Media Coverage

The Guardian - Driver Mentoring Provides a Voice of Reason

03/15/2013 - By Carleton Watkins, Vice President of Research and Development for inthinc Technology Solutions

Motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of workplace fatalities in the United States. Individuals who work behind the wheel also receive more non-fatal injuries than any other occupation. Forget crab boats, those who drive for a living have the most dangerous job in the nation.

Companies and government organizations that are concerned with maintaining the highest standards of safety have taken notice and many are implementing new policies and deploying new technologies to help improve driver safety. Enhancing driver training has been an important part of increasing safety and has been particularly helpful in helping drivers develop new attitudes about safety.

Training Is Only the Start

While training is vital to improving safety, once drivers get behind the wheel, there is no guarantee that the training will take hold. In fact, a study by the American Transportation Research Institute showed training programs produce no statistical change or improvement in the incidents of fleet driver accidents. When drivers get back on the road, over time the lessons they learned in training sessions have a tendency to wear off and old habits kick in again.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error. The cause of such errors include reckless driving, speeding, changing lanes without signaling, driving on the hard shoulder, running red lights and so on.

If 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error, it does not matter how in tune the engine is, how recently the brakes were changed, how much tread is left on the tires, how clean the windshield is, how bright the headlights are or how technologically advanced the vehicle is – without a fundamental change in how driver behavior is addressed, there will continue to be accident upon accident on the roadways.

Great strides have been taken to improve vehicle safety between the bumpers. Engineers and designers the world over should be commended for this; however, with the vast majority of crashes caused by human error, it is critically evident that more attention needs to be put towards what happens between the ears.

A new set of solid, confident, safe-driving habits need to be developed in a way that brings both immediate improvements and long-lasting results.

Telematics Gets Closer

GPS-enabled technologies are appearing in everything from cell phones to name badges to tablet computers and car keys. Vehicles are certainly no exception, and in the workplace telematics and GPS data are offering an increasingly sophisticated perspective on driver behavior.

Organizations can employ systems that track vehicle usage and provide details such as where a vehicle is located, where it has been and the speeds it has driven along the way. Advanced systems can report to managers instances of speeding, hard braking and aggressive driving such as hard cornering and rapid lane changes. These reports enable supervisors to give specific feedback to specific drivers about specific incidents and help hold them accountable for their actions.

Reports from insurance companies that offer telematics to companies with fleets have shown marked reductions in accidents, and some have seen their accident payout costs cut in half.

The challenge is much of the technology employed to monitor drivers for safety issues has been just that, technology used to monitor drivers. Companies that have tied these into their traditional fleet management solutions have been allowed to improve how they manage their vehicles by better tracking the happenings of the fleet. This has a tendency to provide two positive benefits. First, the company knows where the vehicles are, and second, the drivers know they are being monitored so they will initially be more inclined to follow the prescribed policies.

This approach has been used to create a “driver profile,” which can be utilized in follow-up actions with the drivers in the form of additional training courses or sometimes even reprimands in an effort to curb crashes.

While this is a big step, tracking and reporting is reactive and because it can only report on what has happened in the past, it is only part of the solution to improving driver behavior.

In-Cab Driver Mentoring is the Key

The most valuable and effective solution for improving driver behavior is real-time verbal mentoring (RTVM). This approach leverages telematics technology to let them know they are doing something risky the instant they begin to demonstrate unsafe behavior.

The way RTVM works is deceptively simple. If a driver is speeding, a computer in the cab will verbally instruct them in a calm, clear voice to “check your speed.” If they engage in a turn that is too hard, they will be told they are engaging in aggressive driving. If they forget to wear their seatbelt, they will be instructed to fasten their seat belt and so on.

By combining GPS, accelerometers, and other telematics technologies, RTVM senses dangerous behavior, often before the driver, and it immediately instructs the driver what to do, using words the driver understands.

The key to its effectiveness is that RTVM is proactive, not reactive. Its purpose is to actually prevent accidents and enforce compliance and organization policy by changing behavior in real-time.

Verbal mentoring is the best auditory alert possible. For instance, instead of a distracting and confusing beep or a buzzer going off in the cab when the driver is speeding, they can immediately hear what they did wrong (i.e. the type of infraction) and what they need to do to correct the behavior.

To be totally effective, RTVM should not be conducted in a vacuum. If a driver does not comply with the mentoring, managers can be notified via email, text or phone call (following an appropriate grace period to enable drivers to slow down or otherwise correct their behavior). This enables organizations to have immediate, meaningful data and reports that empower them to directly address the issues they need to address and solve the problems they need to solve.

For drivers, immediate feedback in their vehicle allows them to make quick corrections in the short term and build new, effective habits that last over a long, safe lifetime.