Uncovering the Hidden Clues of Poor Driving Behaviors and How to Minimize Them
With the everchanging landscape of operating the day-to-day fleet business operations, we often don’t see the patterns or have the right tools/data to help indicate driver focus is declining over time – causing situations of unsafe driving behavior. There are some areas of the driver lifecycle where you can begin gathering the right elements to infer driving behavior. It is often difficult for fleet managers to uncover the minor signals generated from areas such as vehicle diagnostics, maintenance schedules, and driver behaviors which often lend hints to unsafe driving behavior. As many veterans in the industry know, these small signals – accumulating over time – lead to some large risks for the organization. Sooner or later bad drivers will cause major accidents which all too often are preventable when the behavior is identified and corrected. While not all of us are tenured fleet managers, once you understand the patterns and know what to look for, creating a response to improving driving behavior is not difficult.
Like a detective, fleet managers must piece together several “clues” from diagnostics, maintenance reports and driver scorecards in order to create programs to improve safe driving amongst the fleet. Below we outline the clues to be aware of from each respective category:
This category gives us some of the most insightful data from the engine that help us identify key factors common in unsafe drivers:
- Idling – all too often excessive idling is a major cost center for fleets and is often a starting signal for unfocused or distracted drivers. Idling can be benchmarked against the average across the fleet to uncover your idle loving drivers.
- Route Planning – going hand in hand with excessive idling, drivers often point to bad route planning as a reason for idling. Drivers will cite sitting in rush hour traffic, or early/late arrival at a dock or warehouse forcing them to sit and wait for vehicles to move as ways to explain away their excessive idling.
With a robust fleet management software in place, managers and key stakeholders can monitor – and curb – excessive idling to decrease costs. To rebut the aforementioned driver explanations, this software platform can also uncover data that allows fleet managers to choose the most efficient route plans and the ability to compare wait times by other drivers at the same distribution center or warehouse. If most of your drivers are having similar issues with wait times, you can have evidence-based conversations with the operator of the distribution center and/or eventually cease business with that center altogether – if possible, for your business to do so. If you see anomalies with detention times of specific drivers at certain facilities, you can use data to address this with the drivers.
Mechanics are your forensic scientists in this category. Like any good CSI team, the maintenance reports will reveal where unsafe driving is taking place. From worn-down brake pads from harsh braking to low tire pressure in tires, all point to drivers not taking proper precautions leading to safe and efficient vehicle operations.
- Brake Pads – Maintenance records when reviewed over time, can uncover consistently worn-down brake pads, which can often be a result of harsh braking behavior, typically tied to drivers waiting to the last minute to begin their stop. Not only does the cost of replacement add up over time, one late braking event can lead to a fatal accident – the driver only has to be late to brake pedal once to cost your company significant financial penalties and – more importantly – someone their life.
- Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIRs) – pre and post-inspection report checklists are a crucial indicator of safe drivers. Often times, as pre/post lists are submitted small minor fixes are uncovered. Bad drivers may be less likely to have minor issues reported through their pre/post-inspection. A large signal to look out for is when mechanics see a number of small minor fixes for the first time during scheduled vehicle maintenance – this could indicate a need for retraining the driver of the vehicle on proper pre/post inspections and reiterating the importance from a safety perspective. Low engine oil, low coolant levels, low tire pressure, blown bulbs… all these minor details going unnoticed is a huge red flag that drivers are not being diligent in their DVIR inspections while out on the road.
When your mechanics and maintenance reports outline areas for drivers to improve, not only are you improving safer driving habits but also lowering total cost of vehicle ownership – preventing larger vehicle failures through more detailed maintenance reviews and extending vehicle lifecycles.
Many modern fleets manage their drivers through telematics platforms which provide driver insights and scorecards benchmarking driver behavior as well as flagging areas where drivers need to improve on.
- Driver Events – telematics platforms often report out on unsafe driving behavior such as harsh braking, harsh cornering, rolling stops and over the posted speed limit events. These events all increase risk of incidents from the minor (damaged shipments, moving violation fines and unnecessary vehicle wear and tear) to the major (on-road accidents) and ultimately can be detrimental to your business, brand and customer service reputation in varying degrees.
- Dashboard Cameras – all too often driver events are seen in a negative light; it is very easy for a Safety Manager to review a harsh corner event and conclude bad driver behavior. Dashboard cameras, however, are the unbiased visual proof often showcasing safe driving or defensive driving events that historically were seen as negative events. Using cameras to capture events – good or bad- can have a long-term positive impact on a company’s bottom-line by retaining their better drivers through an evidence-based driver reward program, reduce liability and civil litigation with a video showing their driver not at fault or minimizing administration hours by expediting insurance claims in minor incidents when the driver is at fault.
Investing in the right tools such as telematics systems that provide driver scorecards and cameras oftentimes payoff in the long term. Visual evidence in accidents with consumers is always inconclusive unless there are witnesses willing to come out and provide their testimony. Without proper proof, transportation companies and small businesses are all too often blamed for the accident and even if there is no judgment, insurance companies will raise fleet insurance rates as a result. Proper proactive evidence such as company focus on safe driving behaviors through proactive scorecard coaching and visual evidence of accidents through dashcams often prevent not only liability from lawsuits but also reduce the chances of insurance premium increases. In fact, many insurance companies will provide discounts to carriers who have such solutions in place.
As in many CSI episodes, the pattern begins to emerge once you have seen enough seasons or in our case unsafe drivers on the road. The signals are always there, however knowing what to look for may need some guidance or help from technologies to uncover. Vehicle diagnostics, maintenance records and driver behavior reports help uncover the lesser issues that over time amount to unsafe drivers on our roads. Uncovering those signals early on in a driver’s career can not only help save lives in the long term but always helps reduce operating costs on a day to day basis.