Road rage: Driver training for protest mitigation is the new normal

Quimby Mug Bayou Florida
Updated Jan 22, 2021

“It's like you're meeting a horse on the road,” said Thom Schoenborn, vice-president of marketing at Instructional Technologies Inc. 'They (protestors) can be a little unpredictable, so stop, shut the vehicle off and don't spook the crowd.”“It's like you're meeting a horse on the road,” said Thom Schoenborn, vice-president of marketing at Instructional Technologies Inc. "They (protestors) can be a little unpredictable, so stop, shut the vehicle off and don't spook the crowd.”Instructional Technologies Inc.

Thousands of National Guard troops and local law enforcement will be stationed in and around Washington D.C. Wednesday – and other points nationwide – as a safeguard against activists protesting President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

Protests and demonstrations have become part of the national landscape. Whether stirred by political leanings or inspired by acts of social injustice, hoards of people gathering en masse can pose a hazard for passersby. 

For example, traffic on Interstate 5 in Seattle on Monday came to a halt as protestors laid down on the highway to raise awareness for a cause. Just what that cause was Washington State Patrol was not exactly sure, but a dozen protestors were arrested and no one was hurt.

Monday’s incident is just another example of a dangerous, ongoing trend during a politically charged time that has more and more carriers turning to driver training companies for help on handling road-bound dissidents.

Not all driver training experts, however, believe that drivers should be the central focus for minimizing protest risks.

“When asked about whether we are going to create training on any specific topic, our first questions are always: Is this a problem that training will fix? Is this a driver’s problem?” said CarriersEdge CEO Jane Jazrawy.

“In this case, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ It is not a problem that training will help with that much, and the issue is definitely not the driver’s responsibility,” Jazrawy continued. “As the employer who should have the safety of drivers top of mind at all times, there are a number of things that can be done beforehand. This should be treated as any other uncontrollable event such as a hurricane, snowstorm or flood.”

Similar to preparing for storms, Jazrawy recommends carriers first determine where the protest will take place and then plan routes elsewhere. Customers should be notified of any potential delivery delays.

“Every effort should be made to move drivers away from potential hazardous areas,” Jazrawy said.

When it comes to protest hotspots on the highways, Thom Schoenborn, vice-president of marketing at Instructional Technologies Inc., said, “Roads and highways that pass through downtown areas tend to be targets of protesters.  

“Overpasses are also frequent targets for protesters because the stream of traffic beneath gets their message to more people,” Schoenborn continued.

Monday’s protest in Seattle apparently extended to an overpass above Interstate 5 where troopers said people had been marching across the overpass just above protestors who had laid down on the highway and created major traffic delays.

Before hitting the road, it’s critical to consult with law enforcement for important tips on developing a sound protest mitigation plan.

“Reach out to law enforcement officials,” Jazrawy said. “They will have a plan and recommendations for you to follow. This is extremely important. Everyone should be working in tandem with law enforcement as much as possible.”

In addition to staying in touch with law enforcement, J. J. Keller & Associates Senior Editor of Transport Management Mark Schedler suggested having someone at each terminal who is not monitoring a board of drivers to monitor “local news sites, state DOT sites, customer insights, social media, etc., to monitor hot spots, and use your communication channels best suited for real-time updates to drivers.”

New training rolls out

This week Luma announced that it was offering free training online to help drivers stay safe during protests. Luma’s courses, or eNuggets, can be customized by fleets to better suit their needs.

“When topics such as protests or any topic comes up that no one anticipates, like the pandemic, Luma's eNuggets are flexible so that carriers can easily modify and adjust them on the fly,” said Luma CEO Dr. Gina Anderson, noting the training was released internally to its clients on Tuesday, "and we will have instructional design services ready to help our clients make the necessary adjustments if needed.”

Instructional Technologies recently announced the addition of two courses aimed at dealing with demonstrations and protests that block roads for drivers of heavy-duty trucks, delivery trucks and other commercial vehicles.

One course is available through ITI’s PRO-TREAD library for CDL drivers and the other is in their ClearDrive library for non-CDL commercial drivers.

“You don't want drivers improvising when they're surrounded by protesters,” said Schoenborn. “Even the best-behaved demonstration usually involves shouting and chanting, which can be stressful. Providing training, options, and priorities before a driver stumbles into that situation will prevent incidents both small and large.”

If various sources, including law enforcement, convey trouble ahead on the road, then your fleet shouldn’t waste time in adopting a plan and rolling out training.

“Ideally, training should take place as soon as possible if a general threat exists,” Schedler said. “And ideally, training or the safety message should come from an upper-level company leader/safety director/owner with very company-specific information that expresses the sincere concern for drivers’ safety.”

Schedler recommended the following tips on training:

  • Stress to drivers that no one will be forced to take freight through unsafe areas.
  • Let all drivers know that if they have concerns, they need to let leadership know and, if necessary, a person above the dispatcher’s level.
  • Have the training be a Zoom call or conference call with phone only so that drivers can attend while parked.
  • Make the training as accessible as possible so recorded sessions are available to drivers at any hour of the day is recommended, with a point of contact for follow-up questions.  

Making driver safety priority number one

When the threat of protests grow, communicating with drivers becomes even more important since drivers could already be stressed by the prospect of encountering demonstrators on the road.

