Driving Risk Out of Your Transit Fleet

Professional drivers who operate passenger-carrying vehicles — whether they are city buses, airport shuttles or motorcoaches — are in the business of transporting people. Vigilance, professionalism and an unwavering commitment to safety are paramount job skills.

Drivers are the face of the business, and driver behavior is critical to quality service, but difficult to assess. A supervisor doing a ride-along finds that the driver is smiling, courteous and an excellent driver while the supervisor is in the vehicle, not an atypical response to direct observation. In fact, it is very common and can be attributed to a phenomenon known in human behavioral sciences as the Hawthorne Effect.

In the late 1920s, a young production line supervisor in charge of an assembly line at the Hawthorne Works plant (part of the Western Electric Company) in Cicero, Ill., noted that the lighting in and around the production line was sparse and dingy, making it hard to see the work. He decided to brighten the area and immediately saw worker performance and output improve. Thinking that if some light was good, more light must be better, the supervisor increased the brightness of the work area and saw output improve again. The supervisor began to question this phenomenon. What if the relationship between lighting level and production output were not cause and effect? He removed all of the incremental light he had added and returned the production environment to its original dimly lit state. Surprisingly, production went up again.

Productivity went up regardless of whether illumination increased or decreased. Lighting was not the performance driver, but rather, the fact that someone was watching the workers, noticing their behavior and measuring their output. Someone cared and this made all the difference. If you do not watch, if you do not measure, if you do not have meaningful consequences, the subtle message you are communicating to your employees is that whatever the endeavor, it does not really matter, it is not really meaningful and no one really cares.

Behavior-based driver risk management solutions that incorporate video/audio event recorders and driver coaching have a similar effect in that they provide immediate feedback on driver performance.

How and Why Driver Risk Management Solutions Work
Driver risk management solutions help fleets predict and prevent risky driving behavior that is likely to result in an accident. A palm-sized exception-based video event recorder is mounted in a vehicle, typically on the windshield behind the rearview mirror, and captures sights and sounds inside and outside the vehicle. The video event recorder is continually recording on a loop, but does not save an event unless an exceptional force, such as hard braking, swerving, sudden acceleration or collision, triggers it. At that point, the video event recorder saves the critical seconds immediately before and after the triggering event. Saved events are downloaded, analyzed, scored and used in ongoing driver coaching programs to improve behavior and mitigate driver risk.

A light on the video event recorder changes from green to red when an event has been saved, letting drivers know immediately that they have exhibited a risky driving behavior. Like the line supervisor in the Hawthorne Works plant, driver risk management solutions notice performance and that fact alone spurs safer driving. Drivers do not want to trigger the event recorder and remain conscious of their driving long after they have participated in their organization’s formal driver training workshops and/or a new-hire probationary period has ended. The video event recorder acts as a virtual driving coach in the vehicle reminding drivers to stay focused and preventing them from falling back on old habits, developing new risky habits or simply becoming lax in their driving behavior.

The diagram here illustrates the above examples and the significance of the Hawthorne Effect on behavior, whether it is the behavior of a line worker in a factory with changing light levels or a professional driver operating a metro bus.

An antecedent such as a fleet manager instructing drivers to exercise safe driving habits precedes and influences behavior. Drivers respond to the antecedent with various degrees of compliance to the standards that have been set. However, if, by exception only, those circumstances where drivers do not comply with the safety standards are captured and reviewed by drivers and their supervisors, their behavior can have immediate and certain consequences.

Driver Risk Management solutions allow fleets to capture and observe actual behavior and then tie positive feedback (in the form of acknowledgement, dynamic pay, bonuses, etc.) to safe and desired driving behavior and negative consequences to unsafe or risky driving behavior. Ideally, the feedback should occur as close to the actual behavior as possible to reinforce that someone is noticing the fleet’s drivers and that the work they do — operating passenger buses safely — is important. By measuring behavior, fleets also can establish concrete goals that can be achieved and surpassed. When humans measure performance, they focus their energy on, and derive pleasure from, meeting or exceeding the measures set so that positive reinforcement itself becomes the drug that spurs on greater achievements. Once that self-reinforcing loop is established, those external motivations become internalized and when that intrinsic transformation happens, you get long-term sustainable behavior change because people now identify with and stand for something — in this case, they stand for being safe and responsible with the effect of saving lives.

Applying Driver Risk Management Solutions to Mass Transit
Think about all of the challenges and potential dangers your drivers encounter each day. Their vehicles are heavy, which makes them difficult to maneuver and stop quickly. They also are high profile, which makes them prone to rollovers. Drivers must make frequent stops (often in heavily trafficked areas), navigate busy, congested roadways that may be in a state of disrepair or under construction, anticipate and react to the erratic driving behavior of other motorists, address riders’ questions and concerns, and maintain a sense of order and calm amid the distraction of noisy, and sometimes rude and disrespectful, passengers.

Back-to-school season adds another element of risk and drivers must be extra vigilant as students take to the roadways en route to school. There is increased likelihood of an impetuous or distracted child darting into the street in front of the bus. Winter brings inclement weather concerns. There also is the danger of the “blank stare” among drivers who run the same routes each day. With little of interest to see outside the vehicle, it is easy for the mind to wander and for drivers to slip into a “blank stare” where the eyes are open, but the mind is somewhere else.

