Rules of the road
Con-way Freight uses CSA as driver-improvement tool.
Con-way Freight has always considered its safety programs for drivers and fleet maintenance among the best in the industry. Measuring driver performance comes with the territory.
But the Department of Transportation's Compliance Safety Accountability initiative has opened up a whole new avenue for preventing accidents by allowing motor carriers access to a much richer set of data about the compliance habits of their drivers.
The nation's second-largest less-than-truckload carrier is taking advantage of the government's new database to elevate its best practices for safety to the next level.
'We've changed our safety policy to incorporate many of the main compliance categories under CSA. And we're taking a more aggressive look at employee behavior as it relates to future predictability of crashes,' said Bob Petrancosta, Con-way's vice president of safety.
CSA has broadened the criteria the trucking company uses to evaluate drivers. Traditionally, drivers would turn in inspection reports showing violations, warnings or a clean bill of health at their local terminal. But it took awhile for the paper reports to make their way to the company's Ann Arbor, Mich., headquarters for further review. The new system gives motor carriers a much clearer, more transparent view into the roadside inspection reports, he said.
The company uses the roadside inspection paperwork turned in by drivers to provide remedial training and repair any listed violations. CSA enables the highway carrier to be less reactive by analyzing violation trends among its driver force and determining what topics to emphasize in a general awareness initiative or extra training.
'We've gotten smarter as an industry. CSA shows that behavior leads to outcomes,' Petrancosta said. The new approach is analogous to someone who buys flood insurance after their basement has flooded as opposed to changing their behavior by buying a house on a hill instead of in the flood plain.
'Behavior drives risk and risk produces negative outcomes. So if you can reduce the opportunity for risk you can eliminate the chance for bad outcomes,' he said.
Motivated by a greater opportunity to attack bad behavior before it causes an accident and a looming driver shortage, Con-way has embarked on a significant effort to develop homegrown drivers by establishing driver training schools at many of its terminals.
In the past 10 months it has opened training centers at 70 facilities where new driver candidates go through a 240-hour curriculum over 12 weeks that consists of class work and behind-the-wheel practice, Petrancosta said.
Prior to last spring, Con-way had five in-house training sites and mostly filled its ranks with experienced drivers familiar with Con-way's tractors who left other companies.
Under the new-driver training program, a prospective driver spends 20 hours per week in class and the rest of the workweek helping on the loading dock.
Con-way officials say the approach allows employees to start earning a living while receiving a free driver education, compared to full-time, for-profit schools that can cost up to $6,000 and offer fewer total hours of training. The program exposes new workers to every aspect of the business, including how to properly hook and unhook a trailer, working a forklift, dealing with customers, and filling out paperwork 'so they see the full scope of what it takes to be a truck driver in our company,' spokesman Gary Frantz said.
New dockworkers are accepted into the driver program if they are in good standing after 30 days.
About 150 students have graduated from Con-way Freight's program so far and 'their safety performance is measurably better than new employees we've hired off the street with experience,' Petrancosta said.
He attributed the difference to better training and the fact they didn't need to unlearn bad habits.
Con-way, Petrancosta said, has 700 driver trainers spread around all of its locations. Their mission is to help drivers correct their unsafe behaviors. Refresher training focuses on problem areas common among drivers. A driver who has a violation, such as a poor pre-trip inspection or failing to properly inspect brakes, receives one-on-one coaching.
'If they're still not performing up to measure we remove them from the operation,' Petrancosta said.
Con-way is developing an incentive program to encourage good driver behavior and ensure clean inspections, but specific benefits have not been identified yet, he said.