Semi trucks driving down a highway

The job of driving a commercial motor vehicle requires more skills than most people could imagine. Not only do the drivers have to know how to drive an 80-thousand-pound metal giant, but they also have to know how to trip plan, safely navigate congested roadways, complete paperwork and keep up with an ever-changing web of regulations.

These tasks obviously require training and practice to master. New drivers receive a variety of training from truck driving schools, driver finishing programs at carriers, and ongoing training to get them up to speed. After a driver gets a few years of experience, many companies assume that there is not much else they can teach them, and the training tends to be reduced or stopped all together.

The benefits of a strong training program

Training serves several purposes. The obvious ones are that the trainee may not have the necessary skills or knowledge of the subject matter or that regulations may change. Many people believe these are the only reasons for training, which may be why training sometimes is not conducted with experienced drivers.

However, a more subtle and possibly even more important purpose for training — if done properly — is that it sends a positive message to the trainees about safety. Safety is a reflection of the culture of the company. Drivers will focus on things that the culture at the company stresses are important, which is why training is not just for rookies.

Experienced drivers may have the technical skills, but it’s important to reinforce the message that safety is valued and the company cares about the driver’s safety and the wellbeing of those sharing the roads.

Training the right way

Training that’s not done properly will also send a message, but it won’t be a positive one. It’s important that training is interactive and that it has a purpose. The trainer should be positive and engaged with the driver, so the driver understands that the training is not just being conducted to check it off of a list.

For example, sitting a driver down and turning on a video for them to watch while you leave the room is not a best practice for training. It immediately sends the message that you have little interest in whether the driver paid attention, understood the video, or knew why they had to watch it.

Contrast this with staying in the room with the driver, stopping the video at several key spots, discussing what just happened, and relating it to the hazards that they encounter in their daily job duties. It’s important to communicate that you understand that the driver is an experienced professional, but you want to always keep safety top of mind because you want them to return home safely after each trip. This engaged and positive approach is much more effective.

Safety videos and handouts are good training tools, but they are not a complete training program. You may not be a professional trainer or public speaker, but you don’t have to be as long as you know that you’ll always get the best results by spending time with the driver and having meaningful discussion. Ask them what they observe on the road and how they can prevent accidents.

If you are conducting training on a specific type of accident that the company has experienced, share any data, video and other relevant information, so they can relate to the experience and further understand why it is important.

Timing matters

Training can come at a variety of different times with a driver. The first—and probably the best—opportunity is during orientation. A good orientation program sets the right tone and lets the driver know what is expected of them and what the company culture is. Again, consider the message that your orientation program sends to the driver. Is it focused solely on administration and operations, or does it keep safety at the forefront? Does it show that you care more about moving freight than getting everyone home safely?

Recurring training is also critical to driver safety. This training is conducted on a proactive basis before an accident or incident occurs. It is meant to reinforce the culture and keep the focus on safety front and center. Recurring training might focus on seasonal topics, such as winter driving tips. It can also be based on specific types of accidents and hazards that are inherent to your operations.

Then there is retraining or refresher training. This training is conducted after an incident has already occurred. The focus here should be on realizing what contributed to the incident and how to prevent it from happening again. It also sends the message that accidents are not acceptable and should include what steps will be taken if it happens again.

Documenting everything

Any time you conduct any form of training with a driver, be sure to document it. It can be as simple as a sign in-sheet for a training session or a more formal training certificate.

All corrective actions, including verbal warnings, should be documented in detail, too. This creates a record that both the company and the driver can access. This may become important in the event your insurance company needs to review it or in case you ever need to go to court.

A comprehensive training program is a must for drivers at all levels and tenures. Keep it positive and interactive, be consistent and document it thoroughly. When you do this, you’re well on your way to a culture of safety and accountability for rookies and more seasoned drivers, alike.

For any questions or to request resources regarding training best practices, please reach out to your risk manager or contact Risk Management Services at lchelp@nationwide.com or 877-233-3030.