These statistics emphasize the need for effective measures to enhance fleet safety.

Driver coaching enables drivers to develop the necessary skills and attitudes to navigate the roads safely. By instilling good driving practices within your organization, your drivers will know how to mitigate risks and reduce the likelihood of crashes and injuries on the road.

This guide covers the basics of driver coaching: what it is, why it’s essential, and how it benefits your organization.

What is Driver Coaching?

Driver coaching is a set of programs, techniques, and training that educates drivers about your brand, safety requirements, and best practices. You may or may not have a formal driver coaching program — but chances are, your managers are doing more coaching than you think.

It’s also an opportunity to provide career development. The more information your drivers have, the smarter decisions they can make on the road, and the more empowered they’ll be to best represent your brand.

Benefits of Driver Coaching

Safe drivers make for smoother operations and a better bottom line. The advantages of road safety awareness are obvious — but coaching isn’t just about the rules of the road.

Implementing a driver coaching program as part of your overall fleet management can:

  • Increase safe driving behavior: Reduce collisions and incidents and promote safer driving at every step in the journey.
  • Improve overall safety awareness: Drivers display enhanced safety awareness when coached at regular intervals. Understanding safety awareness topics like signaling, braking, the rules of the road, and what to do in an emergency can make a difference.
  • Prevents accidents before they happen: With in-cab audio alerts, drivers are given a verbal nudge to let them know when they are approaching a vehicle too fast or when they need to create space. This alert gives drivers time to react before an accident can occur.
  • Give drivers recognition and career development: Coaching encourages a driver to perform well when positive driving behaviors are recognized. Setting GreenZone Score thresholds with Netradyne encourages drivers to meet or exceed the fleet goal.
  • Creates a driver incentive program: Whether you use monetary incentives, gamification and points traded for prizes, or good old-fashioned peer-to-peer competition, adding driver coaching gives you the opportunity to reward your fleet for good behavior.
  • Improves communication between fleet managers and fleet drivers: Remotely connecting with drivers through the Driver•i app allows fleet managers to streamline communication and pass along both positive and constructive feedback. 
  • Increase ROI: Safe drivers mean fewer accidents and third-party claims, but it also means better, happier drivers. The more empowered they are, the more likely they’ll stick with your team and make more positive contributions.
  • Decrease at-fault accident rates: With increased visibility through HD quality cameras, drivers are able to see their blindspots and practice better defensive driving. In addition, the external dash cams will clearly capture who is at fault in an accident allowing you to better exonerate your drivers. 

It’s not hard to see why driver coaching is important. But implementing a driver coaching program can seem overwhelming if you’re not sure what to do.

In the next section, we’ll talk through 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 Do

The best fleet safety programs include a driver coaching component. You may already be working with your drivers with safety meetings, a comprehensive training program, or ride-along, which are essential aspects of driver coaching.

But turning good programs into great ones is introducing positive reinforcement and motivation. Pointing out mistakes only goes so far as to change behavior — when choosing between the carrot and the stick, the carrot wins every time. Positive reinforcement increases confidence and instills cultural values, making a safer environment for everyone.

Techniques for Successful Driver Coaching

Top trucking company Veriha Trucking knows the power of a formal fleet driver coaching program. Since they train most of their drivers from the ground up, they’re constantly looking for coaching opportunities to reinforce safe driving behavior, from biannual driver simulations to monthly safety tips.

