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Friday, 25 July 2014 00:00

Feature Article

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Being an astronaut is probably one of the most dangerous jobs.  Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut who flew on the International Space Station in 2013 for 5 months and was its commander most of that time, says that this dangerous mission was the culmination of his career that began in the Canadian military where he was a fighter pilot, then a test pilot, then finally an astronaut.

Hadfield said in an interview after the mission that he isn't a risk taker by nature and in fact he is risk averse and even afraid of heights.  He tries to reduce the risk in every activity that he does by being aware, education himself about the risk and preventive ways to migrate or reduce that risk, and as he calls it, by practising 'negative thinking'.

He says that here is a lot of popular psychology these days about the power of positive thinking but he relies more on negative thinking.  Thinking that asks, "What could go wrong here?"

Once engineers analyze and identify the risks and dangers in the mission, activity or task, they can plan how to reduce that risk and how to implement a primary plan and a backup plan if the first risk reducing strategy fails.  Only after doing everything reasonable to reduce the risks of an incident or accident, does the mission go forward with confidence that everything that can reasonably be done, has been done.

Does that eliminate risk though?  Absolutely not.

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Space travel is inherently risky, as we have seen from the several tragedies dating back to the Apollo days and through two shuttle missions lost with all crew members, so even after taking every conceivable precaution, something can still go wrong.

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Most of us will never become astronauts, but driving is no different than space travel as an inherently risky activity and an activity where things can also go terribly wrong even after taking every defensive precaution.  The risks involved with driving are even more difficult to identify and the defences more uncertain than ones involving space travel in some ways.  At NASA, everyone is on the same team and working towards the same safe and incident free outcome.  We share the roads with strangers who may or may not take the same care we do.

NASA engineers are controlling risks involving generally predictable equipment and machinery failure.  We have to deal with the uncertainty of unpredictable human behaviour in people that we don't even know.

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Driving is likely the most dangerous thing that you can do.  Your chances of being killed or injured while driving or riding in a vehicle are greater than any other activity that most people do.  Traveling by automobile is many times more dangerous than any other mode of transportation.

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It's funny, most of us have sat in a departure terminal waiting to board an airplane and have had at least the passing thought, "I hope this isn't the time that something goes wrong."  Or they have been on the plane when there has been turbulence and the plane started bouncing around and thought, "This is it, now we are all going to die."

But we don't: Except in rare and tragic cases.  And the number of these occurrences and the number of fatalities involved pale in comparison to the numbers that are killed every year on the nation's highways.

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But have you ever thought before climbing behind the wheel, "What I'm about to do is dangerous.  If either myself or any of the hundreds or thousands of people that I will share the road with today, people that I don't know, have never nor will ever meet and know nothing about, screw up, I could end up badly hurt or killed."

We don't think those thoughts, though.  Not most of us.

I saw a t-shirt once that said, "I am a bomb disposal technician.  If you see me running, try to keep up"

Some activities are just so dangerous that most of us don't even consider engaging in them. But not driving.

Yet driving is the leading cause of unintentional death at 10.9 fatalities per population of 100,000 according to the Centers for Disease Control.

If you drive as part of your job, it's the most likely way that you will be injured on the job, too.

So the next time you slip behind the wheel, think about yourself as a fighter pilot or astronaut.  Not the daring and risk taking Buck Rogers, hero of screen and story, but the real thing: A thoughtful and skilled technician and expert at negative thinking, assessing situations and reducing the risk of accident.

Chris Hadfield

That way, like Chris did, we can all come home safely.

Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.)

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About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver.  To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.

Published in NEWS
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 00:00

karmaI recently exited a parking lot in my area into a lane that immediately ended and required me to merge left into the through lane.  You know the situation, where people charge up the right side and squeeze in?  I signalled and settled in to wait a while as the line of traffic was steady as far back as I could see and I'm not the 'force my way in' type of guy (anymore).

To my surprise and delight, the first car that had the opportunity, braked and waved me in and I joined the line.  After completing my lane change, I waved back with my right hand from inside ("Thanks") and the generous driver, who let me in, flashed his lights back ("No problem, you're welcome").  I smiled. Good karma indeed!

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Such an easy moment, a light touch on the brakes, a casual gesture and I'm in line without drama or frustration. I'm happy to have been let in and he appreciated my thanks.  It got me thinking: I see countless acts of courtesy every day when I drive but I listen to endless diatribes from others about how discourteous everyone is these days on the road.  What's going on here?

