Building better driver behavior

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Inattention, poor awareness of traffic conditions and unsafe maneuvers by drivers are leading causes of fatal crashes between passenger cars and commercial vehicles. While overall highway crashes and fatalities are declining, poor driver behaviors are increasing – and not just among truck and motorcoach operators, mind you, but car drivers as well.” –Stephen Keppler, executive director, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA)

Pretty soon here – October 17-23 to be exact – Operation Safe Driver is going to shift into high gear. Organized by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) in partnership with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), this driver enforcement “blitz” is going to occur across U.S., Canada and Mexico, targeting truck and bus drivers as well as those piloting four-wheelers.

[Here’s an example of such efforts courtesy of the Houston Police Department’s Traffic Enforcement Division, which uses a variety of innovative methods to catch speeding, aggressive and unsafe drivers. Note how they use a special unmarked flatbed 18-wheeler to catch four-wheelers that habitually “cut off” truckers on the roadway.]

Let me mention that last part again – a traffic enforcement campaign aimed at the drivers of commercial trucks, buses AND passenger vehicles.

Stephen Keppler, CVSA’s executive director, told me his group started conducting this broad driver-focused education and enforcement effort back in 2007 following the publication of two major studies focused on vehicle operator behavior: the FMCSA's Large Truck Crash Causation Study and the American Transportation Research Institute’s (ATRI) follow-on analysis of 540,000 truck driver behaviors that increased crash risk.

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“The ATRI study in particular really examined in detail the predictive nature of driver behavior – or lack thereof – in a crash,” Keppler told me. “What you find is that driver behavior is a key factor in truck-car crashes, but not just on the part of truck drivers.”

Indeed, in a study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety back in 2002, found that in 73% of the truck-car crashes studied, no unsafe act on the part of the truck driver caused the accident. That’s why CVSA’s Operation Safe Driver is focused on ALL vehicle operators, where possible, Keppler said.

“We’re encouraging traffic enforcement efforts to focus on drivers as a broad group, where possible, during this campaign,” he emphasized. “And even though we conduct this effort every third week in October, focusing on behavior behind the wheel is not something we just want to think about for one seven-day stretch per year – it’s something that constantly needs to be looked at.”

Keppler added that Operation Safe Driver will involve safety belt enforcement, roadside commercial vehicle and driver safety inspections, as well as educational and awareness programs for the motoring public about safe operations around big trucks and buses.

More importantly, the new scoring metrics within the FMCSA’s new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) safety regime are going to be used as well. The agency is also planning to conduct compliance reviews (CRs) on 261 trucking companies during the Operation Safe Driver timeframe – carriers flagged by the new Safety Management System (SMS) methodology within CSA.

[Here’s a view of the Houston Police Department’s Truck Enforcement Unit working the commercial vehicle inspection beat back in July. Note how one officer emphasizes that it’s “repeat offenders” who don’t invest money in vehicle upkeep that are the real problem.]

Via SMS, state enforcement personnel will be able to “see” more performance problems within a motor carrier’s operation and as a result, have a series of mechanisms to hold motor carriers more responsible for the job performance of those who work for them. Therefore, motor carriers are held more accountable for their drivers’ performance errors such as speeding, reckless and other driving behaviors, Keppler noted.

“That’s another reason carriers need to pay attention during Operation Safe Driver this year, because the enforcement side of the campaign will be using CSA-based metrics,” he added. “The point here is that this isn’t just a ‘driver issue’ anymore, for poor driver scores under CSA now directly affect carriers. It’s now everyone’s responsibility.”

Yet at the end of the day, Keppler stressed that meeting regulatory guidelines is but the “bare minimum” of what fleets and everyday motorists alike should be doing. “We really need to think beyond mere ‘regulatory compliance’ and instead work on changing driver behavior,” he explained.

“Wearing your seat belt, establishing safe following distance, making safe lane changes, and not driving recklessly need to practiced throughout the year by ALL drivers, not just those behind the wheel of trucks and buses,” Keppler emphasized.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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