Classrooms on wheels

To date, J.J. Keller & Associates has made 30 different safety courses available through IdleAire, and they can be viewed either on the IdleAire display or the driver’s own television.

Every year before winter, U.S. Xpress requires its drivers to complete a course on extreme driving conditions. In the past, drivers normally took the training course at one of the company’s terminals on a desktop computer. Last year, for the first time, hundreds of U.S. Xpress drivers could take the course and others like it from the comfort and convenience of their own cabs.

Especially for irregular-route truckload carriers, scheduling drivers for safety training and remediation after incidents and violations can be challenging. With federal regulations often forcing drivers to remain idle for longer than needed to sleep, a major benefit of in-cab training is the flexibility for drivers to use otherwise unproductive off-duty time to become better drivers. Enabling this flexibility are the latest onboard computing platforms that have robust memory, color touchscreen displays and full PC functionality, as well as the expansion of truckstop-based systems that don’t require an onboard computer.

Training onboard
U.S. Xpress was among the first customers for Instructional Technologies Inc.’s Tread-1 driver training software. Tread-1 is stored on Mac computers that are distributed to company terminals and connected to a central server at ITI’s headquarters. This approach was far better than one that required drivers to obtain training at a specific location and at a specific time, but it still forced driver training into the fairly limited times that drivers were onsite at a company terminal.

ITI later released a Web-based delivery system, Pro-Tread. Leveraging next-generation in-cab systems, ITI’s latest version, Pro-Tread In-Cab, skips the Internet connectivity and loads programs directly to the hard drive of the onboard computer. In the cab, drivers can select lessons from a menu, anytime and anywhere. When drivers complete a course, the onboard computer transmits information about the lesson – date, time, driver ID and completion information – to the same Web-based Pro-Tread system that fleet managers log into to track and manage the results. ITI sees great potential for its most recent product, which was developed following feedback from U.S. Xpress.

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“(ITI) had to make the usability a lot better, and more conducive to a touchscreen,” says Max Fuller, co-chairman and chief executive officer of U.S. Xpress. “They’ve done a very good job.” Pro-Tread In-Cab currently is available through DriverTech, which U.S. Xpress began installing in its fleet in 2006. Soon, Pro-Tread In-Cab will be available through Qualcomm, PeopleNet, GeoLogic – recently acquired by Xata – and other onboard computing and wireless communications providers, says Bruce Weiss, ITI’s executive vice president.

The DriverTech system has opened the door to other opportunities that U.S. Xpress is only beginning to explore, Fuller says. The carrier is adding short video training courses on how to operate a variety of equipment, including trailers, engines, transmissions and other vehicle technologies. Drivers even can sign up to take college courses in the cab through a program called In-Cab University.

When the U.S. Xpress fleet is fully equipped with DriverTech, Fuller estimates 85 percent or more of its training lessons will be taken in the cab. “In-cab training for drivers has been a tremendous plus,” he says.

Training anywhere
Many drivers don’t yet have access to onboard computers suitable for this kind of installed remote training, but the Web offers ample alternatives. For example, J.J. Keller & Associates offers more than 100 courses online through the Keller Training Center.

“We have fleets that license our training material for different methods of distribution internally,” says Greg Scott, senior account executive for J.J. Keller. “Some is done on their intranet. As long as it doesn’t violate license or copyrights, we will work with anyone.”

With many drivers now using laptops, access to online training is only as far away as an Internet connection.

Smith System has created two Web-based E-Learning courses focusing on the avoidance of both forward-motion and backing collisions. Each course contains a comprehensive review of its “5 Keys to Space Cushion Driving” techniques for space, visibility, time, etc. Companies often use Smith System’s E-Learning courses as a precursor to hands-on training with an instructor; others use it as a reinforcement tool after drivers receive in-person training. “Online training is a terrific way to introduce what you are trying to accentuate or reinforce,” says Frank Powers, the company’s vice president of sales and information systems. “It can be delivered anywhere, anytime, and it is very interactive.”

Vertical Alliance Group Inc. offers, an online training resource for commercial trucking companies and their drivers that can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. The site consists of a series of concise five- to six-minute video modules featuring a professional narrator, a slide presentation that coincides with the video, and a follow-up test that provides immediate feedback based on the presentation content.

VAG currently offers more than 30 courses, with another 12 set for release. Companies also are using VAG’s service to create their own training videos for more than driver safety, says Jay Wommack, president. The service includes editing software that fleets are using to create videos for training, testing and providing information to employees at all levels in the company on topics such as accounting, driver management, fuel efficiency, employee benefits and other policies and procedures, Wommack says.

