Making the right driving or management decisions requires good "seeing" habits

Did you see that?" "Hey Buddy, watch where you're going!" "He didn't even look before he pulled out." Driving is all about seeing and reacting.

"Drivers need to have 'good seeing habits' in order to make good driving decisions," says Bob Gosnell, assistant vice president and product manager-transportation for the Loss Prevention Dept. of insurance provider Liberty Mutual Group. "That's why we developed the Commentary Drive. It's a very simple process, but it works."

During a Commentary Drive, Gosnell explains, vehicle operators describe to ride-along instructors or supervisors what they're seeing and how they're responding. For example, a driver might say, "Traffic is stacking up at the exit ahead, so I'm moving left and allowing more following distance." Or, "There are lots of partially hidden driveways along this stretch, so I'm slowing down and watching for pedestrians and cars entering the roadway." You get the idea.

As drivers talk, trainers check for a variety of behaviors. How far ahead are drivers looking? How often are they checking the mirrors? Are drivers scanning well from building line to building line? Are they making note of road signs? Alert to potential problems? Aware of pedestrians and cyclists?

"We recommend using this process with new drivers, after a driver has been involved in an incident, and as a periodic reminder," Gosnell notes. "If you conduct Commentary Drives as often as I do, you even find yourself talking aloud in your own car or truck, asking what-if traffic questions like, "If the car to my left cuts in front of me, what should I do? Could I safely move right? Hit the brakes?

"Sometimes a Commentary Drive turns up obvious problems like the driver needs glasses," he continues. "Typically, however, it's a matter of more subtle behavioral things, such as inattention in a particular area or generally poor seeing habits. Improving these habits can help make someone a much safer driver."

Liberty Mutual also offers a companion process to the Commentary Drive called Route Hazard Analysis. "Supervisors complete a Route Hazard Analysis for use by substitute drivers or new drivers on a particular route," Gosnell explains. "It is really a strip map or preplan that highlights all of the factors which require extra care or special handling along that course.

"Things like tight or blind turns, loading docks which must be approached from a particular direction, back-in only deliveries, steep grades, or poorly signed exits are all included on the analysis," he notes. "This hazards map gives drivers advanced warning about problems that are not necessarily easy to anticipate, so that they are better prepared to deal with them successfully and safely from the very first day on the route."

Seeing habits are not only important for truck operators and other drivers, of course. They also have a lot to do with how well a fleet owner or manager steers the business. Think about it: Is it possible for a manager to fail to look far enough down the road to spot emerging conditions? Or for a CFO to give a company a bumpy year by following too closely and slamming on the budget brakes every time a flicker of red ink shows up ahead? Could executives spend so much time looking in the rearview mirror at past successes that they drive right by a major market turn without ever seeing the signs?

Perhaps fleet owners and managers, as well as drivers, could benefit from an occasional Commentary Drive to polish up habits of seeing. Instead of a typical performance appraisal, imagine discussing your vision of the business road ahead. "Well, I see a number of alternative E-commerce routes out there now, but I think the best path for us is still EDI because of where we're headed with our trading partners."

Come to think of it, a Route Hazard Analysis might also be a nice tool for new fleet managers to discover in the top drawer of their desk.