Taking the wheel on safety

Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles on the topic of accident prevention. This installment addresses technology and tools for managing driver safety. The first installment in September mostly addressed the use of data to determine causes and contributing factors of accidents.

Drivers want to be green,” says John Kubala, director of safety and human resources at LeFleur Transportation, where green is the new color for safety. “We’re always asking (drivers) and making comments like, ‘Are you green today?’ ”

Based in Ridgeland, Miss., LeFleur provides scheduled passenger transportation services with a fleet of 300 vehicles. In each vehicle, a small device uses green, yellow and red lights to provide drivers constant feedback on their skill level. The device also sends information to the GreenRoad Safety Center, an online application from GreenRoad Technologies designed to simplify the process of assessing each driver’s skills and risk.

The Safety Center assigns values for five skill categories: acceleration, braking, lane changing, cornering and speed handling. Drivers that score in the yellow or red zone for each category are targeted for coaching and training. After testing the GreenRoad system on 50 vehicles for the past four months, 75 percent of LeFleur’s drivers showed improvement; 90 percent now are green, and the remainder is yellow.

Few fleets lack information on driver performance and safety; in fact, many fleet managers are overwhelmed with it. To use this information more efficiently and effectively to prevent accidents, some fleets are using technology to change the ways they manage driver safety.

Narrowing the focus
Today’s onboard computers and wireless communications systems can provide virtually anything you want to know about the operation of your trucks and drivers. So the real challenge is not getting information; it’s what to do with all of it.

“My experience is that people can get overwhelmed with the data,” says Jim Cundey, vice president of projects for Kenan Advantage Group. “They will throw up their hands and say, ‘We don’t know what we should be looking at.’ ”

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers

A few years ago, management of KAG – a Canton, Ohio-based fuel delivery carrier – decided to narrow its focus to a few behaviors that caused the most concern. Management then determined what information from the fleet’s Cadec Mobius onboard computing system would best help managers and drivers correct these bad behaviors.

KAG worked with Cadec to develop a new “green, yellow and red” (GYR) report that uses information collected on driving behaviors, including speed, sudden decelerations and activation of the anti-rollover system. The application assigns a weighted score to these events based on severity. Drivers automatically are assigned to each color category based on their score. The GYR report is run weekly; managers keep an eye on drivers in the yellow zone and have an immediate conversation with drivers in the red zone.

“The report is run weekly so that we have a large enough data set to have a meaningful discussion,” Cundey says. “A guy could have a bad day, but just from a driver management perspective, we are all trying to do more tasks with less people.”

Carriers have immediate access to an extensive set of driver performance and safety information from their onboard computers, dispatch software and other electronic systems. But collecting information on driver safety from these so-called “structured” sources of data provides only part of the picture, says John Hazenfield, chief information officer of DistTech, a Newbury, Ohio-based company that transports liquid bulk chemicals.

Some of the structured data collected by DistTech on drivers include miles per gallon, idle time, on-time delivery and drivers’ hours of service. To get a complete picture of driver safety, DistTech also uses “nonstructured” data sources, which include paper forms such as reports from accidents, spills and roadside inspections. It also may include customer complaints, or e-mails and text messages from public motorists.

“Nonstructured data is the soft part that everyone misses,” Hazenfield says. If drivers are graded on the number of failed roadside inspections, they also should be graded on the number of inspections they pass, he says; in terms of risk, a driver that fails one out of seven inspections is not as bad as one that fails one out of one.

Automating safety steps
Managing the deep well of information on driver performance has generated demand for new systems that automate the process. Consider the amount of work involved from just one type of critical event, such as a rapid deceleration or “hard-braking” incident. Once detected by an onboard computer, a fleet safety manager may contact the driver, issue a violation letter, schedule the driver for training, and document the results. Combined with other events happening across the fleet, work quickly piles up.

Pittsburgh-based ThoughtDrivers developed the SafetyBox software system to create and automatically update a risk profile for each driver as new information arrives from onboard computers and other sources. Hard-braking, speeding and hours-of-service violations automatically enter a driver into a “watch list.”

SafetyBox automatically can generate a letter to the driver reminding him of company policy and what training he needs to complete. Fleets can pre-assign online training courses, such as the Pro-Tread system from Instructional Technologies, based on each type of event. When drivers complete the course, the SafetyBox software automatically documents the results into the driver profile. The software also can tie into dispatch software to prevent a driver from being dispatched until the training is complete.

