Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver will be delivering a presentation on 'When Fleet Driver Training Isn't Enough'.
What happens when your corporate drivers get tickets or have accidents? Are they automatically sent back to re-attend a driver training program where they pass with flying colours, seemingly without effort? Lack of skill is clearly not the problem, so what is happening? Is retraining (again and again) really the answer or are other forces at play? Come hear the 8 critical elements that successful organizations use in their corporate driver safety programs.
Western Safety Conference - April 22 & 23, 2013 - Hyatt Regency Hotel, Vancouver, BC
Thinking Driver delivers Winter Driving Skills Training to Government of Northwest Territories, Department of Transportation Employees.
When I was asked if I would like to go to the Northwest Territories (NWT) for three weeks to deliver 'Winter Driving: Skid Control and Recovery', I thought what a great opportunity to see the North and at the same time, be in the very best part of Canada to facilitate winter driving courses.
My first stop was Yellowknife, where I was warmly greeted by the NWT employees. They had a large field near the airport that had been snow plowed for this course - which was great - but then they added water. Needless to say, this was an excellent simulation of roads turned to ice and/or their famous 'ice roads'.
We begin training with a classroom theory session in Winter Driving Fundamentals. We cover such things as the 6 conditions of winter driving, fundamentals of traction and control, 3 principal types of skid and how to recover from them. There were a lot of good questions in the class which made for an excellent discussion time prior to going out in the vehicles and putting it all into practical application.
Getting into the vehicles and out onto the icy surface to put the theory into practice really raises the enthusiasm and excitement of the group. It's about the most fun you can have in winter driving conditions: A safe, closed course, free of obstruction or other traffic, perfect for skidding.
When I took off to the Great White North, I cam prepared and was certainly grateful to have packed well once the temperature hit -40 degrees. The extra hat I picked up was very useful.
Despite the chillier temperatures, each morning I awoke to the beauty of a northern sunrise in all its glory. Breathtaking to behold and what a way to start my day!
After a week in Yellowknife, it was time to head to Hay River for a week. This leg of the journey began with a 45 minute flight over "Great Slave Lake" in a DC-3 with Buffalo Air. Not a large plane, but cozy, friendly, and we arrived safe and sound.
Again I was warmly greeted and welcomed by the NWT staff. Their track was created on an open field with a large snow island in the middle. The track was a combination of packed snow, ice, with some gravel sticking out to create a good example of what is found on local roads. The practical training was challenging, but we only had to shovel snow once to free a truck from the snow piled island. Another winter skill learned - how to get your vehicle unstuck!
My third week in the North started with another flight aboard Buffalo Air in that DC-3 to Yellowknife, followed by a 1.5 hour flight in a Boeing 737 to Inuvik with a brief stop over at Norman Wells. Inuvik was the smaller of the three locations and again filled with extremely friendly people. Once again the NWT staff greeted me like a Rock Star.
The practical training location was a large square area on the Mackenzie River, plowed for this course. For safety reasons, there was a wide snow bank separating out training area from an ice road that leads to Tukoyaktuk. This area proved to be challenging and a good simulation of what these NWT employees drive on a daily basis.
At the beginning of these three weeks, I felt a bit intimidated with the thought of attempting to teach winter driving skills to people who live their entire lives in the North and grew up in this driving environment. What could I teach that they didn't already know? As it turned out, the Thinking Driver program had many things to offer: How to drive in winter with new vehicle technology such as ABS brakes or electronic stabilizers; One of the main things that I was able to pass on to these students, is how to handle an 'under-steer' situation. Most were experts when their vehicle went into 'over-steer', but were unfamiliar with how to get out of an 'under-steer'. 90% of those who attended indicated they learned new things as well as having obtained an excellent review and reminder in other areas that could be improved upon.
I believe that if I can pass on even one good tip to enhance a driver's skill and competence and make driving a safer part of their day, then I've done my job and can go home happy and with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. After three weeks in the Northwest Territories, I am a happy man indeed.
– Michael Glas, Chief Instructor, Thinking Driver, March 2013
Crossroads of Life and Death
I never made a conscious decision to take up this line of work. In fact, it all happened by chance and coincidence as so many of life's bigger decisions do; you reach a crossroad, a path opens up and you think; why not?