How safe is your fleet? Can you identify the drivers most likely to be involved in accidents that will jeopardize their safety, that of their passengers and put your organization at risk? Sure, you can point to the driver who has been involved in an accident in the past (if he is even still at your organization), but he certainly is not the only professional driver to have exhibited risky behavior. More likely than not, he just “got caught” in an accident that could have been prevented.

H.W. Heinrich studied workplace injuries in the 1930s and determined that for every 300 unsafe acts there are 29 minor injuries and 1 serious injury or fatality. Applied to driving, this means that most collisions are not one-time incidents or driver errors, but the consequence of repeated risky driving.
Dave Melton, director of transportation technology services at Liberty Mutual, reinforces Heinrich’s theory in comments he made in an article in Light & Medium Truck in November 2006: “Too many fleets wait for a crash to occur before looking into driver behaviors, when most likely they already have exhibited risky behaviors.”

Imagine, for instance, a driver with a clean record who is conscientious about maintaining the speed limit and complying with the rules of your organization, but unknowingly tends to follow other vehicles too closely. Does he pose a risk to your fleet? He does if an unforeseen event such as a collision or debris in the roadway ahead of him, coupled with black ice and his tendency for following closely, make it impossible for him to stop quickly or safely maneuver his vehicle around the collision.

So, what do you do? Traditional driver training programs in and of themselves are not enough, and having an actual driving coach in the vehicle with your drivers at all times to observe and alert the driver when he exhibits risky driving behaviors that could lead to an accident is not practical or cost efficient. How do you identify the seemingly “safe” driver in your fleet who is an accident waiting to happen?

Let’s use the previous example of the driver with the tendency to follow too closely. Identifying this tendency and demonstrating it to him in a non-punitive way through the objective audio and video evidence captured via an event recorder is key. The next step is providing him the right coaching to help him improve his driving and eliminate the risky behavior. In doing so, you are eliminating the risk he poses to himself, other motorists, passengers and your organization. He in turn is becoming a better, safer driver. He also knows that his employer cares about him, is noticing his performance and wants to see him succeed.

By improving the overall safety of fleets, driver risk management solutions also mitigate costs, including vehicle damages, workers’ compensation, administrative and legal fees, as well as claims payouts, associated with risky driving — often by half or more. For large fleets, these costs can be very high, trending upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in the unfortunate event of a fatality, millions of dollars) each year depending on the number of accidents incurred.

Fortunately, these need not be fixed costs. Melton remarks in the article referenced previously: “What fleets must understand is that insurance costs are variable costs, and can be controlled.”

Increased Safety Directly Impacts the Bottom Line
Veolia Transportation implemented a driver risk management solution as part of its overall safety program and quickly saw return on its investment in the form of increased operator and passenger safety and reduced insurance costs.

In the first year following installation of the solution, Veolia Transportation experienced a 38 percent reduction in the total number of collisions and reduced its costs associated with risky driving behavior by 25 percent. The company also found a way to recognize and reward its operators for driving safely. Veolia Transportation implemented a “Go For The Green” campaign that plays upon the green light on the video event recorders in its vehicles. Operators are rewarded for maintaining a green light — meaning they do not exhibit any risky driving behaviors that would trigger the recorder and cause the light to turn red.

Other benefits transit providers have found as a result of implementing Driver Risk Management solutions include reduced vehicle wear and tear and lower maintenance and fuel costs, since drivers are less likely to drive aggressively or exceed the speed limit knowing that such behaviors will be captured on video.

Drivers too have embraced driver risk management solutions as they have realized the potential of the solutions to help them improve their driving and protect themselves in accident situations where they are not at fault, but likely would have been assigned blame based on eyewitness accounts alone. The video event recorders in their vehicles present objective evidence of what actually happened. Features that allow drivers to manually activate the video event recorder provide another level of protection.

Imagine unruly children on a school bus making it difficult for a driver to successfully perform her job and posing a threat to the safety of other passengers. Or, imagine passengers on city buses who refuse to obey the rules of not standing forward of the yellow line, and a disabled rider in a wheelchair who declines the driver’s request to securely position her wheelchair in a designated seating area on the vehicle. In each of these instances, the driver can activate the video event recorder to capture the incident and ensure the appropriate measures are taken (e.g., the misbehaving school kids are reprimanded) to protect herself from potential he said/she said situations and reinforce the safety of her riders.

Managing the safety of a fleet is a daunting task given the many variables and uncertainty the environment poses: Will another driver cut off one of your buses? Will a pedestrian step off the curb without looking? Will inclement weather play a role among your fleet today? These are factors you cannot predict or control. Risky driving behavior, however, is something you can predict, and more importantly, prevent. driver risk management solutions make it possible to identify risky driving behaviors among your fleet and coach drivers before their behaviors result in collisions. Pay attention to driving behavior, let your drivers know you recognize their dedication to safety, you notice their driving and you care. Create a culture of safety and prevention that benefits your drivers, passengers and shareholders alike. Demonstrate that what they do really matters and that they, and they alone, make the difference in their bus, in your company, in your city and in our society.

You cannot do this without observation, measurement, feedback and consequences, but once you establish these relatively fundamental building blocks, you can create a strong culture where people are engaged and responsible with a self-directing work ethic that is full of pride and professionalism. Once you have done that, you have employed not just the body, but the mind and the heart as well.

Teams win championships on just that combination.

Bruce Moeller is president and CEO of DriveCam Inc. and the author of Oh Behave!, a book about reinforcing successful behaviors to build cultures and improve productivity within businesses.