I believe in karma - You get what you give... you attract to you, events and experiences that are consistent with the behaviour that you practise and your beliefs and expectations.  If you expect others to be jerks about their driving, you watch for it and naturally notice it.  As a consequence, you may feel justified in driving like a jerk yourself and attract even more jerks and discourteous drivers into your experience as they react to your driving style.

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Now, you could choose to drive aggressively and defend your actions by arguing that this is the only way to deal with all the idiots on the road, but this attitude betrays an underlying belief that defensive driving means that the best defense is a strong offense.    You may or may not be religious or spiritual, go to church or pray, meditate or practice a faith at all, but fundamentally we all know right from wrong and retaliation or aggression isn't the answer.

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Every spiritual leader ever, professed peace and the importance of tolerance, forgiveness and the inherent goodness in all others regardless of their behaviour in the moment.  You and I have both behaved badly at some point but has that doomed us to purgatory and forever tarnished us as a bad person?

We recently lost Nelson Mandela who was an inspiration to the entire world and he said that 'resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies'.

In fact, we are all imperfect people struggling to find our way through life, some more skilled in some ways and less in others.  Compassion and forgiveness is an appropriate response to poor driving skills seen in others or even intentional aggressive driving.

Karma is Karma.  You get what you give.  Whatever you believe about driving and other drivers, it's going to be true... for you.  And treating others poorly will just come back to you someday.

But what if you chose a different reality?  What if you could choose to think differently and try out different driving behaviour.  You will certainly get what you give in this case also.  Will you stop seeing or experiencing discourteous drivers?  Likely not, but you will begin to attract and notice the good guys out there that don't tailgate, and do let you in, that don't block the fast lane, that signal and wait for a gap instead of forcing the issue.  You will continue to get what you give, but it will all be different because you will be giving differently.

The reality that we live in is mostly of our own creation.  Living in a world where we focus our judgement outward critically and self-righteously assessing everyone else might make us feel superior, but at the expense of our own happiness and joy.

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You may have a GPS in your vehicle that guides you to your destination, but each of us has another compass; an internal moral compass that if we listen to before acting or reacting impulsively will guide us to the best outcome for all.

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So when you next drive, refer to your internal compass about right and wrong and apply it to yourself first before judging others.  Try giving a bit and patiently watching for it to come around as it certainly will, if you just look for it.  It's just driving karma.

Written by Spencer McDonald, President , Thinking Driver

(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)

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About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver.  To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.

Published in NEWS
Thursday, 16 October 2014 00:00

I was chatting with a friend and colleague the other day about safety and employees who must drive as part of their duties.  This major retailer operates its own fleet of tractor-trailer delivery vehicles and operates Canada-wide.  We have been providing driver safety products and services to its delivery fleet operation for a decade now.

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We also discussed the other 'non-professional' drivers in their company - employees who drive many kilometres every year to do their job.

When I asked what they were doing to keep these employees safe, the answer shocked me: "We never really thought about that," he said.

This organization is one of the best in terms of customer service, employee morale and relations, and was recognized as one of Canada's Safest Employers.  And yet, for employees who driver personal and company vehicles from time to time in the course of their duties, nothing is being done to ensure their safety on the road - not even checking whether employees are licensed or doing annual checks of their driving records.

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It was just never considered.

This company is not alone.  Too many employees fail to recognize that if they send their employees out on the road, they are driving as part of the job.  While driving may not be the principle part of their job, they are driving as part of their profession and may be woefully unprepared to safely execute this duty in the environment and vehicles required.

But, you may ask, if these workers have current licenses they must be competent.  Not necessarily.

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In order to become licensed, one must pass certain tests, typically a knowledge test followed by at least one driving test (in some jurisdiction, two road test are required).  The road test may have been conducted when the worker was a teenager and upon passing, their driving skills will never be looked at again until they participate in a corporate driver safety program, get flagged in the system for excessive violations or hit their senior years when retesting occurs.

To complicate matters further, road tests are available in even the smallest of communities and may be taken in the smallest of cars, and yet, a passing mark yields a license that permits the holder to drive any size vehicle in that license class in downtown Toronto, Detroit, Montreal, Los Angeles or Vancouver.

