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Coping with reporting technologies

When I switched to electronic logs a couple of years ago, I was very keen about the potential going electronic had for making my life easier. The fact I don't have to spend any time filling out log pages and performing manual recaps is reason...

When I switched to electronic logs a couple of years ago, I was very keen about the potential going electronic had for making my life easier. The fact I don’t have to spend any time filling out log pages and performing manual recaps is reason enough for me to never turn back.

But my belief that an electronic system would make managing my time easier and less stressful has proven to be somewhat of a pipe dream. In many regards, an electronic log is an unrelenting taskmaster that does not allow you any flexibility. You have to complete your daily tasks within a given time frame regardless of the curves that are routinely thrown your way over the course of any given day. As drivers, we see lots of junk thrown our way. Weather, dock delays, equipment failure, border crossings, unforeseen traffic problems, etc.

So rather than relieving stress as I had originally believed it would, electronic logs have added a considerable amount of stress to my day and have become a means of measuring my performance. In fact, the trend seems to be towards measuring driver performance through critical incidence reporting via a truck’s on-board software.

Reports are generated automatically and e-mailed to a driver’s safety manager. And it doesn’t stop there. Programs have also been developed and rolled out to notify a driver’s manager when a driver is showing signs of fatigue so that preventive action can be taken.

I’m not even going to attempt to dispute the fact that all of this information can be beneficial for a carrier in a number of ways. It can reduce costs, ensure compliance with legislation, reduce accidents, create learning opportunities for drivers, improve overall safety and so on. But if these programs are so wonderful, why am I left feeling stressed and tired at the end of the day? Shouldn’t all of this stuff be helping to make my experience on the road happier, healthier, and give me more time for myself and my family? Where is the efficiency in this system?

The fact is that all of these software solutions designed to provide greater economic efficiencies and a higher degree of safety are often not designed with the driver in mind. At least that’s my assumption as an end user of this technology.

I think that drivers want the same thing as the carriers and enforcement agencies when it comes to safety and efficiency, but the parties are miles apart when it comes to methodology and implementation of these tools. Why? Because drivers often view these in-cab systems that monitor their performance as big brother watching over them. The nature of the system reporting is a form of constant negative re-enforcement to a driver. It only tells you when you are doing something wrong, no matter the gravity, circumstance, or context of the situation at hand. That’s irritating, frustrating and demoralizing. At least that’s my personal feeling. There is no accounting for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of things I do right in the course of my day.

What if an incident reporting system was developed that turned the whole thing around? What if reports were to be generated for all the positive actions that occur in the course of a professional driver’s day? There would be so many e-mails generated to our respective safety departments that we may very well crash the company server. Man, it would be great to get immediate positive feedback in recognition of a job well done.

How about a resolution for 2012 that only allows satellite messages sent to the truck to be positive in nature? In addition to that, for every critical incident report generated by on-board performance monitoring software that is brought to the driver’s attention by a carrier’s safety department, they have to also discuss two positive incidents generated by the driver on the same day. I think that would go a long way to relieving driver stress, improve driver morale and improve overall driver health in 2012. Imagine the effects on productivity!

There is no doubt in my mind that you can’t go back to the way things were in this life. Life is impermanent in nature and changes continuously. That means that the situation at hand in the present moment is bound to change tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. I also believe we can influence that change. We have monitoring systems that feed drivers with a stream of data highlighting their shortcomings and expect improvement. But if that information isn’t framed within a compassionate intention to benefit the driver, it will erode performance, not enhance it.

I know safety managers have an especially tough job these days. If they want to build trust with their drivers I believe they need to find creative ways to soften this reporting technology, embody it with a little humanity and frequently reassure their drivers that as long as they are sitting in the wheelhouse, the driver’s decision is final. Cheers, and Happy New Year to all.

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1 Comment » for Coping with reporting technologies
  1. Danita Tilley says:

    Thank you for posting your perspective on in-cab technology Al. We have been implementing this technology since January 2011 and chose the PeopleNet system to assist us in collecting the most valuable data to assess the fairest way to reward drivers for good driving habits. The owner here ran the roads for 30+ years so he is looking for ways to pay a good driver more money to retain him and help build a strong fleet. This data allows him to also assess his equipment and determine which trucks are more fuel efficient.

    Our Safety & Compliance department uses the data to improve the fleet by detecting poor driving habits that can be used for the positive. At review time, of course every driver wants feedback and hopefully a raise. This data allows a fair system and gives drivers valuable feedback as to how they can increase their pay. Overspeeds put our CVOR at risk in addition to inefficient fuel usage and this is a habit that is easy to change. We can also use the data to identify if a load was dispatched incorrectly. Often a driver speeds to meet an appointment time that was set up without enough time to get there safely. Therefore, we can use this data to support improvement in our internal operations and this leads to better driver and customer satisfaction.

    We use satellite messaging to communicate with drivers for more than just business. We warn drivers about bad weather or road closures to help them plan their trip better; communicate relevant industry news; communcate dates of JH&S meetings or driver meetings; invite input on issues; wish drivers a happy birthday; communicate sad news in the event of a loss, etc. This has all come a long way in the last year and yes, we do often use it to request a driver reduce his speed or hand in missing paperwork, but all in all, it is viewed as an effective means of safe, low cost communication.

    From a Customer Service perspective, we can evaluate trips in progress and provide our contacts with current information while the vehicle is in route and after the fact. We can also see where a driver is excessively delayed and address that with the customer if need be – drivers tell me “if the wheels aren’t rolling, the cash isn’t flowing”. This technology can help address detention time and keep everyone happy.

    Our system allows drivers to communicate with their friends and family via email. Many drivers have commented on how nice it is to get “mail on the road” to help them stay in touch. This is a positive.

    The best feedback I have received is from a veteran in the industry who stated that he no longer sweats when approaching a scale as his log is accurate and current. He adds that he rolls into a rest stop at night and doesn’t have to anything other than check messages if necessary and go to bed. He also notes that he is more rested when he returns home and has better quality time with his family because he is not so tired.

    I respect the job that all of our drivers do and admire their dedication. Like any industry change, there are pros and cons but overall, as you stated, this technology has a greater acceptance level if it is used to the benefit of both company and driver. Be patient. We all have a learning curve attached to this industry change, but through continued constructive feedback , professional drivers such as yourself will influence technology going forward to make it work well for everyone.

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