Keep On Truckin' - Safely

That "smart box" in your fleet's trucks is keeping tabs on driver performance. Will they accept the safety feedback that it generates?

Every day, your in-vehicle technology systems deliver performance information for you to slice, dice and distribute to drivers. But you don't know if your drivers will accept feedback that comes from technology. So you may hesitate to use the information. Hesitate no longer.

Through information gathered from nine trucking industry focus groups and 198 long-haul truck drivers, our research for Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety discovered it doesn't matter where you get driver performance data. Whether from technology or supervisor observation, drivers will accept the feedback. What does matter is this: drivers must respect the person delivering the feedback.

Still, even with that respected person in place, will drivers use the information you provide? Here are suggestions - from drivers themselves - for an in-vehicle technology feedback program that works for everyone.

Setting Up the Right Program

Drivers won't trust the feedback they get if they don't trust the system that delivers it. Here are their recommendations for feedback that works:

  • Involve employees at all levels in program development
  • Allow drivers to pilot-test new in-cab technology
  • Demonstrate management support
  • Train employees on all new technologies and procedures
  • Reward "good driving" in a timely and meaningful way
  • Give drivers feedback on driving performance right after an event
  • Disclose fully all uses for in-vehicle technology data

Drivers were adamant about the last point. Data misuse immediately destroys their trust in both you and the program. Closely linked to data use: the concern about privacy and their discomfort with technology watching them.

Other perceived downsides include the concern that technology would be unjustly used against them, too complex, not very reliable, or make truck driving too easy (which would "de-skill" the industry as well as flood it with drivers).

Yet, even with these concerns, drivers still thought technology could improve driving performance, lower stress and decrease operating costs. Some even saw potential for vindication from an incident or crash.

Let's Talk About Me

So, what feedback do drivers want? Specific, constructive and individualized - especially if positive and accompanied by a reward. Of course, drivers understand it is necessary to occasionally deliver negative feedback and ask for solutions to help them improve. It was noted by drivers that the three least helpful ways to deliver feedback are: "beating a dead horse" (discussing the same event repeatedly); "public beating" (giving negative feedback in public); and giving negative feedback without offering solutions.

Drivers offered these suggestions for constructive feedback:

  • Limit discussions to those actions which the driver has control over to improve or alter.
  • Give feedback without judgment - avoid "good" or "bad" - and concentrate on criteria, outcomes and improvement.
  • Present perceptions, reactions or opinions as such and not as facts.
  • Avoid loaded terms which produce emotional reactions and raise defenses.
  • Convey acceptance of the person as worthwhile and of their right to be different.

Drivers agree: in-vehicle technology can help improve safety performance and they welcome the feedback it provides. Use the data wisely and you are on the road to fewer crashes and smoother operations.

David Melton is product director and Emily Huang is a researcher at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety.

Sidebar: Examples of In-Vehicle Technologies:

  • Collision Avoidance/Warning System: Sensors installed at the front of a vehicle, which constantly scan the road ahead for vehicles or obstacles. Detecting an obstacle, the system then determines whether the vehicle is in immediate danger of crashing. If so, it warns the driver with a tone, a warning light or a "heads-up" display.
  • Adaptive (Intelligent, Smart) Cruise Control: A combination of collision warning technology and existing cruise control, the system maintains separation distance behind a followed vehicle using an adjustable range control feature.
  • Rollover Detection and Prevention System: Using either in-vehicle sensors or highway-mounted sensors, the system alerts the driver when s/he may be exceeding the speed at which a rollover or load shift may occur.
  • Lane Tracking or Lane Departure Warning: If a vehicle moves to the edge of the roadway, an audible alarm in the vehicle sounds to alert the driver. Some systems track the highway lane markers and give an alarm if the driver crosses a lane marking without the appropriate turn signal. These systems can also sense the driver's level of alertness by detecting erratic steering or weaving.
  • Side Sensing (Proximity) Devices: Using technology similar to collision avoidance systems, these devices monitor the close proximity (sides) of the vehicle. It then gives an alarm to assist in preventing sideswipe crashes if it senses an object.
  • Vehicle and Cargo Tracking Systems: Tracking the vehicle and broadcasting its position via a satellite-based global positioning system, this enables the transportation company to know the precise vehicle position and monitor driver performance.
  • Driver Alertness Monitors: Using eyelid movement blink rate, head movements or steering wheel movement (or some combination), these systems monitor driver alertness and warn the driver if s/he is outside pre-established personal benchmarks.
  • In-Vehicle Event Data Recorder (EDR) or "Black Box": EDRs constantly record information related to vehicle performance. Recorded data might include information such as the driver and passenger belt usage, the driver's steering and brake input, airbag and seatbelt tensioners' data, information from the ABS, the speed and deceleration information of the vehicle and the location of the vehicle. In addition, the system may also trigger an automatic collision notification.
  • In-Vehicle Cameras: Cameras record, but do not save, video and audio images of the driving scene. When a preset g-force is exceeded, the camera saves audio and video of the event for future review by management. This record of driving events can be used to counsel drivers and improve their behavior
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