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Think about: You take your road test in the tiny interior town of Sparwood, BC, in a Smart Car.  Next thing you know, your new job had you driving a service van or full-size car or pick-up in downtown Edmonton.  How on earth can we think this person has been prepared to meet the challenge?  Yet, if they fail to measure up and have an incident or accident, we may blame them for not taking enough care or not being defensive enough.

What other occupational duty that exposes employees to high risk requires no initial or refresher training or recertification?  Even first aid requires regular re-training and qualification.  Furthermore, driving remains to be the most probable activity to result in an injury incident on the job.

Our conversation really got interesting for me when I mentioned that due diligence would be to at least require an annual driver record check, permitting a maximum number of penalty points and provision for some remedial action if this number was exceeded.

This is where it really hit me. My enlightened safety professional colleague asked how we should distinguish between on-the-job tickets and off-the-job tickets.

My response was:  The same way that you distinguish between criminal activity on or off the job, you require responsible and legal behaviour among your employees on or off the job.

Driving infractions off the job are equally relevant.  Would you hire someone convicted of embezzlement, while off the job, to work in your accounting department?

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Employers can enhance employee safety and demonstrate due diligence with a few simple steps:

  • Check driving records of employees who must drive as part of their duties.  Perform this prior to hiring and regularly after that (annual is recommended).
  • Upon hiring, ensure employees are capable and not simply licensed, by evaluating their driving skills in the vehicle that will be used for work and in the same environment.  Set a baseline and determine if training is required.
  • Do the necessary training, if indicated.
  • Provide regular refresher and/or upgrading as well as specialty training, where indicated (such as winter driving or four-wheel-drive training).

There are some outstanding and progressive companies that are truly showing the way by embracing driver safety issues and addressing them this way in their occupational health and safety programs (you know who you are).

For everyone else, let's make a start today towards reducing the risk in this most risky of work activities.

Written by:  Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

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(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)

About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.

Published in NEWS
Tuesday, 25 November 2014 00:00

music notemusic note"Slip sliding away, slip sliding away.  You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip slide away."

Paul Simon sang it in 1977 (there I go dating myself again) and it's still happening every winter.  But with some simple techniques and a bit of practise you can eliminate that 'slip sliding away'.

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Traction is the main element to consider when driving in winter conditions and when you have lost traction you are slip sliding.  It doesn't matter what the road surface is or what the conditions are; there is a finite amount of grip or traction between the tires of your vehicle and that road.

Once you exceed the available traction and your vehicle is no longer responding to your commands to steer, brake or accelerate, you are no longer in control. Your final destination is now in the hand of Newton-Sir Isaac Newton, that is. Vehicle control is about physics and we learned all that we really need to know about it in high school (grade 9 physics if I recall that far back).

Learning skills to observe these laws can take a bit of practise, but no amount of skill or luck will let you dodge them. Ignore Newton at your peril.

Newton's first law says that an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by another force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by another force. This law is often call 'the law of inertia'.

In driving, if your vehicle is not moving, it doesn't want to move unless acted on by another force. Once your vehicle is moving, it wants to stay moving in the same direction as it is going unless acted upon by other forces.

You exert force to change the speed or direction by altering the speed or path of the tires and as they grip the road, your direction or speed changes; but only if you have maintained traction and they are not skidding.

Abrupt steering, braking or acceleration exerts excessive forces that may exceed the available traction and initiate a skid or spin.  That's why controlling with finesse is critical to winter safety.  Do everything as smoothly and as gently as you can to keep the vehicle balanced and maintain the tires' grip with the road.

Here are some techniques to try:

  • Leave yourself extra space and begin to brake early when you know that you may have to slow or stop.  The longer distance that you use to slow, the less traction that you need to stay in control.
  • Keep your speed lower than usual on corners and avoid sliding sideways.foot on brake
  • Squeeze and ease the brake and accelerator.  Start gently, and gradually increase pressure to minimize the weight shift of the vehicle on braking or acceleration and reduce the chances of traction loss.
  • Avoid abrupt steering and use 'total control steering'.  Keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o'clock position on the steering wheel and 'shuffle' or 'push and pull' the steering wheel to the left or right.  This will help you make directional changes more progressively and maintain your traction.
  • Traction is improved when you have good winter tires and enough weight in the vehicle.  Drivers with empty rear wheel drive pickup trucks could consider adding weight when conditions are slippery.65__320x240_car_in_snow_skidding[1]
  • Look well ahead in slippery conditions to plan when you may need to slow or stop.  Avoid coming to a complete stop when possible and legal, particularly on hills where more traction is needed to get moving than is needed to keep moving.  If you stop on a hill, it's much more difficult to get going.
  • Read the road surface and try to drive where there is better traction and minimal ice.
  • If you do find yourself sliding away and using your anti-lock brakes, use them correctly.  If you feel or hear your anti-lock brakes activating, remember, the right reaction is to push the brake pedal down hard and look and steer where you want to go.  Don't let up on the pedal until you are either back under control or stopped.  The anti-lock brakes are designed to keep your wheels from locking up and allow you to steer out of danger.

