Thorough screening, training, and driver incentive programs can improve your fleet's safety record

Although it's important to know how to respond when one of your drivers is involved in a crash (FO--5/98, p. 108), perhaps even more crucial is knowing how to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place.

Maybe the most important step is to hire good drivers. The significance of screening all prospective drivers thoroughly cannot be overemphasized because drivers with clean records will work hard to maintain them. But since finding drivers who meet the criteria is difficult in the current job market, you will no doubt have to consider some candidates who don't have perfect driving records.

This is when a thorough screening process is paramount. You should ask the applicant to give you a detailed explanation of all events on the driving record. In addition, contact the previous employer about the driver's performance.

Choosing the best applicants is only the first part of the process. The next involves the training you provide. Driver training programs can vary in length and content, depending on the type of operation and the experience of each new driver; the important factor is that you have one.

For example, you may want to consider a break-in period during which new drivers work with more experienced drivers. You must be satisfied that every driver you put on the road understands your company policies and procedures, and can operate your vehicles safely and courteously.

It's important to document all training and continue to monitor performance at set intervals. Get feedback from customers and other employees whenever possible.

Despite your best efforts at prevention, however, crashes will occur. Learn from these incidents to help avoid them in the future. Establishing peer reviews or third-party crash analysis processes can help. Organizations such as the National Safety Council and the American Trucking Assns.' SafetyManagement Council can recommend prevention strategies.Incentive programs for safe driving or other forms of driver recognition can go a long way toward improving your fleet's safety record. Everyone appreciates recognition for a job well done. Whether you give cash bonuses, vacations, certificates, or hats and pins, the dollars spent will be more than offset by the resulting safety benefits.

Many fleets have established monthly or quarterly driver-safety meetings to review crashes in which other drivers have been involved. These reviews are helpful in pointing out how the crashes could have been avoided. Safety experts from outside the fleet can also be brought in. The benefits -- improved driver attitude and fewer crashes -- more than make up for any costs associated with the meetings. Drivers respond positively when they are a part of the program and have the opportunity to provide input on safety issues.

Paying attention to national statistics can increase your awareness of the circumstances surrounding crashes. For instance, the Office of Motor Carriers' 1996 "Large Truck Crash Profile" reported that for fatal crashes involving trucks and passenger cars, driver-related crash factors were recorded for 29% of the truck drivers and 67% of the passenger-vehicle drivers involved. In other words, truck drivers are not responsible for the majority of these incidents.

In both cases, however, the primary driver-related crash factors were driving too fast, running off the road or out of the traffic lane, failing to yield the right of way, and inattention. This is something fleets can address. The study also determined that bad weather is not a factor in most accidents. For more detailed information, contact the Office of Motor Carriers at 202-366-1861, or visit their Web site at www. fhwa.dot.gov.

You don't have to reinvent the wheel to change driver behavior. Stay abreast of new trends in safety training by getting involved with outside organizations, reading industry publications, surfing the Internet, and talking with colleagues. We can improve the industry's safety record.