I was working in a motorcycle shop and had been laid off. It was my last day at work, and an hour or so before I walked out for the last time, Ted walked in. Ted was a customer and a friend. We had attended the same high school (Terry Fox in Port Coquitlam, BC) but he was several years older than me and I didn't really get to know him until he started to buy motorcycles from the shop for his riding school.
Ted was an exceptional driving and motorcycle riding instructor. He had spent years at the BC Safety Council as a chief instructor in the heavy truck and the motorcycle training program, and had run his own driving school before moving on to working as a senior driver trainer at Canada Post. He was the first person in BC to hold instructor licenses for all classes of licence. Ted was a family man; a devoted husband to Dorothy and a great father to his three youngsters. Everybody liked Ted.
He suggested, that since I had no prospects at that point, that I check out the riding school at the Safety Council as they were always on the lookout for prospective new instructors. I went there the next day, got hires and the rest is, as they say, history. Without Ted's suggestion my life would have gone in a completely different direction. It was 1984.
My career in road safety started with teaching people to ride motorcycles, part-time, thanks to Ted. But this story isn't about me, it's about him.
Early one morning in 1989, the rang and I got the news.
Ted had been killed in a car crash the night before. Also killed were two of his kids; Jason and Jennifer. His wife, Dorothy was in intensive care and Ben, his youngest son was in hospital too. Later that day, Dorothy died. Eight year old Ben was the only one left and he went home from the hospital with his aunt and uncle to live with them.
The four-way stop intersection where it all happened is in South Surrey, BC, where a drunk driver ran the side street stop sign. Speed estimate from the police was she was going 110 km/h at the moment of impact. Ted took the full hit right in the driver door.
They didn't stand a chance.
Good drivers always check intersections before entering; looking left and right and back left again because that's where the first danger will come from. Ted was not only an expert driver, he was an instructor trainer; the guy who trained the teachers! If anyone would check intersections, he would.
So what happened? Your eyes are your first line of defence. Did Ted screw up? Did he forget to check and clear that intersection? Were the sight lines just really bad and he couldn't see? We will never know.
What is certain is that if he had seen her coming, he would have sat still, foot on the brake and watched her blast through that intersection. He would have arrived home safe that night with his family and an exciting story to tell about a crazy driver running a stop sign.
But he didn't see her.
The funeral was surreal: there were friends, family, business associates; more people than the church would possibly hold. And four caskets. Two of them very small.
The young lady that hit them had no previous serious traffic violations and certainly no previous history of impaired driving. She intended no harm. She was only 19 and had had a fight with her boyfriend at a party. She was angry and upset and had left the party drunk and high. Her friends let her drive. She made a fatefully stupid decision, while impaired and angry. She walked away from the crash, but will live with the memory and consequences forever.
Ben is grown now with a family of his own and his dad's BMW motorcycle now in his garage.
Without a doubt, the crash was the girl's fault and yet, 22 years later I keep asking myself; why didn't Ted see her?
Here's my question to you: do you always check left, right and back to left before taking your foot off the brake at an intersection, like Ted would have taught you?
My guess is that Ted always did...always, except maybe once?
- Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver (reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine)
When I was 7 years old we came home one day from the grocery store and unloaded everything into the house while the car sate in the driveway. I stayed in the house with Mom and my sister while Dad put the car away. It was a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport sedan. Back then it was just a nice car; a couple more decades would pass before it became a classic.
So Dad backed the car into the garage and in the process tore off the back door that I had left open in my rush to get in the house. Clearly my fault - at least according to Dad.
Now in 1965, what do you think happened to children that left car doors open to be torn off by garages? Today it would draw attention from child services but back then I was just being taught a lesson.
But I digress. Whose fault was this really? Or is fault even worth discussing? Whose fault was it when Mom backed over my sister's bicycle with the Rambler?
Things just seemed to go wrong in our family when vehicles backed up. Or perhaps I'm a backing up jinx?
As a teenager, I cut the front end of my 1970 Dodge Super Bee into a power pole backing out of a service station and once even backed up in a left turn lane (don't ask) with Dad's pick up truck right into the grille of the compact car hiding behind the tailgate. I was real close when my buddy, Terry, backed his Toyota into a stump at Long Beach (he spent quite a while convincing us that it had been his wife's fault...somehow) and I was home when my former wife Rhonda backed her Acura out of the garage (or tried to) with the door still closed and another co-worker once connected with a tree while backing up in a company truck.
