Improving Driver Performance with High-Tech Training
Fleets have multiple training options for improving driver performance with technology
August 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Feature
Cargo Transporters, Claremont, N.C, wasn’t doing much re-occuring driver training other than a few defensive driving classes, but in 2010 decided to require six hours of either online or classroom training. It was so successful that in 2011 they increased it to eight hours, according to President Dennis Dellinger.
That includes a minimum of four hours online training, one hour of simulator training, an advanced logging class and two classroom courses. Classroom courses slated for this year include critical crashes, company policy review, intersections and stoplights and pre- and post-trip inspections.
Cargo Transporters’ CSA scores have improved each year since they implemented the extra training, and Dellinger believes the training is one reason for that.
As the company’s experience shows, training for a commercial driver should not be a one-and-done enterprise. Ongoing training, regardless of driver experience or company tenure, benefits drivers and carriers alike through improved safety, fuel savings and more.
Yet some fleets don’t require much beyond an initial period when a driver is first hired. There may be a few safety classes throughout the year, but often additional training is hit or miss.
Other fleets, such as Cargo Transporters, take a more systematic approach. They require a certain amount of training each year or quarter. The training may include classroom time, online training, time with a driver simulator or with an experienced trainer, or some combination. With today’s technology there are more options than ever before.
Cargo Transporters chooses courses based primarily on safety performance. “For the online training, we recommend the courses that drivers need to take each year,” Dellinger says. In the classroom environment, drivers are required to take two of the five courses offered each year. All drivers must have an hour in the simulator and also attend the advanced logging course.
For the simulator training, drivers at Cargo Transporters this year will be going through truckstop situations, because a good percentage of the company’s recent insurance claims have been truckstop-related. The company has been contracting with L-3 D.P. Associates since 2008 to provide simulator training.
Driver reaction has been very positive, Dellinger says. “People will come back after simulator training or in-cab training and they will tell us how they were able to apply that training in the real world and it helped them out. Drivers like to learn. As humans we all like to learn.”
Some fleets send training courses directly to the truck cab via the
mobile communications system, such as this Pro-Tread lesson from Instructional Technologies on PeopleNet’s in-cab and Tablet devices.
Last year out of 500 drivers, only about six didn’t complete all of the required training. Next year the company may increase the required hours to 10.
Online, on-demand training has gained increased acceptance among fleets to augment more traditional training methods.
It offers a number of benefits over classroom or even in-field training, according to Aaron Purvis, CIO with Instructional Technologies Inc., makers of ProTread training.
Consistency is the biggest benefit, he says, noting that even with the best instructors, what happens in the classroom varies day to day.
Online, interactive training (vendors prefer this term to training videos) also can also provide instruction in ways that can’t be done in real-world situations.
“We build 3-D simulations into the lesson. We can do and show things you can’t do with a real truck,” he says.
For example, the 3-D simulation can remove a wheel to give a driver a close-up of a truck’s brakes during a lesson on driver vehicle inspections – something that would be difficult on an actual truck.
Some drivers don’t do as well in a classroom setting, says Joel Landsverk, product manager, training on demand with J.J. Keller. Afraid of looking dumb, they won’t ask a question in front of their peers. With online training, drivers can keep going over the material until they are sure they comprehend it.
Not all things lend themselves to online training, Landsverk says, but for highly regulated topics, such as hours-of-service or driver vehicle inspection reports, fleets feel “comfortable with the online format where the driver can read it, they can hear it, they can do exercises on it. For the more skills-based training, fleets tend to lean on classroom, informal or in-the-truck training.”
Another benefit of online, on-demand training is that it can be accessed from wherever a driver happens to be at a time that’s convenient for him or her.
Scheduling issues make online training an attractive alternative to classroom training for some fleets, say Eric Strom, maintenance and safety product manager at GE Capital Fleet Services, especially in situations where remedial training is needed. Online training can be assigned immediately rather than waiting for the next scheduled training session.
Some companies even send the training courses directly to the truck via their mobile communications provider, such as Omnitracs.
Jim Sassen, senior manager product marketing with Omnitracs, offers another plus to online training: “When you only do training when you see them, there is a tendency to give the drivers as much information as possible, which in many cases is too much information,” Sassen says. With online training, drivers can absorb the material at their own pace.
Instructional Technologies partners with a number of mobile communications providers, such as PeopleNet, Omnitracs and Rand McNally, to offer in-cabtraining videos.
However, ITI says a relatively small percentage of carriers do send courses to the truck.
“Screen size isn’t as big an issue as we thought it would be,” says ITI’s Purvis, “but the reality is that most drivers prefer to take the lessons on their laptops or at home.” He noted that while about 50% of their customers have shown interest, less that 5% actually use that delivery method.
Online driver training courses, such as this hours-of-
service course from J. J. Keller, allow drivers to train at their own pace from home or on the road.
Landsverk says connectivity is the primary roadblock for in-cab training, but he predicts mobile learning will become more popular as that improves.
Another training/coaching tool fleets have deployed is event recorder cameras that face both inside the cab and in front of the truck.
Cargo Transporters began using such devices in 2011. “We’ve been involved with DriveCam since 2011 and we are using that for coaching drivers as well,” Dellinger says. The company has about 470 event cameras installed and is coaching more than 40 drivers per week.
When triggered by certain events – hard braking for instance – the cameras record what the driver is doing as well as what is happening in front of his truck. “The cameras take out the unknown,” Dellinger says. While the vehicle’s on-board computer can record a hard-braking incident without the camera, “we wouldn’t know if a hard braking was a deer running out in front of them or what. We know what it is with the DriveCam.”
During coaching, the driver comes in and reviews the footage from the event recorder. “This gives us the opportunity to either coach them, or they self-coach. If they can tell what they did wrong and recognize it, there’s no need to tell them.”
Eventually the company would like drivers to be able to look at the footage in the cab of their truck, “but with the bandwidth, we don’t think we are going to get there until sometime down the road.”
Jason Palmer, president of SmartDrive Systems, says footage from event cameras build on classroom and simulator training. He compares the use of such cameras to how professional athletes train.
“Professional athletes improve their performance by watching game film,” he says.
The same principle applies with drivers. With SmartDrive’s system, certain events trigger the camera/recorders. The data is sent to SmartDrive’s servers, where driver analysts report on incidents a carrier needs to address.
Identifying drivers for extra training
Many fleets deploy technologies that help them identify drivers who may need extra training. Vehicle and driver performance data from the truck’s onboard computer can be used to develop driver scorecards. These provide easy-to-use information such as which drivers are driving the most fuel efficiently or which ones have an above-average number of hard-braking or lane-departure incidents. Some may include CSA information. All can help identify drivers who need extra coaching.
Some fleets are taking this a step further and using advanced analytics.
Vikas Jain, vice president and general manager of Fleet Risk Advisors, says the company’s application can look at more than 5,000 data points over a three-year history to help identify drivers who may need some remedial training.
“By now we have run almost 50 million driver models for our customers,” Jain explains. “The software knows when it sees certain patterns in the data elements.”
The models create a baseline for a fleet’s drivers. Different stresses on a driver will result in different kinds of behavioral changes, which the software can pick up.
“We can say, ‘Here’s a driver and now is the time to give him some skills-based training.’”