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The 5 stages of successful driver coaching

Approaching training with the right mindset sets proper tone and drives more effective results

(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Dashboard cameras have proven their worth over the years. In a study of 10,648 crashes involving trucks and buses with dashcams from 2010 to 2012, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that vehicles equipped with dashcams saw a 20% reduction in fatal crashes and a 35% reduction in injury crashes.

A joint FreightWaves and J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. survey of 211 fleets found that 49% of fleets that installed dashcams saw a decrease in the average value of insurance claims, and 61% saw a decrease in the number of insurance claims. Of fleets that use dashcams, 45% said they saw lower legal fees and risks of litigation as a result, even when their drivers were at fault.

With an average cost per accident of over $91,000, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, dashcams offer a low-cost risk-mitigation tool.

But dashcams themselves are simply a tool that, if not used properly, provide little value. Driver coaching, which extends beyond the installation and operation of the camera, is the critical piece of the safety puzzle. Cameras can identify potential issues – in fact, 8 of the top 10 violations issued during 2019’s Operation Safe Driver Week would have shown up in driver camera footage. Those violations include speeding, failure to wear a seat belt, failure to obey a traffic control device, using a handheld phone/texting, improper lane change, following too closely, improper passing, and inattentive/careless and/or reckless driving.

“It’s the continual coaching and correction of unsafe behavior, particularly from driver-specific video footage, that minimizes the potential for negligent supervision and maximizes your return on investment in proactive safety systems, like dash cameras,” explained Mark Schedler, senior editor of transportation management for J. J. Keller & Associates. “Coaching is the foundation of any top-tier performance management program.”

Effective coaching programs focus on communication, timeliness, and buy-in. J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., advised in their Fleet Manager’s Playbook that fleets should conduct coaching sessions in private and ensure the environment makes the driver feel safe to encourage feedback. A successful coaching session involves five stages, the compliance company said: 

  1. Scheduling 
  2. Preparing
  3. Building rapport
  4. Coaching and/or recognition 
  5. Gaining commitment.

1. Scheduling

Each fleet has a scheduling process that may include regular training – yearly, quarterly, or even more often. Training could be weekly driver training or safety sessions for groups of drivers, either in person or via video. But the most serious incidents need to be addressed within 24 to 48 hours, advised Schedler. Conversely, drivers should be recognized for positive behaviors with as much enthusiasm and timeliness. Ensure drivers are available, rested and receptive to the timing of the training session.

Schedler stated that setting metrics for coaches can help motivate and ensure training is conducted efficiently.

“For example, coaching timeliness could represent the percentage of events coached within a specific time frame of the incident,” he said. “Coaching efficacy could measure the percentage of similar risk events by driver/by coach within a specified time frame.”

2. Preparation

When an incident occurs and training is necessary, the trainer needs to be prepared. This means reviewing the video multiple times and, if necessary, seeking another coach’s opinion of the incident. 

During the talk with the driver, it’s important to focus on facts and avoid emotional language. Importantly, don’t make assumptions about the situation. A review of the driver’s safety history and trends prior to the meeting adds meaningful context. Is this an isolated incident that just needs a reminder or a pattern of behavior? 

Finally, think through how the conversation may go. What questions will you ask? What questions will the driver ask? What is the likely reaction from the driver and how will you respond? Don’t put the driver on the defensive as that can be counterproductive.

3. Building rapport

Creating an inviting environment for drivers that will engage their attention and encourage feedback is important. Drivers are not numbers, they are people and should be treated as such. Be sure the trainer greets the drivers appropriately and conveys sentiments of appreciation for their time and commitment to address the concerns. Ask about their week or family, if relevant. Trainers also should recognize past positive safety behaviors when appropriate.

“Consider preparing coaches for sessions with drivers by using role-playing exercises,” Schedler said. “This ensures that coaches can build rapport and trust and provide counsel without putting drivers on the defensive.”

4. Coaching and/or recognition

The hardest part of the conversation is the actual coaching. J. J. Keller’s Fleet Manager’s Playbook has an extensive section on proper coaching, and suggests that coaching start with the trainer and driver watching the video clip in question prior to discussing what happened. In some cases, there may have been outside influences that played a role, and drivers can fill in some of these gaps – maybe they didn’t sleep well the night before or were held up at a prior drop-off point and racing against allowable driving hours.

Following the review of incidents and any additional factors that may have played a role, trainers should ask drivers how they would correct the root cause of the problem or what the company can do to help. Maybe the driver feels pressure due to inefficient scheduling by dispatch or perhaps there are health concerns that are causing irregular sleep patterns. Finding and solving the root cause of the problem is a more effective approach than simply issuing discipline for the problem.

If this incident is the result of repeated issues, lay out a path for more formal training, which may include ride-alongs to correct the issue.

During the coaching session, be sure to praise positive behaviors while also explaining how unsafe behaviors impact the driver and fleet. Recap the issue in a simple statement to check for agreement, stated Schedler.

If discipline is necessary, be sure it is consistent across drivers – similar behaviors/safety incidents require similar disciplinary actions – and it is aligned with company policies. In some cases, remedial training may be necessary, such as addressing consistent hard braking incidents or improper spacing between vehicles. Videos or trainer ride-alongs could be warranted.

In a situation in which the driver becomes defensive and tries to steer the conversation off topic, respectfully guide the conversation back to the topic at hand. However, Schedler advised that the trainer should listen because, while the unrelated issues may not be relevant at that time, they may need attention and can impact the driver’s quality of life if not addressed. If more support is needed, that should occur following the session.

As always, trainers should document the root cause and next steps in the process (including any positive recognition), creating a document trail to ensure proper action is followed.

5. Gaining commitment

Every coaching session needs to reach a positive and constructive ending, and that means getting a commitment from the driver to correct their unsafe behaviors and not just agreeing to the follow-up actions. Drivers who don’t take accountability for their actions are likely to continue increasing the risk to the fleet and that should be addressed.

Be sure to end coaching sessions on a positive note. Thank drivers and make sure they know that they are valued by the fleet and can come back to the trainer in the future with any problems or topics they wish to discuss.

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]