Is it just me or does this backing up stuff seem to be just a little more complicated than we all think?
In most vehicle fleets, backing incidents account for over 40% of all reportable vehicle incidents even though we drive in reverse only a fraction of the distances that we go forward. Backing incidents are a big deal. They absorb huge dollars in property damage and not infrequently result in serious injury.
Not surprisingly, backing incidents are almost always PREVENTABLE. In our courses, we highlight 7 fundamental ideas to prevent backing incidents. Maybe they will help you avoid some problems that I have seen (and on occasion caused).
1. Avoid Backing! - Let's face it, if you don't back up, you won't have a backing up incident. It's easier than you might think. Before you park your vehicle or get into any tight area, think about how you will get out. Can this be done without backing up? Most of us already scope out the spots, in the mall parking lots, that let us drive though an unoccupied spot to the next one, leaving us facing out for a quick getaway. That's thinking! Now apply that same logic at work. If you have to go somewhere to park or for other reasons, back up first, when you can see that the area is clear, and make your first move forward when you leave.
2. Circle Check - If you are moving your vehicle from a place where it has been parked or has not moved for a long enough that things may have changed, walk around and make sure that it's safe before you move it.
3. Look Back - In a pick up or utility vehicle, set up your mirrors properly and use them! If you can't see what's back there, stop and get out to look! In a passenger car, look out the centre of the rear window, over the back seat. (If you twist around and hike yourself up on your right butt cheek, it's easier). Looking out the driver window, over your left should doesn't tell you much and creates a huge blind spot everywhere except the narrow view down the driver's side.
4. Use a Guide - If someone else is around to help of if you have a passenger, have them get out and direct you.
5. Back Slowly - Your vehicle handles differently in reverse and can get difficult to control with too much speed. A walking pace is all the speed you will likely ever need.
6. Avoid Distractions- Don't try to multitask and use your cell phone or other hand-held device. If you are distracted by strong emotions or in a conversation, stop for a second before you back up and focus on your driving.
7. Practise - We back up so little that most of us never really get very good at it. So get out and practise backing up into parking spots in a deserted parking lot. Take a couple of traffic cones, if you have them, or small cardboard boxes and make up a little course for yourself. As you get better, your confidence will increase and you will soon be backing up safely, like a pro.
All of the backing incidents that I described above were off the job, and this is where I want to take extra care. Every year hundreds (yes hundreds) of young children are injured or killed when one of their parents, relatives or friends backs over them in the driveway at home. The 7 principles that you just read can save the life of a child. Go back now and read them again.
How can you apply them at home and at work?
Maybe as a kid, my family was pretty lucky after all. We only lost a bicycle or two - and that stupid Chevy door.
- Written by Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver, Surrey, BC
I'm a liar. There, I said it. I lie.
I lie sometimes when I'm in a social situation and my line of work is questioned. If I know I'll never see these folks again, I might just tell them that I'm a painter. "I paint houses" I might say.
Now, I have been in the driver safety/training business for almost 3 decades, I hold pretty much every vehicle related training license available, I have been hired as a consultant to 2 different governments to develop licensing programs including road testing, I have trained hundreds of emergency vehicle operators including police pursuit training and authored numerous training courses, manuals and articles. But, sometimes, when asked what I do, I claim to be a house painter. Not that I think painting houses is a more worthy line of work than mine or that I'm ashamed of my profession, it's just that few people have strong opinions about house painting; how it should be done or not done or wants to start a debate to prove that the YOU paint isn't really right. If I say "I'm a house painter", my conversational partner will reply in a rather disinterested tone with eyes glazed over "oh, how interesting" and look desperately for someone whom they judge to actually BE interesting.
I lie because if I say I'm a driver safety training professional and have to explain just what that is, the next question or comment directed at me is usually about the accident that someone was in or ticket that someone got that 'clearly' was not their fault. They want to tell me the whole story of how the weather that day was particularly nasty, how the road has that strange dip, how the car in front "just stopped" for no reason making them run into the back of him. They want to tell me why the policeman who wrote them a ticket was wrong to do so. I have listened while otherwise seemingly intelligent people argue that they should not have received that speeding ticket because everyone else was speeding too!