Practise these techniques and you may find yourself singing Randy Bachman instead of Paul Simon and instead of 'Slip Sliding Away', you will be safely 'Rollin' Down the Highway'.

Written By: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

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(Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.)

About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.

Published in NEWS
Monday, 22 December 2014 00:00

bluetooth_portable_rotary_phone_-_redWhen I was young, we had a rotary telephone on the kitchen counter (for those of you under 40, you may have seen one of these babies in a museum!).  When someone wanted to get in touch, they called and the phone rang.  If no one was home, the caller eventually gave up because there was nothing called an answering machine then.  Those came later with those tiny little cassette tapes.  If no one was home to answer the phone, you were disappointed, but simply called back.  In the intervening years (you can guess how many) we have seen the aforementioned answering machine which morphed into voice mail, fax machines that sent documents over the phone line, email and cell phones and text messaging.  Smart phones with games and web browsers, text messaging and email access are the norm now for most of us and we are addicted.

We are addicted to being connected and as with most other addictions, its killing us.

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Few people would argue that they can text and drive safely, and most now accept that handheld cell phones are equally dangerous while many will continue to argue that hands-free calling is safe because it does not involve manipulating the phone while driving.  All the research is contrary to this as the distraction is not principally as a result of using your hands; it's the cognitive distraction that results from processing the conversation while simultaneously attempting to attend to the driving task.

GPS, mobile music players, radios, and any other activity that pulls your attention from driving is a distraction as are the ongoing challenges of children and pets as well as other passengers.

Auto makers are now including technology that will allow drivers to interface with the web, text messaging and email as well into new vehicles which causes me great concern.  While they assure us that they will recommend that this technology is used in a responsible way while not driving, the seductive lure of instant information is, I fear, too great for many to resist.

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How many of you have heard the tone of a text, email, voicemail or the ringer of your phone while driving and responded with "just a quick peek"?  I'm guilty, and I feel guilty because I'm supposed to be a safety professional.  I know the risks, laws and penalties and I have had that 'quick peek'.

So I guess I'm addicted too.  I recognized my addiction slowly as I came out of denial and at first tried (as many others addicted to alcohol or drugs will) to control my compulsion to use my device constantly, even while driving and I was somewhat successful but the temptation was great; particularly if I was expecting a call or waiting for a text or email.  I tried to be a good boy and pull over to answer my phone and only check text messages at traffic lights.  This created a whole new set of distraction issues as I looked for a quick, easy, safe spot to pull over where often there was none and recognized early that taking my eyes off an intersection while waiting for the green was just as dangerous (and illegal) as texting while moving.

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Cold turkey was the only real solution.  Now I turn off the phone or switch it too silent when I get in the vehicle.  Problem solved.  I can check when I have reached my destination or plan a stop to deal with business along the way.

Recently, I had the good fortune to travel in Europe where my mobile phone didn't work, and even spent a week on a boat where there was no internet connection either.  The world didn't end, my business continued to operate under the guidance of my staff, and I detoxed from the addiction.  I recognized that I can indeed turn back the clock to when someone called and I didn't answer; they would just have to wait, as would I until I was able to connect safely.  It was kinda nice, totally out of contact.  Weird, but nice.

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Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.

Published in NEWS
Monday, 06 April 2015 00:00

fleet-safety1Good training is a key element, but only part of the puzzle for vehicle safety!

Employers with vehicle fleet or employees who drive are aware (or should be) that the greatest probability of an injury incident is going to be vehicle or driving related.  Many organizations have, therefore, incorporated driver training into their OHS program.  This is as it should be.

Unfortunately, in many cases, this is where vehicle safety stops.

Training is too often expected to become 'the answer' to vehicle reduction.  A driver involved in an incident, for example, is automatically sent back to re-attend the training program where he/she would almost always pass with flying colours, seemingly without effort.  Lack of skill is clearly not the problem here.