“(SafetyBox) turns an event into something that shows remedial action,” says Nick Goodell, director of fleet services for ThoughtDrivers.

Earlier this year, EBE Technologies released its Ships Driver Performance and Safety modules. Designed to automate business processes in safety and risk management, the software lets fleets set up parameters they wish to monitor from their onboard computing platform. When any measurement exceeds a threshold, the software creates an electronic violation letter and sends it to drivers in the cab or through an e-mail, with instructions on what to do next.

The Ships application can process events that include excessive idling, mpg, hours of service, hard braking, speed violations and engine diagnostics. All of these events are centralized into a workflow queue within a Driver Manager Dashboard.

The Ships application also can be set up to pre-assign Pro-Tread driver training lessons based on the violation. Once the training is complete, Ships captures the result and creates an electronic affidavit that the training was completed and files it into an electronic driver personnel file. If the driver does not comply, the software can take the driver out of active dispatch status by integrating with dispatch software.

“You get the same response with software every time,” says Larry Kerr, president of EBE Technologies. “A person may not respond equally.”

Simpler management
About three years ago, DistTech created a driver scoring system that weighs each type of incident by severity or risk. At the end of each month, managers use the average driver score as a baseline measure, enabling them to determine which group of drivers needs more attention and what additional training or disciplinary actions to take.

About three months ago, DistTech began using the Ships modules as an overall driver safety management tool. It began by incorporating its driver scoring system into the Ships modules. Each manager has access to the online system, which contains real-time information on 425 drivers.

“We can identify which drivers we need to pay attention to,” says Mark Kadlec, vice president of safety and human resources. DistTech also uses the information in its Ships modules to incentivize drivers for meeting the company’s performance standards.

The software makes it simple to sort drivers and their scores by terminal and type of operation – local, over-the-road, pedal delivery or linehaul. With Ships, DistTech scans and attaches inspection forms and other paper documents to its driver files, and integrates structured data – from its Qualcomm onboard communications platform and its TMW Systems dispatch and enterprise software – into one database.

Earlier this year, Vigillo released a risk management software system designed to integrate with a fleet’s various sources of driver information to measure what is happening, identify where the problems are originating, and assign and monitor corrective actions. “By tying together disparate sources of data, you can see who your problem children are,” says Steve Bryan, chief executive officer.

Vigillo’s software helps carriers identify the characteristics of drivers who are most likely to cause problems, such as new hires. Managers then can take proactive measures to apply the right amount of advance training and coaching. The analysis is turned into workflow immediately, and progress is monitored.

“The system is very good at reminding people what they are supposed to do,” Bryan says.

More intelligence onboard
As the primary source for information on actual driver behaviors, onboard computers are continuing to push new technologies to fleets that want to stretch the limits on improving driver performance and safety. Having instant notification of risky driver behaviors is just the beginning.

Earlier this year, Ryder System launched RydeSmart through an alliance with Teletrac and Cingular Wireless. For a monthly fee, Ryder’s lease customers can get real-time visibility of driver safety events such as speeding or hard braking – indicative of improper following distance. RydeSmart is an onboard telematics technology that already has been installed in more than 7,000 vehicles, says Juliet Johansson, Ryder’s vice president of marketing for fleet management solutions.

Two years ago, TruServe Logistics – a 327-truck private fleet that services the nationwide chain of True Value hardware stores – took speed monitoring to the next level with a reporting tool called SpeedGauge. The tool complements the fleet’s driver and vehicle performance reports from its PeopleNet onboard computing platform.

Each day, SpeedGauge sends automated e-mail reports that compare drivers’ actual speeds to the posted speed limits on all highways and surface roads. The SpeedGauge reports pinpoint each speeding incident by time and location. Having this level of detail assists managers when coaching drivers on speeding, says Greg Swanson, transportation manager of operations.

In the past two years, TruServe Logistics has reduced the number of “overspeeds” – events the company defines as between 65 and 70 miles per hour – by 15 percent. In the past two months alone, overspeeds have dropped by 5 percent. This year, the company’s accident rate and moving violations are trending much more favorably than those from last year, Swanson says.

Other new developments include being able to combine systems that monitor driver behavior with systems used to manage other aspects of driver safety and compliance. In September, J.J. Keller introduced Keller Mobile, a system that uses an onboard recorder to capture the position and engine data from the vehicle. Building upon the foundation of J.J. Keller’s other driver safety and compliance systems, Keller Mobile will provide users with real-time and summary reports on driver performance, says Amy Daley, product manager of Keller Mobile.