Subscriber companies can monitor the viewing and testing history of all drivers; VAG also sends subscribers weekly performance reports showing all activity for that timeframe.

And while ITI sees a big future for Pro-Tread In-Cab, its basic Pro-Tread system already gives drivers access to more than 50 lessons through any computer with an Internet connection. So even if the fleet uses older-generation in-cab communications – or no onboard computer at all – drivers can still use laptop computers on the road or desktop computers at home to complete their training. Because of the inherent flexibility and lower hardware investment, ITI eventually plans to migrate all customers to Pro-Tread and Pro-Tread In-Cab and discontinue the Mac-based Tread-1, Weiss says.

Training at truckstops
What if the driver doesn’t have a computer at all? In-cab training still might be an option. At truckstops equipped with IdleAire, drivers can take interactive courses from J.J. Keller. To date, J.J. Keller has made 30 different safety courses available through IdleAire, most of which are focused on driver skill awareness and reinforcement. Ultimately, J.J. Keller plans to make all of its Web-based training available at IdleAire.

Today, J.J. Keller’s multimedia courses delivered at IdleAire facilities incorporate still images, PowerPoint slides and videos of safety professionals and successful drivers talking about a particular issue; lessons are interspersed with questions that drivers are required to answer. To use the service, drivers select a course from the IdleAire control module; at the end of each course, drivers complete a self-assessment and view their results. Fleets also see drivers’ results via an online management system.

In November 2007, Carlen Transport gave drivers the choice between receiving training at IdleAire facilities or at the office; most chose the former. “It’s been a great asset to my training,” says Dave Martin, safety director of the 100-truck fleet based in Bangor, Maine. “A lot of drivers would rather sit there on their own time rather than sit in front of me.”

Martin publishes a monthly safety newsletter that highlights training courses that drivers must complete within the month. To use the IdleAire service, Carlen Transport drivers swipe their EFS fuel card in the IdleAire control module; the cost to use the training modules is debited automatically to the card. When drivers complete a course, Martin receives an e-mail that documents the driver, the lesson and the result.

Carlen Transport regularly schedules training lessons on fatigue, defensive driving and “slips, trips and falls,” and will begin using a hazardous-materials training course this quarter. Besides assigning courses to all drivers, Martin targets individual lessons to drivers as needed; for example, hard braking or speeding information is downloaded from trucks at each service and used to indicate which drivers need training on speed and space management.

Only the beginning
Providers of onboard computing and mobile communications also say fleets are asking them about adding content and applications to train drivers and provide them with information resources in the cab.

PeopleNet soon will offer lessons from ITI on PeopleNet BLU, its new color display platform. When the driver has finished the lesson, PeopleNet BLU will send a message to confirm completion. PeopleNet’s long-term goal for in-cab training is to tie it to actual driver behavior through performance monitoring, says Glenn Williams, PeopleNet’s director of marketing. For example, fleets could set up an automated safety and performance report card that drivers view in the cab, and link the appropriate lessons to their scores in each category.

One of the advantages of Qualcomm’s new OmniVision platform for driver training is that drivers can move the touchscreen display and keyboard unit from the cab to the sleeper, says Norm Ellis, vice president and general manager for Qualcomm Enterprise Services. Currently, OmniVision supports audio files, training diagrams and PDF files, and soon will be able to incorporate video training, Ellis says.

Prior to Xata’s acquisition of GeoLogic Solutions in January, GeoLogic was planning to offer lessons from both J.J. Keller and ITI via its color display unit (CDU). In the near future, Xata most likely will offer both in-cab training options to all its customers in the private, truckload and less-than-truckload sectors, says Chip Powell, Xata’s director of product marketing.

In addition to offering Pro-Tread lessons, DriverTech has partnered with Applied Simulation Technologies to develop Hazmat Helper, an electronic guide that drivers use to comply with regulations and safety for hazmat loads. In the next few months, the company will add a financial module that drivers can use to track finances and tax benefits, says Scott Lemon, sales vice president for DriverTech.

A number of fleets are beginning to develop their own content for drivers in the cab, such as a company intranet or portal where drivers can access human resource information. The DriverTech platform supports Internet access via satellite, cellular and Wi-Fi networks through a secure Web browser, Lemon says.

For portability outside the cab, a company called Chalk has made Pro-Tread In-Cab software work on Blackberry handsets. Blackberry devices do not have the visual clarity and size of a PC or laptop, but drivers can take courses in or out of the truck, regardless of whether cellular coverage is available, says Matt Guthrie, client executive for Chalk.

From onboard computers and laptops to handheld devices, technology need not be a barrier to effective driver training. Drivers truly can do something productive when they aren’t driving or sleeping.

