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Training Inexperienced Drivers: The Answer to the Truck Driver Shortage?

The truck driver shortage has been consistently ranked every year as one of the biggest concerns of the trucking industry over the past ten years. The latest analysis from the American Trucking Association (ATA) estimates the shortage at almost 60,000 in 2019 and forecasts that the trend is looking worse with a potential lack of 100,000 drivers by 2023.

Driver Shortage Impact

According to Bloomberg, “There is a growing shortage of truck drivers in the trucking industry, and is expected to more than double over the next decade as the industry struggles to replace aging drivers and recruit more women.”

Two significant areas of impact from this shortage are our economy and road safety.

  1. About 71% of all freight tonnage moved in the US is done by trucks. We take for granted that we can go to the store and buy anything we need. A lack of drivers could result in out-of-stock items on the grocery shelves.
  2. As the current drivers start to retire, there will be an influx of newer, younger, and less experienced drivers resulting in a higher risk of accidents.

The truck driver workforce has a relatively high average age of 46 (average worker is in US is 42). This can be attributed as the main reason for the driver shortage, according to ATA. The Baby Boomers are in the midst of retiring, and the industry will need to fill this gap.

The main factor in easing driver shortage is to attract new entrants to the driving profession. There is a long-standing debate about lowering the minimum driving age for an interstate CDL license from 21 to 18. Part of the concern is the risk of bringing new inexperienced drivers to the profession, implying higher crash risks.

This is where technology can help to reduce risks. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), such as automated emergency braking or lane departure warning, have demonstrated their efficiency.

In his insightful interview with PACE about opportunities and risks in the transportation industry, Brian Jungeberg talks about the influx of young or inexperienced drivers in the face of the projected 100K driver shortage by 2022:

“Keeping Pace:  What are your thoughts on the impending driver shortage – some analysts project a 100K shortage by 2022. Is this a risk to the health of the industry?
Brian:  The biggest part of the driver shortage that concerns us is the inevitable influx of drivers who do not have good, solid driving experience. The lack of experience inevitably leads to more on the road incidents and accidents.”

With all these less experienced drivers on the road, how do we ensure safety? There are several programs dedicated to driver training and safety programs.

Three Options to Improve Safety with Inexperienced Drivers

Option #1: Safety Programs

To improve employee’s driving, Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, OSHA, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provide this 10-step safety program:

  1. Involve all levels of staff in the initial planning phase of the driver safety program.
  2. Compose a written policy and procedure with explicit and enforceable rules regarding driver safety.
  3. Have all employees sign a safety contract.
  4. Keep driving records on all employees.
  5. Part of the safety program should be creating a process to report and investigate all crashes, even those that are minor.
  6. The selection, maintenance and inspection of your company fleet should also have a specific set of guidelines.
  7. Consider what disciplinary actions you may take in response to preventable accidents and traffic violations.
  8. Establish an incentive program to recognize and reward employees that have avoided accidents and traffic violations.
  9. Reinforce what you’ve already established e.g. refresher courses on driver safety.
  10. Take steps to ensure that all employees are obeying traffic laws and highway safety regulations.

Option #2: In-person Coaching After the Fact

Fleet managers coach the drivers as they both review their driving videos which involve potentially dangerous situations or even worse: analyzing seconds before and after the accident.

The keyword here is after-the-fact. Some of the solutions available today involve reviewing of trips events and associated videos by experts, who select critical videos and tag them classifying behavior of the driver and events around the vehicle that led to them, for the manager to analyze and review with the driver, as coachable moments.

The review is done after the incident occurred. The limitations of this approach are as follows:

  1. The driver may not remember all the details that led to the individual situation, reducing the effectiveness of the learning exercise. Coaching is most effective if done exactly at the time problems are detected, and learning becomes most impactful.
  2. The service comes at a significant cost, as part or all of the analysis is done by human experts, who inspect trips and analyze videos.
  3. Post-trip analysis does not help the driver in any way as the issue unravels, while real-time guidance and adequate counteraction by the driver help prevent collisions from happening.

Option #3: Coaching in Real-Time

Newer technology is leveraging AI and video to detect driver distraction in context and warn the driver of imminent dangers. The onboard video analysis also allows real-time coaching of the driver, ensuring continuous and adequate feedback that the driver will accept.

This virtual co-driver technology with two extra “pairs of eyes” that are always attentive delivers promising results to reduce crashes.

When the dangerous situation happens, at that very time, we want to coach the driver right there and then, without distracting the driver further. This will also give the driver a timely heads-up and some extra time for corrective actions to prevent dangerous situations.

This feature can help reduce the risk of collision with the younger, inexperienced drivers that are mentioned above.  Real-time coaching systems can help by:

  1. Selecting good, defensive drivers upfront and help these drivers improve over time. This can be done by modeling the features of the company’s current top drivers and applying them to the intelligent coaching system. This provides an impartial way to select and hire the best drivers, and then train them on the company’s preferred driving style and habits to drive safely.
  2. Providing on-going coaching and driving assistance to all drivers, even the experienced and seasoned ones when fatigued or distracted.
  3. Conveying to the driver properly paced feedback on prolonged safe driving behaviors that improve the score, to provide positive credits to the efforts and motivation to keep driving safely.
  4. Offering potential self-evaluation services used by aspiring commercial drivers to improve their driving skills, record their driving performance and attention scores in a variety of driving conditions, and help them in their negotiation with a fleet manager to land a properly paid job.

Conclusion

The scarcity of suitable drivers for fleets is already a problem, yet we project that it will become even more acute in the wake of Uberization and Amazonification of trucking and local delivery, where almost any driver can get behind the wheel and deliver packages.

Systems that can automatically “grade” a diver’s style and manage their attention in the phase when they are still inexperienced will be at the price of gold!

Interested to learn how your drivers can be coached in real-time? Click below to learn more about “Walter,” our virtual co-driver that provides coaching in real-time to improve your safety record and lower costs.

Request Brochure

Alex Capelle
Alex Capelle
Alex Capelle has over 15 years of experience in the automotive industry with an expertise in connected vehicles, telematics and SaaS. He has held various roles such as Head of Products, Program Manager, Senior Product Manager and Project Manager at Continental, Siemens VDO, VINCI and Trillium Secure.  He has led projects, products and business development in France, Spain, Germany, Asia, South America and North America.

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