What’s the score?

by Sonia Straface

TORONTO, Ont. — Any good fleet manager knows that drivers are the key to success for the overall business.

Data collection on driver behavior is the fastest way to help your fleet’s bottom line, as it can measure each and every driver’s performance, safety, fuel mileage, fuel compliance, and more.

All of these metrics, fed in from various telematics, benefit the carrier by saving lives, preventing injuries and collisions, and reducing costs. So, what are carriers doing to make sure they are staying on top of all the technology and on top of their drivers? We spoke to some of the Best Fleets to Drive For as named by CarriersEdge and the Truckload Carriers Association to see how they lead by example when it comes to measuring driver behavior.

“We really try and take a holistic approach,” said Luke Williams of Central Oregon Truck Company, which operates more than 300 trucks. “We know that you can have a driver who is productive, but not safe, and a driver that is safe, but not as productive. So, we like to track that and use all the data we can to train them. We measure fuel mileage, fuel compliance, routing, miles per gallon, idle time, hard brake events, sudden stops, everything. Anytime those alarms go off, we are measuring that.”

Central Oregon uses a combination of SmartDrive, TruckMate, and PeopleNet systems in its cabs.

Canada’s own Bison Transport also uses a number of in-cab technologies to measure and record driver behavior.

“We have in-cab critical event recording,” Stephanie Fensom, manager of safety at Bison Transport said. “We track following distance, speed, and roll stability.”

Bison is also testing a driver fatigue monitoring system in a few of its trucks. The system has inward-facing cameras that can identify if the driver is blinking for too long, or if he/she is distracted.

“If the system recognizes that the driver has his or her eyes closed for 1.5 seconds or more, it triggers to call us at the terminal so we can see what is going on with that driver,” Fensom said.

For FTC Transportation, the core carrier for Feed the Children, which only operates 30 trucks, it can be hard to invest in so much technology on a small budget. However, it still operates PeopleNet computers for electronic logging, GPS, and performance tracking.

Monetary rewards
On the whole, these Best Fleets found the best way to incentivize the drivers to care about the data telematics pumped out, is with money. At FTC, just over one year ago it changed its usual quarterly fuel bonus into a performance scorecard.

“Each quarter our drivers are able to look at a sheet in full color and see their percentage score and a gauge to show them how they’re doing,” Mills said.

Drivers at FTC can earn bonus points for bringing in a clean truck to the shop, or having a clean roadside inspection. In the same stroke, if a driver has a negative inspection, or a high-speed occurrence, then negative points are allotted on the scorecard. In the end, the bonus they earned is paid out based on their overall score.

“And so, every quarter we feed in all that data and it gives them a score,” Mills explained. “So, for instance if, on fuel mileage he or she earned a $1,000 bonus, but his or her score was only 50%, then he or she would only get $500 for their bonus.”

Mills admitted that when this scorecard was first rolled out, there was a lot of pushback from drivers who thought it was a way for the company to take money away from drivers.

“We’ve actually seen an increase in how much we’re paying out in bonuses,” Mills said. “And part of that reason is under our old bonus plan, if a driver has a negative safety occurrence, they were eliminated from the bonus that quarter. And the problem with that is, let’s say in the first quarter in January they have a citation, or a negative inspection, and now they know they’ve been disqualified from the bonus the entire quarter. So what incentive do they have to prevent more negative safety occurrences? With the percentage program, they’re not knocked out, and there are other ways to overcome – now our drivers aren’t losing the bonus entirely, so they’re really happy with that. It is about improving our overall safety picture, while rewarding our over-the-road safety professionals for their efforts.”

Healthy competition
At Central Oregon, while there is a fuel bonus, Williams finds that a lot of drivers up their performance so they can be recognized for one of the plethora of awards it hands out annually.

“We have driver of the year awards for both our heavy-haul division and our regular fleet,” Williams said. “And the winners of that are all the top performers in the fleet. We also have a rookie of the year award that goes to the new driver who has the highest performance score average. We also have safety awards, recognizing drivers who have one million, two million, and 100,000 accident-free miles. But my favorite award is one that we call Mr. & Mrs. COTC (Central Oregon Truck Company). And that’s an award that goes to the driver who most reflects what we’re all about here at Central Oregon. We get the whole office to vote on the winner for that one.”

Williams said drivers want to be in the running for these awards, and it’s often reflected in their performance.

At Bison, driver scorecards include a ranking so drivers can see how they compare to their peers and if they are better or worse than the fleet average. The list goes by driver ID number so the list can remain anonymous.

“What we’re finding is drivers are looking at that and saying, ‘I don’t want to be 49 out of 55,’ so then they’ll learn what they need to do better to get their score up and move up the ranks,” Fensom said. “It’s a nice healthy competition.”

Other benefits
On top of making your drivers happy through incentive rewards and payouts, along with lowering your bottom line, there are other benefits to adding a scorecard program to your fleet, or tracking driver behavior.

At Bison, for example, Garth Pitzel, the director of safety and driver development, says an added bonus of having drivers on scorecards is that any faulty equipment is flagged right away.

“If their truck is not operating right, the drivers are absolutely talking to us about it,” he said. “So that really helps us on the maintenance side.”

Williams agreed, adding that monitoring driver behavior has actually helped prevent safety issues with the fleet.

“The biggest benefit to tracking these drivers is you can see problems before they come,” he said. “You can almost always see a guy struggling before a big accident. When you’re measuring, you’re learning and getting ahead of issues.”

At FTC, the results are more concrete. Since rolling out the new scorecard program, Mills said the fleet has seen improved safety results as well as a 13% reduction in preventable accidents, and a 27% reduction in negative roadside/DOT inspections.

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