By Kevin Reilly, Editorial Communications Manager, The CEI Group, Inc.
Driving down accident rates requires a great deal of time and patience, but what is a fleet manager to do when faced with the expectation of providing results within a single year? Typically, it takes at least three years for a fleet to bring their accident rates down by any significant measure. The long wait is not for lack of trying, but fleets need time to introduce training to their drivers in incremental stages. If training is overloaded, it would be foolish to expect the drivers to have a high retention rate for that knowledge.
This brings us to our biggest question: what is the best method to drive down accident rates with a lasting impact that can begin to take hold in the short term? We will start with short term solutions to pain points and work our way into methods that will help make training stick.
Finding Short Term Milestones
The best way to see year-end results is to pinpoint the types of accidents that are hurting a fleet the most. These recurring accidents are a fleet’s pain points, and if the fleet doesn’t address these pain points, they will never fully realize their long-term safety goals. As a prime example, I will detail how one sales fleet of mostly sedans was able to drive down rear end collisions over the course of a year through a targeted campaign, and how they look now.
This fleet asked CEI to take a look at their accidents to find any broad sweeping trends in their fleet’s overall accident history. Research found that this fleet had 20% of their claims stemming from rear-end accidents. To be fair, national data points out that rear-end collisions in the United States tend to make up about a third of all accidents.
In an effort to combat the large swath of accidents occurring from rear-end collisions, CEI built a custom module for the fleet to address the issue. The module was titled, “Avoiding Rear-End Collisions – What You Can Do” and was administered to the entire fleet with a one month grace period for all drivers to complete the module.
Some of the topics covered in the module included defensive driving techniques like coming to a stop at 30% braking power, being sure to avoid distracted driving, and always using turn signals. While these practices seem obvious, many drivers forget these tactics during their daily commutes. Whenever training is assigned for driving it is important to remember that the skills must be practiced every time the driver gets behind the wheel before the training can fully take hold.
Results After a Full Year
Twelve months after every driver completed the training module there was a marked decrease in rear-end accidents, from 20% down to 16%. During this time, the fleet’s overall claims actually increased, but it was clear that the drivers had applied the lessons taught regarding rear-end collision avoidance. The best improvement was the tremendous reduction in preventable rear-end incidents, at a 30% reduction. Non-preventable rear-end collisions also went down 14% during the same period. The reductions prove that focusing on one pain point in the fleet’s overall behavior can have a positive effect.
Avoiding Regression by Making Training “Sticky” Can Take Multiple Attempts
Lasting, long-term reductions in accident rates are only possible if the training has a certain level of “stickiness.” Unfortunately, even when drivers take the lessons learned in training and apply them every day behind the wheel, they can still end up regressing back to old habits on a long enough timeline. This idea of regression is supported by the work done by our prescriptive analytics partner, Dr. Feng Guo of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Dr. Feng Guo has spent his career studying the way people drive in the hopes of being able to alert individual drivers, and in a fleet’s case, their managers, when they are at a high risk of collision in the future. The model he has created uses five years of MVRs and accident histories in conjunction with national highway statistics to see the big picture of a driver’s habits. His stance is that when training is administered drivers can keep the message top of mind for a while, but the drivers will eventually become complacent. It is that complacency that leads to mistakes in the driver’s seat.
So, did the sales fleet from our example keep their rear-end collision rates down? No. The fleet saw their accident rate creep back up to 22% of total claims since they passed the year mark. In response, CEI worked with the fleet to get the drivers back on track. In addition to prescribing the training again, we recommended increased communications between management and drivers about road safety and to start meetings off with a safety briefing. Drivers are also being encouraged to share their road experiences with each other, whether it was an instance where they properly executed their defensive driving training or times that they saw other drivers coming dangerously close to a rear-end collision due to miscommunication.
Not enough time has passed to see if the effects of this second round of training with increased communication will right the ship, but we will monitor their progress. Overall, this case shows that targeted training for specific pain points can be useful, but drivers will likely regress if they never see that message again. Regularly prescribed the training module again at 9- to 12-month intervals is the key to driving down accident rates and making the new habits stick. Keeping drivers engaged on a month to month basis with different safety lessons is paramount in helping employees become well rounded drivers.