Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2001   by Auto Service World

Car Safety Month: It’s Not Just For Your Customers

Setting an example with "The Big Brown Truck," UPS can teach us a thing or two about building a safety culture.

October is Car Safety Month, officially promoted as a prime time for talking about safety-related maintenance to the driving public, but it is also an excellent opportunity for jobbers to promote driving safety with their staff.

Car crashes continue to be one of the largest costs borne by insurers, but more importantly they can affect the lives and livelihood of the individuals involved, their families, and the people they work with. In 1998, the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety released the sobering statistic that traffic injuries cause more deaths than any other cause of workplace injury.

It is typical for a jobber to look at the driving record of a prospective delivery driver, and perhaps do a day-long ride and drive after hiring to ensure that the driver knows where the customers are located–perhaps with the admonition that they can lose their job for losing demerit points–but little else in the way of driver training or instruction. For others involved in the business like outside salespeople or regular staffers, they may not even offer that much.

Promoting safe driving practices has long been a slippery issue for businesses and society, one that shows little evidence of being solved simply by driver training.

The DeKalb County project, conducted in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early 1980s to evaluate the effectiveness of a comprehensive driver education program, still stands as the most ambitious effort to assess the impact of formal instruction. Data from that study have been the object of intense scrutiny and sophisticated re-analysis over the years, but findings have been extremely consistent and disappointing to the driver education community. Driver education was not associated with reliable or significant decreases in crash involvement.

This conclusion has not been altered by the results of more recent studies of other driver education programs that have been conducted since then in a number of countries, including Canada. Studies have also found that advanced skid pad training is a detriment to driving safety of young males, not because it doesn’t teach skills, but because it can breed overconfidence, leading to poor decisions.

So, if driver training isn’t the answer, what is? Why, better training, of course, and building a corporate culture that puts driving safety at the top of the list of priorities.

That’s what United Parcel Service has done. With more than 150,000 vehicles, including package cars, vans, and tractor trailers, you’d expect them to know a thing or two about driver training and safety. With a company accident rate of less than one crash per 1.5 million kilometers traveled (excluding the UPS-emblazoned Winston Cup car of Dale Jarret of course), they obviously know a whole lot.

Dan McMackin, company spokesperson and former safety trainer for the company, says that rigorous training, retraining and attention to driving practices is a religion at UPS. He came up through the drivers’ ranks, as did much of the management at UPS, before becoming a driver trainer and then a trainers’ trainer.

“One of the first things that I saw from both sides was that any new person, when they’re first in the job, tends to be somewhat overwhelmed if they have never driven a delivery vehicle before.” He admits that the unwieldy nature of “The Big Brown Truck” does have its unique challenges–no rear window for example–but believes many of the lessons he has learned can be applied to any business. The most important of these is building a driving safety culture.

“We strictly train and enforce the five seeing habits. They are a religion here. When I was in human resources, one person at each meeting had to recite them from memory. Those people had nothing to do with driver safety.”

The five seeing habits he refers to are:

Aim high in steering: Rather than staring directly over the hood of the car, look farther down the road. This will give you more time to adjust to changing traffic conditions and keeps your vehicle centered on the road.

Get the big picture: Stay back and see it all. Knowing what’s ahead, beside and behind you can help you make safe driving decisions.

Keep your eyes moving: Scan, don’t stare; shift your eyes every few seconds and check your mirrors frequently.

Leave yourself an out: Maintain a cushion of space on all four sides of your vehicle, especially in front of you. Keep a four- to six-second interval between you and the traffic ahead.

Make sure other drivers see you: Communicate in traffic. Use turn signals, lights and the horn. Establish eye-to-eye contact.

“One of the subsections is to check your mirrors every three to five seconds. It keeps you alive at intersections. It makes driving an active process. A lot of people fall into a passive process and that’s why a lot of accidents happen.”

He offers as an example the “unavoidable” red light collision. “If you were using the five seeing habits, you could probably figure out that someone was going to blow a red light.”

He says that one of the added challenges of delivery staff is that they are working while driving and can be prone to the distractions of the job.

“You’ve got so many other things on your mind. You need to compartmentalize those things. When you’re driving, that’s your focus. You need two hands on the wheel and you need your focus on the road. If you’re talking on the phone, you had better be stopped.

“Without oversimplifying it, there is really only one way to improve safety. What it really involves is training. What you do is take people who have no knowledge of a situation and break it down, so that people can swallow bite-sized pieces. Our highest percentage of crashes is in reverse, because you can’t see behind you. You’re going to deal with backing up a vehicle; we do that for an entire day. That may be a bit extreme for the auto parts folks, but it’s what we do.”

It is ironic that UPS takes such a strict view on driver training while the city where its headquarters is, Atlanta, Ga., does not even require a road test for young people to get their driver’s license.

Nevertheless, in his time as a trainer and since, he has seen that most success in instituting on-road safety is about attitude and expectations.

“I have had plenty of youngsters–maybe a bit older than just out of high school–but their success was about their background and how strictly they had been held to strict, safe driving practices.

“Our expectations are really high, to the point that we take disciplinary action with our people, but I certainly never used that in our training. I think it’s understood what when you work for UPS, if you have accidents, you’re not going to be working here very long.

“Attitude is about 99% of it. It’s about a person’s willingness to accept our company’s expertise. That hasn’t been a problem either.”

He says that for a company to instill the message into its employees requires a cultural approach.

“We go over and over it until it becomes a habit,” says McMackin. “Yes we have a lot of urgent packages that we need to get to people who have paid a premium to have us do it, but, guess what, that comes second. Safety comes first and the only way to get that through to people is through very effective and methodical training.”

Drivers are also regularly inspected for their driving habits, with a checklist of 70 driving elements, and McMackin says that it’s something that any business can take to heart in some form.

“It’s all about education, not about looking over their shoulder. What’s wrong with going out with the employees every six months?” he suggests.

To keep a regular focus on safety, make it part of the daily routine. “We have Pre-work Communication Meetings (PCMs), three minutes every day. (The meetings could focus on any business issue, not just safety.) Every day, after every PCM, the last thing out of the supervisor’s mouth has to be a safety tip. Some of them are a little clich, but it’s the thing on drivers’ minds as they get into their vehicles.”

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