Why are safety meetings important? Just ask Karen Smercheck, President:

“As a training fleet, safety is our #1 value – that’s what we’re focused on. This is an obligation without compromise. By making poor safety decisions, we could be out of business tomorrow.” — Karen Smerchek, President of Veriha Trucking

In addition to regular safety briefings and training, they use Netradyne’s four layers of practical coaching techniques to add peace of mind to their program, implement specific safe driving tips, and empower their drivers to make better decisions:

  1. In-cab audio alerts offer drivers real-time automated coaching, guiding them to take corrective action for safer driving. These alerts operate independently from fleet management and are designed to notify drivers when specific thresholds are surpassed. The Driver•i app delivers these coaching reminders directly to the driver through audio signals, including beeps or spoken words. This system enables improved safety on the road by providing 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 (in the red or yellow zone).
  • Speed limits: An alert is sounded when a driver exceeds the fleet’s maximum speed threshold.
  • Distracted driving: It takes a few seconds for disaster to happen. According to a recent Netradyne survey, almost 47 percent 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 due to phone use, eating, or other distracted driving.
  1. Virtual coaching is another level of automated coaching which addresses specific driving behaviors. This sends a focused message to drivers, so improvements can be made 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.

    This analysis means 50 percent less time for Veriha Trucking’s managers to review videos. Everything they need is right in their portal summary, highlighting trends like extreme increases or decreases in scores, which may signify a driver embracing the coaching or a driver having issues and needing support.
  2. Remote coaching uses the Netradyne Driver•i app to share information with a driver. Through the Netradyne portal, managers can remotely provide alerts, DriverStars, and relevant comments to the drivers. These alerts and comments can be accessed and viewed by drivers directly on the Driver•i app.

The goal of coaching programs like this is to recognize positive and negative patterns in driver behavior. By sharing this information, coaches can address specific areas for improvement or acknowledge drivers’ commendable performance, eliminating the need for one-on-one sessions. This method allows for sharing various types of alerts and DriverStars without any limitations.

  1. Managed coaching uses the Netradyne portal to prepare and document coaching sessions with a driver. Face-to-face coaching provides personal discussions with drivers to eliminate specific behavior that needs improvement or recognize a driver for their performance.

    This type of coaching is the most time-consuming but can also be the most rewarding. The manager should prepare for the coaching by adding the needed alerts or DriverStars to a driver’s coaching session, bookmarking specific alerts to share with the driver, and adding comments pertinent to the review with the driver.

    Face-to-face coaching may only be needed for some drivers. But suppose you have drivers who habitually exceed coaching parameters (such as speed limits, a certain driver score, or consistent alerts). In that case, it’s worth sitting down and conversing about driving behaviors.
  2. Establish clear fleet safety policies to ensure fleet safety. Comprehensive safety policies include conducting regular training for drivers, implementing a system for reporting and addressing safety concerns, and regularly inspecting vehicles to ensure they are in good working condition. By establishing clear guidelines for safe driving behaviors, managers can help their drivers minimize the risk of collisions, injuries, and fatalities.

    To ensure the effectiveness of the policies, the company may collect data on accidents and near-misses, ask for feedback from other drivers, and continuously audit the fleet’s safety practices. This way, managers can avoid potential risks and ensure their drivers are safe.
  3. Establish and outline driver incentives for safe driving.

    To establish and outline driver incentives for safe driving, managers must first identify the goal of the incentive program. This might involve reducing accidents, improving productivity, or enhancing fuel efficiency. Establishing unbiased criteria that can be communicated to all drivers is also critical.

    Once the goal is established, the next step is to create a clear and concise plan for structuring the incentive program. This 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 or providing examples of safe driving behavior. Providing ongoing feedback and support to drivers is also essential, so they can continue to improve their performance and receive the rewards they deserve.

When to Coach Drivers

Conventional wisdom says it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but the reality is more complicated.

“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

That’s why the timing of your coaching is just as important as how you do it. For good safety practices and safe driving to be internalized, giving driver feedback must be done simultaneously, not just all at once.

It can be overwhelming to address too many pieces of feedback at a time. Coaching is never a one-and-done process but an ongoing conversation between managers and drivers. You want to coach your drivers consistently:

  • Onboarding: Regardless of where they are in their careers, ensuring every new hire goes through a specific onboarding program, including fleet safety, technology, and systems, sets them up for future success.
  • Incidents: Accidents and incidents will happen. It’s important to address what went wrong and what to do instead in the future as soon as possible after the incident. Following up with incidents like hard braking, collisions, seat belt compliance, red lights or stop sign violations, and more 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 Driver Coaching Session

A successful driver coaching session typically involves several stages.