What they really want is for me to agree with them.
I have learned to engage in these conversations at my peril. You see, as soon as I offer even the slightest of professional opinion about the apparent circumstances of the crash that they were in, mention the concept of preventability or point out that indeed, if they were speeding, the fact that everyone else was too isn't a very good excuse. (Mom always asked me if everyone else jumped off the bridge would I jump too?)
As soon as I disagree at all with the rightness of their position, or offer a different perspective, any credibility that I may have had with them initially, is gone. I become, in their eyes, an idiot. And I wish that I had said, "I'm a painter".
Funny thing about driving, EVERYONE thinks that they are an expert when in fact most people are woefully uninformed about some of the most basic of rules and regulations, defensive driving principles and tactics. Moreover, most people have an overinflated opinion of their own driving ability. A dangerous combination, I believe.
This condition, I think, points to one of the most fundamental reasons why we continue to have so many crashes. If we all believe that there is nothing wrong with our driving, that we know all that there is to know about driving, that we are all superbly skilled, expert drivers and everyone else is the problem, then we are unlikely to expend any energy to make improvements or to even learn from our mistakes.
So next time when you climb behind the wheel, ask yourself, "How's my driving?". Really analyse how you are doing instead of noting everyone else's mistakes and complaining about how bad everyone else is. Ask yourself if there are any bad habits that have crept in over the years that you could work on. Just don't assume that you couldn't possibility get any better. When life sends you feedback on your driving by way of a close call or a ticket, don't be so fast to blame someone else, there may be a valuable lesson that you are missing?
Who knows, you may just prevent that next ticket or incident.
Me? I'm still banking on never meeting someone who actually needs a house painter at one of those gatherings! So far so good.....
- Written by Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver, Surrey, BC
Thinking Driver will be at the following events!
Association of School Transportation Services BC (ASTSBC) Conference - July 8 - 11, 2013 at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, Richmond, BC (more information)
Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) Professional Development Conference - September 15 - 18, 2013 at the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, QC (more information)
Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver - Upcoming Speaking Engagements
Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) Professional Development Conference - '8 Critical Elements of a Successful Driver Safety Program' - Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Fairmount the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, QC (more information)
Good training is a key element, but only part of the puzzle for vehicle safety.
Employers with vehicle fleets 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 incident reduction. A driver involved in an incident is automatically sent back to re-attend the training program where he/she passes with flying colours seemingly without effort. Lack of skill is clearly not the problem.
In this situation, is retraining 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 can't address 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 as 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. Senior executives are visibly absent in training courses associated with the program and have a belief that they are somehow exempt from vehicle safety policies like pre-trip inspections and circle checks.
Enlightened organizations implement driver safety programs by starting with attendance and qualification on courses 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, etc.). 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.
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 driving 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 indicated.
4. Incident Reporting and Investigation
All vehicle incidents should be reported and investigated. Involve 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 that will 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 and related losses. Ensure that 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 vehicle safety policy and vehicles inspected daily by the driver.
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 infractions 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
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
The training program should be an integral part of the OHS program and be ongoing. Training should include:
Initial training and qualifications; New hires, even those with clean driving records may have never experienced professional training and only passes 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) that they will be assigned to in the environment that they will be operating in.
Regular refresher/qualification 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 in employees' minds and demonstrate the corporate commitment to safety.
Every 2 to 3 years, requalification by on-road evaluation should be conducted.
In summary, keeping vehicle incident rates 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
NEWS FLASH - Thinking Driver President Caught Red Handed in Flagrant Safety Violation!
It has come to this reporter's attention that in the production of Thinking Driver's Tailgate Topics & Tips Video - Back to School, Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver, was caught on video tape committing a serious safety violation! When questioned about this infraction, McDonald said, "oops!'.
Check out Thinking Driver's Tailgate Topics & Tips - Back to School (click on the YouTube video) and see if you and your staff can find the safety violation.
Can you Predict the Future?
I'm not clairvoyant, but I can see into the future and so can you!
The second Thinking Driver Fundamental is ANTICIPATE HAZARDS.