In this situation, is retaining really the answer or are there other forces at play?  Could this be a motivational problem, an attitudinal issue, maybe a medical condition?  Was the vehicle appropriate for the work and equipped correctly?  Training alone can't address all these issues.

A driver training program labouring under the expectation that it should solve all of an organization's driver safety or incident problems is destined to fall short.

Training is undertaken for a variety of reasons:

  • to train and qualify new operators,
  • to provide refresher or upgrade training/education,
  • to reinforce previously learned skills,
  • to re-qualify experienced operators.

But there are many more elements to an effective vehicle safety program.

How does yours stack up?  Compare the features of your vehicle/driver safety program with this list of critical key elements:

1. Senior Management Commitment

Is driver safety seen and acted on by senior management as a critical safety issue?  Frequently we see lip service paid to driver safety, with strong statements of corporate commitment but an absence of meaningful action.  In many cases, senior executives are visibly absent in the training courses associated with the program and have a belief that they are somehow exempt from vehicle safety policies, like pre-trip inspection and circle checks.

Enlightened organizations implement driver safety programs by starting with attendance and qualification on course from executives very early in the process.  These managers lead by example, by committing to the program and adhering to policy (like cell phone prohibition, backing in to park, circle checks).  Workers need to both hear about safety from management and also see management participating and in compliance.

2. Written Policies and Procedures

Vehicle safety policy and practise should be identified and detailed in its own section in your health and safety manual.

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The policy should state the company's expectation of employees who drive, as well as specific policy related to job tasks involving vehicle use or movement - on or off-road.  In addition, the policy should state qualifications for use of various vehicle types or classes and the training testing required to achieve these qualifications.

Consequences for non-compliance (if different from the corporate disciplinary system) should be stated clearly.

3. Driver Abstract / Record Checks

Check the driver records of all prospective employees who will be driving for work purposes. Screen out applicants who have poor driving records since they are most likely to cause problems in the future. The driving record should be reviewed annually to ensure that the employee maintains a good driving record, and action should be taken if the record deteriorates.

Clearly define the number of violations an employee/driver can have before losing the privilege of driving for work, and provide training where needed.

4. Incident Reporting and Investigation

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All vehicle incidents should be reported and investigated.  Acquire the services of an experienced trainer or vehicle operation expert if one is not available in-house.

Root causes should be identified and action items (if applicable) developed to help prevent future incidents.

5. Vehicle Selection, Maintenance and Inspection

Selecting, properly maintaining and routinely inspecting company vehicles is an important part of preventing crashes related losses.  Ensure the vehicle selected for a particular application is suited and properly equipped to permit safe use in that application and environment.

A pre-trip/shift inspection routine should be incorporated into the vehicle safety policy, and vehicles should be inspected daily by the driver.

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Regular maintenance should be done at specific mileage intervals consistent with the manufacturer's recommendations.  A mechanic should do a thorough inspection of each vehicle at least annually.

 

6. Disciplinary System

Develop a strategy to determine the course of action after the occurrence of a moving violation, policy breach, complaint and/or preventable incident.

There are a variety of corrective action programs available; the majority of these are based on a system that assigns points for infraction and/or incidents.  The system should provide for progressive discipline if an employee begins to develop a pattern of repeated problems.

7. Reward / Incentive Program

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Safe driving behaviours contribute directly to the bottom-line and should be recognized as such.  Positive results are realized when driving performance is incorporated into the overall evaluation of job performance.

Reward and incentive programs typically involve recognition, monetary rewards, special privileges or the use of other incentives.

8. Driver Training / Communications

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The training program should be an integral part of the OHS program and be ongoing.

Conduct initial training and qualification for new hires; even those with clean driving records may have never experienced professional training and only passed a basic government driving exam (perhaps many years ago).  To set a baseline for driver performance and to document competence in case of future problems, employees should be trained, evaluated and qualified on the vehicle type(s) they will be assigned to, in the environment they will be operating in.

Regular refresher/requalification should be an integral part of the program.

The best programs incorporate a driver safety related course, seminar or event annually to keep vehicle safety at the forefront of employees' minds and demonstrate the corporate commitment to safety.

Every two to three years, requalification by on-road evaluation should be conducted.

Keeping vehicle incident rated low goes beyond just providing training, it includes a comprehensive system of the key elements discussed in this article.

How does your organization measure up?

Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver

Published in NEWS
Page 3 of 3

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