With the release of Keller Mobile, J.J. Keller plans to integrate driver safety and performance information from the vehicle into its Driver Management Online (DMO) software. Using DMO, a fleet can manage its driver qualification files and critical operational alerts, such as a hard-braking incident, from the same screen.

Onboard computing providers also offer advanced reporting tools that simplify analysis of driver safety information. When users login to the Web-based Xatanet system from Xata Corp., a dashboard shows a graphical representation of current fleet performance relative to standard.

From the dashboard, users can drill down to performance by location and at the driver level. The information is segregated by driver, each of whom has his own “scorecard” over time. Each truck and route also has a separate standard. “It’s all part of the reporting,” says Tom Flies, senior vice president of product management.

In the future, Xata plans to augment existing data collected from the vehicle with outside sources of data to determine, for example, how a driver’s speed compared to surrounding traffic speeds, as well as weather conditions at the time, Flies says.

At its user conference in August, PeopleNet announced it is developing a new set of business intelligence tools called Logistics Intelligence. The first release, set for later this year, will give users the ability to launch dashboards and scorecards with drill-down capabilities in PFM. To develop the dashboard, the company is using a third-party business intelligence software system called Business Objects.

Future releases will be focused on predictive analytics by using the characteristics of good and bad drivers to predict out-of-route miles, accidents and poor fuel economy. “I think it is going to be an exciting trend for us,” says Craig Dillon, chief technology officer.

Through a partnership with FleetRisk Advisors – a firm that provides advanced risk-based analytics for the transportation industry – Qualcomm Enterprise Services (QES) offers Predictive Performance Services. The companies already have developed a module for predicting accidents; future modules are planned for predicting fuel usage and driver retention.

In times past, managing driver safety was more of an art than a science. As fleets and technology providers continue to develop new ways to use information more intelligently, safety is gradually becoming more science than art.

Virtual skills training
Schneider National sees the rewards of simulated driver training

If you think drivers can only understand risky scenarios through unfortunate real-world experience, think again. Today’s advanced driver simulators provide hands-on experience with hazardous conditions without the risk.

Schneider National uses more than 40 driver simulators from MPRI as part of its integrated classroom, computer and simulation-based training program for entry-level drivers.

Simulators have played a significant role in helping the company reduce its training cycle time by 26 percent, says Don Osterberg, vice president of safety and driver training. Schneider National also saw an improvement of 7.6 percent in the graduation rate of entry-level drivers.

One of Schneider’s objectives for adding simulators was to reduce crash frequency. The carrier tracks the accident frequency rate in the first 180 days. Comparing before and after using simulation-based driver training, this metric improved by 32.2 percent, Osterberg says.

Another objective was to reduce the severity of accidents. Of the six categories of potentially severe accidents, Schneider saw significant reductions in five of the six: jackknifes (25 percent), rollovers (19.4 percent), rear-ends (22.3 percent), run-off-road incidents (50 percent) and unit separations (21.2 percent). Also, lane-change accidents have decreased this year by 32.7 percent compared to last year.

MPRI’s Skillset software shows driver managers where each driver’s skills rank relative to the rest of the fleet, and pinpoints areas of strength and weakness compared to the best or worst driver in the fleet; with this information, fleets can target their training to specific skills. The software also shows managers what their best driver looks like; they can use this skill profile to create a template to match applicants against a pre-hire assessment.

The MPRI simulator offers more than 100 trucking scenarios. Its customers have formed their own user group; even though the fleets that use simulators are direct competitors, they swap training modules they have designed using MPRI’s Windows-based scenario builder software.

Besides selling simulators directly, MPRI also offers a dedicated contract training service where a vehicle and trailer equipped with simulation units come to a terminal to train drivers in specific areas such as speed, space management and backing.

Sharpening their senses
Onboard safety systems can alert and even take control

Two years ago, John Hill, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, made it clear that he wanted to see motor carriers aggressively adopt more onboard safety systems that not only could warn drivers of impending dangers, but also in some cases take some measure of control over the vehicle. FMCSA especially encourages three basic technologies: forward collision warning systems, stability control systems and lane departure warning systems. Following are some leading suppliers of systems available in each category:

Forward collision warning systems

Eaton Vorad

Meritor WABCO


Radar Safety Technologies

Siemens VDO

Stability control systems

Meritor WABCO

Lane departure warning systems




Siemens VDO