Straightforward communication is the best way to counter rumors and low scores.
Whether your fleet's drivers are company employees or leased owner-operators, you have a vested interest in helping them understand the new CSA scoring system and how it impacts their livelihood, both now and in the future. Not only is your fleet's own CSA ranking highly dependent on driver behavior, but the rapidly re-emerging shortage of drivers means you need to help ensure your current drivers remain productive and happy.
Of more immediate concern, though, is that the introduction of an entirely new system for tracking driver performance is an unsettling experience for many drivers. They want information, and if you aren't going to provide a reliable source for answers to their questions and guide them through the initial transition, you'll leave many grappling with the misinformation of rumors and truck stop chatter.
Pottle's Transportation, a Maine-based truckload carrier with 115 company-owned tractors and 30 leased trucks, decided the best course was to get out in front of the CSA driver ranking transition. “Two years ago, we started talking about CSA in our safety meetings,” says Sheldon Cote, Pottle's safety director. “We told them what we knew, addressing rumors and a lot of misinformation. For example, a lot of drivers believed [FMCSA] could take their licenses based on CSA scores, or that they'd have individual scores based on their safety measurement records.”
Pottle's also made sure drivers understood the pre-employment screening program (PSP) that's accompanying CSA. “We explained that we could only look at the records of new hires, but told them how to get a copy of their PSP and how it could impact them if they decided to move to another fleet,” says Cote.
In addition to talking about the driver CSA program at safety meetings, Pottle's used payroll stuffers, newsletters, driver-lounge bulletin boards, and even handouts at the dispatchers' desks to spread the word.
The actual details of the individual driver CSA records shouldn't hold any surprises for Pottle's drivers since the fleet has been conducting driver evaluations for years based on most of the criteria used by CSA, including accident records and DOT inspection violations. “Basically, we had a driver scorecard before CSA, so our drivers had a good idea of where they stood,” says Cote.
“We've always placed an emphasis on the importance of good pretrip inspections, on avoiding behavior on the road that draws the attention of inspectors, and just the basics of safely operating a commercial vehicle,” he says. “These are things our drivers have been doing all along. We've told them that if they're doing what they should be doing, everything will take care of itself with CSA.”
Despite its history, the fleet didn't let complacency keep it from re-examining its operations as drivers made the transition to CSA. “We recently went into our vehicle maintenance records and identified the most common violations,” says Cote. The fleet then had its maintenance department set up five trucks with the most common defects and held a pretrip inspection contest for drivers during a safety meeting.
“We awarded a $500 first prize, $350 second prize, and $200 third prize,” Cote says. “Everyone enjoyed it, and it told us where we needed to do a bit more training on pretrips. It also helped make the shop people a bit more aware of the problems that lead to DOT [roadside] inspections. We're in the process of creating videos for refresher training, and we'll hold a second contest later this year.”
When Jet Express, a Midwestern truckload carrier with 300 tractors, recognized that the move to a new CSA driver scorecard would require significant training, it decided to take a radically different approach.
Traditionally, training at most fleets is pushed down from the top, explains Jeff Davis, vice president of safety and human resources. “We decided to take a horizontal approach. We did intensive training with people in billing, maintenance, administration and operations on CSA and analyzing driver scores, and on how to train drivers. Then we assigned each of them one or two drivers to train and mentor. We even had a little contest with cash.”
Not only did Jet see over a 19% drop in CSA points for its drivers with the most violations, but “we got a tremendous number of ideas and suggestions from everyone on how to solve CSA issues,” says Davis. “Enlisting other employees really put some excitement into it and has been a morale booster.”
The individual training allowed by this approach has also proven to be an effective way to address rumors and to make sure each driver gets to see their own performance record. Even before CSA took effect, Jet created individual scorecards based on the CSA criteria and had trainers show them to its drivers.
“They understand that this is their performance, not the fleet's, and they're accountable for that performance,” says Davis. “We also showed them examples of PSP records so they understand that these records will follow them, that they can't just move to another fleet. That really sent a message to the drivers and helped them begin to understand the system and how they have to respond to it.”
The latest driver training initiative at Jet involved bringing together 20 of its drivers with the highest number of violations for a three-hour mentoring session. “We showed them their driver scorecards and company scorecards, and asked them for their ideas on how to fix this,” says Davis.
“We took the worst and got them to buy into the fact that we need to live and truck with CSA, and that the best way to do that is control your own record,” says Davis. “Then we turned them into trainers and assigned them other drivers to mentor. It's still a work in progress, but if this shows results, we'll end up with the company training itself.”
In the end, helping drivers get through the CSA transition is a matter of self-survival for fleets. “There are so few good drivers and we're all always looking for more,” says Davis. “We don't want to have to walk up to someone and say, ‘With all the mistakes you've made over the last three years, we can't use you anymore.’ Drivers deserve to know what the problems are and be given a chance to correct them. And it's our job to see they get that chance.”