“Explain how their routes or routines might change and what the company is doing to make sure they are safe, like communicating with law enforcement,” Jazrawy explained. “Talk to drivers one-on-one. They may be having extreme anxiety or stress. To keep them healthy and functional, check in with them and make sure they are prepared.”

While remaining vigilant and prepared is key for staying out of harm’s way keeping track of protestors is not always easy, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety.

“It is hard to predict the actions of protestors but we will do everything possible to keep the protestors safe as well as the motoring public,” said Lt. W. Mark Riley, GDPS public information director. “Drivers of commercial and non-commercial vehicles should remain attentive and always look down the road for potential road hazards they could be approaching."

In the event the driver is being approached by demonstrators, Riley advised "keeping windows rolled up and doors locked so that a protestor or demonstrator can’t access the vehicle is encouraged. Do not antagonize the protestors/demonstrators. Just remain in your vehicle and wait for law enforcement to arrive," he said. 

Drivers can also play a key role in warning others.

“Create a network of drivers in strategic locations to report active protests to a designated liaison,” said Lindsay Presley, industry marketing expert at Infiniti Workforce Solutions. “That person will compile all relevant concerns and electronically communicate to the entire workforce. This will eliminate word-of-mouth inconsistencies and ensure everyone receives timely, accurate and consistent messaging.”

Anderson recommended communicating regularly with drivers.

“It is important to be engaged with your drivers and for them to know there is someone they can reach out to and connect with,” Anderson said. “There could be driver-to-driver support as well in the discussion boards, which can be moderated."

Of course the best way to stay safe is to avoid areas with protestors.

“If possible, avoid areas of civil unrest and try to find an alternate route ahead of time,” said Jaime Coffee,  information officer at the California Highway Patrol. “Drivers should keep in contact with their dispatch and obtain travel updates. Remain alert and avoid traveling into areas with large crowds. Avoid confrontation with demonstrators. If at any time a driver feels like they are in danger, remain inside the vehicle with the doors locked and call 911 immediately.”

J.J. Keller also offered these tips:

  • Be sure your vehicle is filled with fuel, or as full as possible before you enter any area in which there may be issues.
  • Be sure your cell phone is charged.
  • Obtain alternate routes from dispatch before leaving for a destination that requires driving near or through a potential hot spot.
  • Have a trucker’s atlas in the vehicle that shows all the clearances and acceptable reroutes. Don’t rely on GPS to tell route details, unless using a GPS for truckers.
  • Be prepared to cancel specialized loads such as over-dimensional or overweight loads with required routes. Getting an updated permit is the alternative to cancelling the load. Many times, carriers can bill customers for additional miles and cost when weather or other disturbances cause rerouting.
  • Stay on main roads/interstates that are heavily trafficked with a police presence.
  • Use a CB if your signal is lost.
  • Be alert to what is developing around you. Anticipate trouble.
  • Report to dispatch any significant change in your assessment of the situation if you can safely do so. Also, report when you are safely through the area of concern.

If found to be in close proximity to protest activity:

  • Do not speak or become involved in any arguments.
  • Make no gestures.
  • Look as nonthreatening as possible.
  • Remain calm, composed, and professional.
  • Demonstrate patience and commonsense.
  • Do not attempt to intimidate anyone with your vehicle (e.g., gunning the motor or blowing the city or air horn).
  • Keep all windows rolled up and lock all doors.
  • If your vehicle is bumped, rocked, hit, or damaged, do not respond in a hostile manner.

If forced to stop:

  • Speak only as needed to communicate your intent.
  • Lower your window slightly; do not open it all the way.
  • Keep your seat belt on to keep from being pulled out.
  • Do not open your door or get out while transiting an area with crowds.
  • Remain where you are stopped until waived through or the road is clearly open to travel.
  • If you have no alternative and can safely do so, drive through the area slowly and carefully.
  • Do not force your vehicle through any crowd.
  • Move slowly and wait for an opening.
  • Wait for the police to direct you if they are present.
  • If you experience delays in getting through due to the crowds, please be patient and do not display any emotion or frustration and keep dispatch updated as much as safely possible.

 From Instructional Technologies

 Avoid provoking or engaging with protesters

  • Never try to "ease" your way through a crowd — stay stopped
  • Set the parking brakes
  • Lock all doors and windows
  • Remain in the vehicle if safe to do so
  • If the protest escalates or you feel unsafe, most fleets will prioritize your safety over the security of the vehicle and load. You should gather your belongings (phone, jacket, water, etc.) and try to evacuate to a place where you can safely watch your vehicle (if possible).
  • Call law enforcement — they may not know there is an event happening
  • Use a mobile phone or dash cam to record the event, but only if it doesn't provoke people.
  •  Avoid provoking or engaging with protesters
  • Set the parking brakes
  • Lock all doors and windows
  • Remain in the vehicle if safe to do so, but never if you feel at risk
  • Call law enforcement
  • Use a mobile phone or dash cam to record the event

From Infiniti Workforce Solutions

  • Safety and Operations should work together to form procedures now. Direct drivers on pre-planning expectations, re-routing for protests, and responding to warning signs. Ensure all drivers and in-house employees are aware of the realities and the risk truck drivers face.
  • Whatever method is used, it is best to have a paper trail of all communications, to in-house employees and drivers, especially if injury, accidents, or fatalities are possible. For any procedural changes, all employees to sign an acknowledgement form. You’ll want to be able to prove your communications and their comprehension.