IMAGINE YOURSELF AS THE OWNER OF A TRANSPORTATION COMPANY . . .
You do just-in-time business to business delivery, hauling trailers of dairy products to stores. Just like with any transportation company, it’s time-sensitive. All professional driver accidents cost you money on claims, extra time between hauls, and an opportunity cost for hauling more. They might even cost you a client. You set aside a certain amount of revenue to new driver training every year to avoid losses. While that’s money that could go into marketing to find new clients, you rest easier knowing you’re doing the best you can to protect your drivers. But guess what? Despite the training, your drivers still have accidents.
When companies spend money on training and their drivers still have accidents, it’s frustrating, even if the training paid for itself twice over. Sometimes we hear people ask why even bother if drivers still crash. The fact is, even trained professional drivers might have accidents. In 2014 alone, 3,978 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes. Training still matters, though. There are steps you can take beyond the initial training so your drivers have less accidents.
The “Why” before the “How”
If you want to stop professional drivers from having accidents, you have to ask yourself why they happen at all. There are a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest, and the one we’ll talk about here, has to do with the five levels of learning a skill:
- Initial modeling
- Cognitive performance
- Enactive mastery
Our answer lies in automaticity, but first let’s talk about what each level means.
Professional Driver Accidents – Awareness is Key
Awareness, also known as receptivity, means that you want to learn a new skill. You know about it and think it’s worth the time and effort to learn it. Next, in the initial modeling level, you can watch someone perform the skill and slowly copy what they do. You might make mistakes, but with help, you start getting better. Once you reach cognitive performance, you can complete the skill on your own with a lot of focus. When you reach the fourth level, enactive mastery, you are able to do the skill without error or much focus. You can do it at the same time as another easy task like talking.
The Danger of Automaticity
Professional drivers are at their best sitting around enactive mastery or even cognitive performance. The line graph shows that there is even a diminishing return on training right around this point. The danger comes when drivers enter the fifth stage: automaticity. Automaticity means that you can perform the skill without any thought. You’ll likely start focusing on something else. Ever drive home without remembering how you got there? Automaticity is why that happens.
Automaticity is dangerous because we don’t drive in a bubble. For skills like throwing a football or painting, automaticity saves us time and energy. With driving, automaticity means drivers go into auto-pilot and can’t react based on what’s happening around them. Not paying attention to changes on the road puts drivers at risk of having an accident. Automaticity comes from doing a task over and over again, and as a result, professional drivers are especially likely to reach this level.
How Do We Combat Automaticity?
You have to make drivers think about the training they went through when they first started, even if they’ve been driving for a decade. We call this making the training “sticky.” The best way to do it is with Monthly Safety Initiatives (MSI), focusing on one defensive driving aspect every month that they learned about in their training. Use posters, videos, blogs, and meetings to remind them of what they already know. In our experience, accidents that an MSI focuses on will significantly decrease that month. When a driver has been at the job for too long without additional training, they become complacent. That’s unacceptable when lives are on the line. Take action to prevent it.