  1. Schedule a meeting with your driver.
    Meeting your driver face-to-face is an excellent opportunity to establish rapport and build trust. It’s a time when the driver can openly discuss their goals and concerns about the job. When inviting a driver for a conversation, ensure they are well rested so they can be receptive to the coaching session.

    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.
  2. Prepare for the driver coaching session.
    While coaching should ideally be conducted proactively, there are times when timeliness is essential. For example, if a serious event 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 mishaps in the future.

    The manager should remain objective by getting all the facts from the driver (and data through telematics). The coach should also document all driver coaching sessions for future reference and help drivers see their career trajectories over time. The coach can identify trends and areas where drivers may need additional support or training by documenting these sessions. This can help ensure that drivers are continuously improving and reaching their full potential.
  3. Build rapport with your drivers.
    Managers should establish a respectful and friendly rapport with the driver during coaching sessions. This can be achieved by welcoming and greeting the driver and engaging in small talk. Depending on the level of rapport already established, appropriate topics for small talk may include asking about the driver’s day or their family.

    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. The 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 dashcam to show particular incidents deemed dangerous. This reinforces good behavior and creates a more positive and supportive coaching environment. Coaching sessions can be transformed into a constructive and empowering experience for both the driver and the manager by focusing on both areas for improvement and achievement.
  4. Discuss the purpose of driver safety.

    Driver safety is a critical issue that needs to be addressed, whether there is an accident or not. It is a complex task that requires a high level of concentration and awareness. Any form of distraction could lead to accidents, serious injuries, and even death.

    Since road safety is everyone’s responsibility, drivers must prioritize the safety of the people around them. By taking appropriate measures, such as following traffic rules and regulations, avoiding driving under the influence, maintaining their vehicle, and adjusting their driving according to weather and road conditions, drivers can ensure everyone is safe on the road. In doing so, they can avoid putting themselves or others at risk of harm.

    One way to motivate drivers to drive safely is to revisit the corporate awards program. Managers can use the GreenZone Score as a reference in developing creative and engaging ways to recognize drivers who consistently demonstrate safe driving practices. The awards program can also be expanded to include recognition for drivers who go above and beyond the call of duty, such as those who provide excellent customer service or contribute to the company’s safety culture.
  5. Provide encouragement and support while gaining commitment from the driver.

    Engaging drivers is crucial for any successful transportation company. This involves encouraging and supporting drivers and providing them with the necessary tools and resources to excel. For instance, training, access to necessary equipment, or a better vehicle can ensure drivers can carry out their duties to the best of their ability.

    Moreover, building a positive relationship with drivers is essential beyond providing primary resources. This helps establish trust and improve communication, which is vital for a productive and successful partnership. For instance, a company can offer incentives, regular feedback, or professional development and growth opportunities. By doing so, drivers feel appreciated, valued, and motivated to work harder and contribute to the company’s success.

How Fleet Management Technology Helps

Fleet management systems like Netradyne can provide valuable data that enables managers to enhance their safety practices and improve operational efficiency while lowering costs. With telematics, managers can access actionable insights to identify emerging trends in order to predict and prevent accidents. 

This includes reviewing videos and images to recognize opportunities for coaching and training drivers. Furthermore, the data collected can be used to create new safety protocols and procedures. A rewarding system can also be established to keep drivers motivated and satisfied with their jobs. 

This data-driven approach ensures better safety practices on the road and helps to streamline operations while keeping drivers engaged and happy.

Get the Right Technology for Your Driver Coaching Program

Driver cams are just the beginning. With Netradyne’s comprehensive coaching platform, you’ll never have to worry about driver performance.

Ready to step up your coaching game with Netradyne? Book your demo with us today.

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