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Start training with careful evaluations


In the words of rock icon Alice Cooper, school’s out for summer. With the exception of a few students attending summer classes, many kids will give little thought about their studies until fall.

There are no such breaks in the trucking industry. 

Experienced fleet managers know that safe operations demand a never-ending focus on the training which helps to enhance skills and reduce risk.

Besides that, the mere thought of training opportunities should be welcomed by those who work behind the wheel. Drivers want to be safe and avoid penalties such as fines. 

And each class and lesson is an investment in their future, helping to meet corporate and personal goals alike. 

The biggest challenge, then, is to decide exactly where to focus training resources so they maximize the return on every investment.

The most effective programs always begin with a clear understanding of a driver’s strengths and weaknesses. In many organizations this is first defined during the recruiting process.

A well-structured road test, for example, offers one of the best ways to observe how a candidate controls a vehicle in typical situations. The secret to an accurate analysis is to ensure a test lasts long enough for drivers to slip into their traditional habits, and to give nervous candidates a chance to relax. It is why, when evaluating drivers, I tended to make discreet notes in a small notepad rather than carrying an intimidating clipboard – quietly recording whether drivers took turns too tight or too wide, or if they failed to describe approaching hazards when asked to discuss what they see. 

The pre-trip inspection completed before the wheels are turning can tell another story. Asking a driver to conduct the pre-trip exactly as it was performed for a previous employer will certainly identify unwanted shortcuts.

A formal written quiz offers another valuable level of detail. Questions that focus on hours-of-service, for example, can ask candidates to complete a logbook page which mimics a typical trip. 

This can be particularly important when working with someone who will face cross-border trips, and a new set of rules, for the first time. Related questions offer insight into the decisions drivers make when managing fatigue.

As valuable as the right answers may be, every error plays its own role in the learning process. 

A review of the completed test offers the chance to discuss correct policies and procedures alike; the fleet’s commitment to due diligence is supported when the driver signs the completed test after being informed about the proper answers.  

But effective assessments extend beyond the tests alone. The actual logbook pages which show how many hours a new driver worked in the previous seven days can identify potential threats such as form and manner errors. 

In fact, any report tracking collisions, failed roadside inspections, highway infractions, or logbook violations can help to address bad habits as they begin to emerge. Checking Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) and CSA safety ratings every two months is a good place to start.

Training based on any of these results will be most relevant when drivers are offered some context about why the scores are important. After all, a safety rating can seem like an abstract concept until people know how an unwanted score can trigger audits, affect insurance premiums, or even scare away customers.

The training schedule itself will then need to ensure the information reaches everyone who needs it. 

When working for a cross-border fleet, I always found it best to plan bi-annual safety meetings during US holidays – such as Memorial Day or the US Thanksgiving – to ensure that drivers were not needed in the US. 

Every assessment and training document that emerges throughout the process will help to enhance a driver’s file, where test results can be matched to information about the nature of training programs, along the signatures which prove that the training was delivered. Members of the safety team, meanwhile, can include notes to suggest the need for follow-up evaluations to review any areas of weakness.

The focus extends to the most-experienced drivers, too. The same person who has a clean abstract today might slip into bad habits tomorrow. Fleets have also been known to raise their standards to a level that is higher than when someone was first hired.

In either case, there is an opportunity to prepare drivers for success.

That is an important lesson for any fleet to learn.

This month’s expert is Bill Cowan, senior risk services trainer. Bill has served the trucking industry for more than 35 years as a driver, safety manager, driver trainer and in loss control and risk management. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a longstanding history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.


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