Linking training to need
Various technologies help fleets target training resources

While new resources and technologies are available for distance training, management still must be able to quickly target individual drivers with the appropriate training to change behaviors and reduce risk. To this end, several technology providers have developed software that can target risk effectively and automate the workflow processes involved in assigning and documenting training and other countermeasures.

Safety Box captures information throughout an enterprise – including telematics, accidents, incidents and compliance data – and creates a risk profile for each driver. Fleets can use the risk profile to assign the appropriate training and other countermeasures. Many companies just focus on telematics information, such as hard braking, speeding and the MVR, says Nick Goodall, president of Safety Box. “We take everything and put it together,” Goodall says.

Fleets set up criteria for different categories. Based on new information that arrives, drivers are entered automatically into a watch list. Once training is assigned, the software pulls the training and results into the driver profile for documentation. The software also can tie into dispatch software to prevent a driver from being dispatched until the training is complete, Goodall says.

EBE Technologies has developed the Ships Driver Performance and Safety modules to automate business processes in safety and risk management. Users can set up thresholds to monitor data from telematics, such as the number of hard brakes. When any measurement exceeds a threshold, the software creates a violation letter that is sent to drivers electronically, in the cab through a macro or an e-mail, with instructions on what to do next, such as watch a training video on spacing, says Larry Kerr, EBE president.

When drivers complete an in-cab or Web-based training program, Ships Driver Management captures a file of the date, time, driver and score of the lesson. It then can create an electronic affidavit, marry it with the violation letter and file both into an electronic driver personnel file.

One of the common shortfalls of driver training programs is whether or not drivers actually use the training you provide. Furthermore, drivers often do not fully connect with generic training materials, as the material may not be specific to the type of equipment they operate or the actual situations they encounter.

DriveCam, a driver risk management company, uses a palm-sized recording device to capture audio and video snippets of risky events – inside and outside the cab. The recorder is triggered through driving behavior such as hard braking, speeding and swerving. The recorded events are passed through a wireless network to a group of driver risk analysts that review the video snippets. Those snippets that portray risk, as determined by the client, are marked as requiring supervisor follow-up, says Del Lisk, vice president of safety services for DriveCam.

Fleet supervisors login to the DriveCam system online to see if any events merit driver training; drivers either can review the clips with a supervisor or login and view the videos themselves. Some of DriveCam’s truckload clients invite drivers to view videos of minor risk incidents on their own time, but require drivers to speak with management and collectively view incidents that generate a higher level of concern.

Just like today’s technology allows on-the-go drivers to receive training 24/7, it also can detect risky behavior instantly and automate the workflow to assign and document appropriate training – anywhere, anytime.

Scalable training
Driver training plans available for any size fleet

Far from being a luxury available only to fleets with deep pockets, the cost of Web-based and in-cab driver training systems is affordable and flexible, vendors say.

J.J. Keller’s online courses, available through the Keller Learning Center, are affordable for individual or multiple drivers, says Greg Scott, senior account executive. Multi-tiered pricing structures are available for single and multiple users for one or multiple courses over a period of time; this structure is available regardless of the training being taken online or in the cab at any IdleAire truckstop facility.

To subscribe to online courses at the Keller Training Center, fleets should contact J. J. Keller & Associates, Scott says; to subscribe to in-cab courses, fleets should contact their IdleAire representative.

Companies that use Smith System’s E-Learning online courses pay a volume-based flat fee per user; administrators can go in to the training site and add users anytime. Drivers that take a course get a certificate of completion, but they can continue to use the course for up to a year at no extra charge. “It is very easy and simple to administer,” says Frank Powers, vice president of sales and information systems for Smith System.

Clients of Instructional Technologies Inc. pay for a predetermined amount of lessons per month. Plans run from 10 lessons per month to thousands per month, and clients can switch plans whenever their needs change. If they have overages, ITI invoices the overage lessons following that month with no penalty – the same cost per lesson as in the plan.

The training subscription from ITI gives fleets access to any lesson they choose from the basic Pro-Tread curriculum and the HazMat, OSHA and Tanker curriculums, says Bruce Weiss, executive vice president of ITI. Fleets and drivers also can pay for individual courses through online Pro-Tread training from Ryder Safety Services at Pricing for ITI’s Pro-Tread In-Cab is the same as the Web-based version of Pro-Tread, Weiss says.

In-cab computing and mobile communications providers are mulling over different options to generate revenue from Pro-Tread lessons, Weiss says. Some are considering an access fee or upgrade of some sort, but ITI does not pay onboard computing and mobile communications providers any commission or fee to operate its software on their devices, he says.