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Developing a Truck Driving Safety Program

by Holly Plude - Published: 4/05/2017
4.5 37 votes

With the large turnover in the trucking industry it is important, perhaps one can even go so far as to say imperative, that each company develop a truck driving safety program. It does not matter if you have a fleet of one truck traveling the back roads of Nebraska or of 1,000 servicing oil fields in Texas - driver safety must be paramount.

In addition to your drivers going home at the end of each run, you will find you also save money, perhaps a significant amount. The savings will come through demonstrating care for vehicles, reduction in accidents, a minimal number of fines, and improved fuel mileage.

However, it’s one thing for a fleet manager to realize the need for a safety program and another to put the program together. In taking a look at establishing a program, one must look at the high-level overview of the different aspects of the program.

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Establish written policies and procedures

The safety program will need to have clearly defined company guidelines. These policies and procedures should reflect company expectations and state/federal regulations. In addition to simply adhering to the written law, these safety policies should echo common sense one practices on the job as well as ensuring that drivers know the level of liability they are responsible for when operating with safety and diligence within their respective truck driving job.

Encourage executive management involvement

In order for programs to be worthwhile, encourage the company’s executive management to be actively involved in the program. Invite them to speak for part of the safety program, or to come out and meet the new drivers soon after they start working at your company. When higher-ups show involvement and care for the practices of the individual driver, employees are more likely to take programs seriously and may choose to operate reliably.

Create a rewards program for safe driving

A common rewards program is that of safe miles. Typically for every 1,000,000 miles driven without incident (accident, ticket, or other motor vehicle infraction driver caused), the driver receives a monetary reward. At five year increments you might consider including a plaque, or jacket, or other significant memento.

Address potential knowledge gaps

As the number of trucker job openings continue to rise, there are new drivers entering the work force regularly. New truck drivers will have gaps in knowledge that typically would only be learned through on-the-road experience. Consider asking several seasoned drivers to assist in developing the safety program, drawing on their years in the business to bridge inevitable knowledge gaps.

Establish familiarity with equipment

New drivers will likely not be familiar with multiple types of equipment. Perhaps they have only driven a Peterbilt, but you only run Macs. Set aside time in the program for assisting drivers to become familiar with your company’s specific equipment before they are expected to get on the road.

Designate the trainer(s)

Obviously, there needs to be a trainer in your newly developed safety program. However, it’s a good idea to cross-train one to two additional individuals on the program. The purpose of cross-training is to make sure you are never left without anyone. Should your main trainer take a new job, find themselves in an accident and therefore find themselves of commission for several months, or what have you, taking time to cross-train additional staff will ensure the smooth continuation of the program.

Form a safety committee

A safety committee can handle new safety issues as they arise, and work to continually improve the existing program. The committee should be comprised of at least one of each of the following: executive management, middle management, seasoned driver, new driver, non-driver. All of the latter list will make instinctive sense, except for the non-driver. It is good to have an outside point of view. The non-driver should be a passenger vehicle driver who can offer input from that standpoint.

Consider individualized training

If you are hiring a seasoned driver, the training will not be as rigorous as with a fresh truck school graduate. Consider individualizing your training so that only the necessary time is spent. Remember, the sooner training is completed the sooner the driver is out on the road making money for themselves and a company. This is not a viable option for large companies who are hiring tens of drivers each week, but for smaller operations, it is worth considering.

Create a training timeline

If you are an established company, your training timeline will include training all existing drivers. If you are a new company, your training will occur as drivers begin. If you are a large company that invites drivers from around the country to train with you, like many based in California, with 1,000 or more employees, you should consider holding your training only twice per month and having new employees start on those dates.

Topics for training

Core topics a company should covering in their safety training program include, but are not limited to:

Federal regulations (FMCSA, CSA, OSHA)

State regulations (that are different from Federal regulations)

City regulations (if these exist)

Company accident policy

Workplace injury process

Accident prevention

Workplace injury prevention

D.O.T. audit compliance

Pre-trip/post-trip inspections

Equipment review

Hooking/unhooking tractors, trailers, dollies, king pins

Develop multiple training styles

Individuals all learn differently. Some learn best through video, others are better at text-based learning, and the rest rely on hands-on training. Develop multiple ways of training and make sure your individual training programs can accommodate everyone’s best learning methods.

Different types of training methods include:

Lecture: Much like a professor lectures to a class of college students, the safety director can lecture to the driver(s). A great deal of driver training programs in the country couple a designated amount of classroom hours with driving experience. Allow for audience participation if you lecture so that all questions and concerns can be addressed.

Role-playing: Ask someone from the company (preferably outside of the transportation department) to act as the customer and let your driver role-play dealing with a difficult customer, a late unload, a late arrival, damaged product, etc. Since drivers are part customer service representatives by nature of the job, it’s best to address the issue of dealing with all types of customers so they are prepared to take on several different types of individuals.

Simulation: Simulators are costly, however, if you are willing to invest in one, it is a great hands-on training method. Many community colleges with trucking programs employ the use of simulators, and have found that this preliminary way of establishing practical experience works incredibly well.

Self-taught: Develop online tutorials and reading materials for the driver to read on his/her own. Including tests throughout the training to see if the driver is truly learning the material is a great way to reinforce what has been learned. 

On-the-job: Ask a veteran driver to take the new driver along for the day and review the basic safety skills involved in driving.

Games: Turn learning into fun. Make up games that help the driver learn the material more easily and through means that will make them remember the information as well. A form of jeopardy is a favorite for teaching.

Create training materials

You will need some training materials for your program. What you use will depend largely on what type of program you develop and how you distribute and disseminate information. Here are some ideas for training materials:

Institute program evaluation

A program is only good if it is effective. Yet, how can you know it is effective? Consider these ways:

Feedback forms: After the training program, ask the participants to complete a survey, providing information about what worked, what did not work, and what could be changed about the program.

Data analytics: Sit down and figure out your company’s changes in safety incidents from before the program was initiated and now that it is in full swing. For the best understanding of the numbers, compare apples to apples.

Compare July 2017 against July 2016 (the safety incidents in the summer will be different than the winter, so you do not want to compare December’s numbers against July).

Compare number of accidents, number of speeding tickets, etc. for both months. If you do not have data for both months, do not include it in your analytics. Companies should also be sure to note the areas in which these accidents occurred when making a comparison. Looking at data from an area such as Florida in comparison to an more rural area will not yield accurate results. 

Implement guidelines for updating the program

The safety program will need to be updated from time to time. This would include when a driver’s job responsibilities significantly change, when the company purchases new equipment or in-cab devices, there are new procedures, or new hazards are found.

When the program needs to be updated, be sure to include the safety committee so that nothing is overlooked.

Final Word

It is possible for safe driving to exist outside of a safety program existing, but many fleets find it significantly more difficult to enforce this type of behavior without some form of structure. These programs can also help to reward and incentivize drivers who are doing excellent work on the road. It’s never a bad idea to operate with the utmost level of safety to protect all drivers on the road, and in doing so, everyone benefits.


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