Crash-Free Driving: How Coaching is the Key to Keeping Your Drivers Safe on the Road

Originally published in Fleet Management Weekly 3/2/23

By Ed Dubens, CEO/Founder, eDriving

Ed Dubens - eDrive




What’s the secret to keeping employees who drive for work purposes safe on the road whether driving a fleet vehicle or their own vehicle? While many businesses focus on organization-wide training and safety programs, there’s another tool that’s quickly gaining recognition for its ability to “drive” success: COACHING.

Coaching is the “glue” that helps support and sustain lasting behavior change when implemented as part of a holistic driver risk management program. Other tools such as driver risk scoring to help identify your most at-risk drivers, and interventions such as eLearning, gamification and rewards are all optimized when coaching is thrown in the mix. By providing personalized support and ongoing guidance, coaching can help managers and their drivers identify and address risky driving behaviors, improving safety and reducing the risk of collisions and injuries and their associated costs.

So, how exactly can coaching help improve driver safety?

Coaching is a process of engaging in regular, structured, and individualized conversations with a driver to enhance their awareness of at-risk behaviors and habits, and strategies to change them over time. An effective coach focuses the conversation on the attitudes a driver holds that support their behaviors behind the wheel and guides the discussion using open-ended questions to allow the driver to persuade themselves that a different approach might work better for themselves, their family, and all other road users.

Coaching is:
• A structured conversation using “open” ended questions
• Manager as facilitator to guide self-discovery
• Driver as decision-maker having explored current behaviors behind the wheel and the reasons for them (attitude)
• Conversation focused on development of the individual

Coaching is NOT:
• One-sided
• Telling or directing
• Leading and/or yes-no questions
• The coach doing all the talking
• Judging the person

Who should be coaching drivers?

An existing relationship, regular interaction and context help with coaching success, and as such, the best person to coach a driver is their manager. They don’t need to be a safety expert or road safety instructor to be an effective coach for their drivers, given the focus of these conversations is attitude and behavior versus skills and techniques. Coaching success benefits from a ‘little and often’ approach which puts the manager in the ideal position to support their high-risk drivers.

How often should coaches guide drivers?

Notwithstanding the informal, ‘little and often’ is king in these situations. Managers should set a timetable that includes monthly standing discussions, annual overall performance review, and post-collision and license violation reviews to identify root causes, understand causation, and how to avoid such events in the future.

NETS Case Study: Global industry leader Ecolab achieved a 35% reduction in collisions per million miles (CPPM) across all operating countries in four years following a focus on on-time coaching completions for high-risk drivers, along with quality reviews, and manager follow-up.

Lessons learned about effective coaching include:
• Timeliness of coaching is critical – as soon as possible after the behavior/incident
• Identify the root cause of the error/behavior to be coached
• Identify ways to improve or prevent future events
• Managers’ approach to the coaching is critical
• Driver-manager rapport is important
• Coaching should be positive
• Important for Managers to have objective data at hand – incident, collision, license violation and telematics (privacy & data security rules permitting)

The 5-Step Coaching Process:
• Helping Attitude – maintain positive intent throughout the coaching process
• Create Receptivity – declare your positive intent to strengthen trust and ensure that the driver is ready to have the coaching conversation
• Ask Questions – foster an open and safe environment for candid discussion about the need for change and ask open-ended questions to create self-awareness and ensure understanding of the driver’s perspective and challenges
• Agree on One Priority Behavior – mutually agree on one behavior that is most important at this time and identify root cause of current state (5-Whys); discuss any barriers for success and develop a plan to manage them
• Commit to an Action Plan – clearly articulate desired results, gain agreement on a path forward, create a specific, measurable, and time-bound action plan, and agree on check-ins to assess progress

With a personalized and ongoing approach, managers can engage with their drivers in a positive, two-way conversation that leads to sustained improvement, helping drivers identify and address risky driving behaviors, improving organizational safety, and reducing the risk of collisions and injuries while your employees are driving for work purposes. Is it time to make coaching a priority in your driver risk management and safety program?