Safety must become a core value for new driver hiring

  (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

With greater transparency and freight visibility comes greater scrutiny. The knife of regulation cuts both ways. In order to utilize the opportunities of ELDs, telematics, and camera technology, leadership must make safety a core value. A core value stays constant, even as things change all around you. Like a fixed cost, it is a non-negotiable, fixed priority. Speed and efficiency—as crucial as they are to the bottom line—cannot be placed above safety.

On first blush, the topic of safety can sound boring. The trucking industry as a whole has a history of erring on the side of freedom and “the open road,” not on anything sniffing of regulation or “playing it safe.”

But like many aspects to running a disciplined business, few things that need to be done well are easy to do. If it were easy to walk the walk of safety first, everyone would do it. Running a sustainable and profitable business isn’t just about what you do, it’s about what you don’t do. When it comes to the topic of lowering your risk, and therefore your insurance rates, it’s about both. What do you do? You hire well. What do you not do? The net result: You don’t have accidents. Or at least you have a lot fewer.

“Frivolous litigation is a persistent problem in driving up cost in the insurance system,” Andrew Ladebauche tells FreightWaves. “Ultimately, the consumer is going pay for that because as insurance rates rise, trucking will need higher rates.”

While that issue is still largely out of one’s control, there is hope that technology will start to rein that in. Along those lines, the FMCSA’s minimum insurance requirement for trucking companies of $750,000 is not much compared to the cost of a single crash. Even $1 million wouldn’t be much when compared to the verdicts victims often seek.

With so much out of control in today’s tight capacity and ELD-monitored freight world, what is the best business proposition one can identify? Safety as a core value can be a great return in terms of dollars and cents beyond just insurance premium costs.

So how do you do that exactly?

Hire drivers with clean records. No doubt, this is easier said than done. If there’s already a shortage, how much harder is it to find drivers with clean records—unless of course they have a clean record because they’re a new driver? And of course, younger drivers also cost more because data shows that drivers under 25 get into more accidents. Even if every hire can’t be your ideal hire, start from a framework focusing on driver retention.

Begin this process by providing clarity and expectations first on the basics, such as driving, detention, and layover, the nuts-and-bolts of the driving job. Safety is further addressed with proper training, accountability, and proactively rewarding success. It is also addressed through discussing proper equipment specs.

“Think about a coach who was tough on you, but you respected him for it,” says Damon Langley director of solution delivery, analytics and decision support at TMW. “Engendering that type of relationship with your driver starts with your first few conversations, where you say, ‘I expect this of you, and this is what you can expect of me. And I’m going to hold you accountable, and I want you to hold me accountable.’”

A job description helps to establish interest in the job, as well as setting expectations for both employee and employer regarding how they will interact, and their corresponding duties and responsibilities to one another.

“This is conspicuously absent for most driving jobs, at least in a comprehensive way,” says Langley. “We generally assume that drivers know their job, and that is true to a large extent, but being specific with clear expectations creates trust.”

Beyond hiring with a focus toward retention and a positive company culture, leverage all that technology can now do. Rather than resist or piecemeal solutions, think comprehensively.

Use in-cab video systems as a coaching tool. Driver-facing cameras provides “proof of innocence” in crashes, but perhaps more importantly, it allows the company to continually improve its safety profile through coaching. Drivers make literally thousands of decisions a day, and often enough those decisions can be improved upon. It’s not about making drivers feel like Big Brother is always watching and ready to reprimand. It’s about proactively developing your drivers’ skills.

Think about a coach who was tough on you, but you respected him for it.

 Third, let technology be your guide. In-cab video systems is just one part of the equation. Leveraging telematics data like hard braking and evidence of speed is another technology that can be put to use to spot unsafe driving practices. There are plenty of other technologies as well: anti-lock braking systems, blind-spot warning devices, driver-facing cameras, rearview cameras, as well as side-mounted. Beyond that, fleets can invest in GPS tracking technology. Recovering a stolen vehicle or trailer is no longer the costly and daunting task it once was—and one in which was often written off as a loss and therefore a possible premium increase. Anti-theft technology can come with additional discounts as well. 

If safety as a core value is the real measure of a company’s culture—and not merely wanting to keep down insurance costs—it will pay off down the road.

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