Fleet execs: Helping drivers improve safety is key to retention

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By Kristin Walters

The cure for the driver shortage is emphasizing safety and turning “churners” into reliable, loyal drivers, industry representatives Jeff Davis and Kevin Burch told attendees Wednesday, June 6, at the CCJ Spring Symposium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“The safety department has traditionally been the termination tool,” said Davis, vice president of safety for Jet Express, a 300-truck fleet based in Dayton, Ohio. “What we’ve tried to do is turn safety into a retention tool. We put emphasis on our corrective action program and try to retain that driver.”

Jet Express employs a program to take “problem” drivers – ones who have three to five moving violations in the past three years – and instead of firing them, help them become better, safer drivers.

“When we hire a churner and don’t intervene with the safety process, we just add to the churning,” Davis said.

Improving safety has multiple benefits for the company, Davis said – increased compliance, reduction in accidents, reduced operating costs and increased retention levels.

Each month, the company analyzes data on its drivers – particularly the Motor Vehicle Record – to choose candidates for the safety intervention program. Drivers who have three or more moving violations in a three-year period are each assigned a mentor in management, who works with them on a written plan for improvement, which may include speed governors.

“When they bring that driving record out and review the past history with the driver, it becomes personal,” Davis said. “I’ve found that well over 90 percent will respond.”

One of the major focuses of the program is speeding, which not only burns more fuel but also triggers inspections.

“One of the big areas we lose productivity is sitting in roadside inspections,” Davis said. “When you get 10 miles over the speed limit, you put a neon sign on your truck that says, ‘Come inspect me.’ Discrimination starts at 10 miles per hour over, and the violations start racking up.”

In Ohio, where the speed limit for trucks is 55 mph, 72 percent of all commercial vehicle violations were for more than 10 mph over the speed limit, Davis said.

“Take your tickets out and see where you’re getting your violations,” said Burch, president and chief executive officer of Jet Express. “Get that information out to the drivers – put it in your safety meetings.”

To motivate drivers, Burch posts charts showing the company’s moving violation improvements around the office – even in the bathroom. Over the past few years, the number of Jet Express drivers with zero moving violations increased, while their drivers with three and four decreased.

“We’re certainly not the highest-paying company, but I think our drivers respect the fact we’re trying to help them,” Davis said. “You build a loyal driver.”