A thinking driver first uses their eyes to look ahead to find out what's going on up front and then analyzes that information to ANTICIPATE HAZARDS. Seeing the potential hazard is not enough though. You need to anticipate what might affect you and then do something about it. When you anticipate hazards, you are taking a proactive approach to driving instead of a reactive one where you simply wait until something attracts your attention and demands your immediate action. In essence, you are predicting the future and acting in advance to keep bad things from happening!
Good drivers know what the most common hazards are and what they may dot to challenge you.
I was driving home one night, on a divided highway, and saw an intersection ahead, perhaps half a kilometer away. Suddenly a car turned from the intersecting road into the oncoming lane (my lane) and started up the wrong side of the road, straight at me. His headlights were shining right into my face! Not tough to see him, that was for sure, but what was he going to do? How could I anticipate what he would do?
So I'm slowing down as we get closer to each other but there's still a fair distance to go. As he realizes that he's on the wrong side of the road, he pulls towards the shoulder on my side of the highway, still facing me. I move to the left lane to create some separation between us and have slowed significantly from my original speed of 70 km/h. Surely he must see me, right? WRONG! Just as I was passing him, as he sat on the shoulder facing the wrong way, he decides to U-turn and I clip his driver side front fender, as he doesn't make it all the way around without encroaching on my lane.
So, did anticipation prevent the incident?
Not really, but what it did do was get me out of the right lane and slowed down so that instead of nailing him in the driver's door, it was a minor damage scrape on his front fender.
We all stop in a nearby parking lot to exchange information. He's 16, with a carload of friends and has only had his license for a couple of weeks. Its dad's car and what was his excuse for turning right into my headlight? You guessed it! "I didn't see you coming?"
There is no telling what people will do, but the more you pay attention, and try to figure out how to protect yourself, the better chance that you have to avoid conflicts.
Some tricks that you can use are:
- Watch Other Driver's Eyes! If you can see them looking at you, there is a reasonable (albeit not guaranteed) chance that they see you. If they are not looking at you, be ready for anything. If there is time, attract their attention with a light tap on the horn.
- Check the Front Tires of Oncoming Cars at Intersections. This gives you a clue about what they may do. If the front wheels are pre-turned for a left turn across your path, be ready, cover the brake and slow down. You may not be seen.
- When You See Large Vehicles Taking Up More Than One Lane or driving in the left lane with a right signal on, ask yourself; is this guy just an idiot or is there a good explanation for this vehicle position and signal? Is he going to turn right and needs the space? Heading down the right lane beside him could result in a world of trouble.
- Check In and Under Parked Cars. The easiest way to identify pedestrians moving around or between vehicles is to watch for their feet under the parked vehicle. Checking for people inside the vehicle will help you anticipate it either moving or a door opening. Exhaust steam in winter or tail lights/brake lights are another clue.
There are endless tricks and techniques.
You probably already use many more than I've mentioned here. The key is to THINK while you LOOK AHEAD and imagine what might happen. Pretty soon you will be telling your passengers what those other drivers are about to do before they do it and you will be predicting the future too!
Written by Spencer McDonald, President of Thinking Driver. (Reprinted as previously published in Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine.)
Thank you to all who entered our 'Thinking Driver's President - Flagrant Safety Violation' contest that we had running last month with the Tailgate Topics & Tips #26 - Back to School video.
- Christine Plomb, Allteck Line Contractors Inc. (Saskatoon, SK)
- Ben Bunce (Kennesaw, GA)
- Rich Hildebrand, Saskatchewan Government (Prince Albert, SK)
- William C. Young, Willco Transportation Ltd. (Calgary, AB)
- Jeremy Denton, Denton Safety (Rawlins, WY)
- Spenser MacPherson, HSE Atlantic (Charlottetown, PE)
- Jan Smith, Wolf's Bus Lines (York Springs, PA)
- Janet Pool, Metro Vancouver (Burnaby, BC)
- Dan Tucker, Northern Industrial Training (Palmer, AK)
- Lynn Edwards, Franklin Co. Comm. School Corp. (Brookeville, IN)
- Don Simmons, ACSA (Calagary, AB)
From all of us at Thinking Driver, congrats!
Also, remember you can continue to receive the Tailgate Topics & Tips videos by subscribing to Tailgate Topics & Tips Professional annual subscription. To get more information on this exciting new safety tool, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.