Driver evaluation and training is a must for your company

PHOTO COURTESY OF MORGUEFILE.COM.

Driving is one of the most dangerous job functions performed daily. Training is taken seriously in most aspects of the landscaping business from chain saws to mowers to pesticides, but how about driving?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports in their Traffic Safety Facts 2007 Data Overview, “In 2007, there were an estimated 6,024,000 police-reported traffic crashes, in which 41,059 people were killed and 2,491,000 people were injured; 4,275,000 crashes involved property damage only.” Almost everyone has been or knows someone who has been in an accident.

How important is driving? Consider how many times someone gets behind the wheel of a moving vehicle on a daily basis.

Most days begin by driving to work, and driving to work can entail many things besides a straight shot to work. Each time there is an interruption, or some change in the driving plan, there can be a loss of focus toward driving. According to the NHTSA “An average of 112 people died each day in motor vehicle crashes in 2007—one every 13 minutes.”

Once at work, the driving, of course, continues. All types of vehicles are involved with the lawn and landscape business. Large mowing and earth moving equipment will not be discussed, as they fall into a different category as far as some of these statistics are concerned. In 2007, according to the report, 12,413 occupants of light trucks and 802 in large trucks were killed. “One out of nine traffic fatalities in 2007 resulted from collisions involving a large truck.” Additionally, 841,000 light truck occupants and 23,000 large truck occupants were injured. Notice the word is occupant and not just driver. Passengers are also at risk.

These statistics should grab your attention. Imagine the costs, which go way beyond the damage to the vehicle. There may be medical costs, as well as the costs of fixing or replacing anything that was damaged as a result of the accident. This can be anything from a small tree or shrub to a structure or guardrail. If there is a pesticide or fuel spill, decontamination costs can be extremely high.

These costs may not be directly affect you or the company, but it will affect incident rates and, therefore, insurance rates. If there is no insurance coverage, that could mean the loss of personal property or indebtedness for a long time.

There are also other intangible costs involved with accidents. What is the cost in completing the job without the proper equipment? Who is going to have to work and how long to make up for the loss of an employee? Are there contracts in jeopardy because now there are not enough people or the necessary equipment to complete current and proposed maintenance and projects? What about the cost to your reputation? There could be the added expense for recruiting, hiring and training new people to fill in for missing employees.

Check the driving history of employees, perform driving tests and provide driver training. When selecting potential employees, a lot of time is spent looking at applications (which should have a question about having a valid driver’s license), checking their background, interviewing and assessing personality. You should consider having a driving test be a part of the hiring process. Maybe not on the initial interview, but before the offer is extended.

Setting up a limited driving test is relatively simple. Basically, pick out a similar area to where the work is normally performed and roadways leading to and away from work locations. Check the basics even before the driving begins. If an employee is expected to drive a manual transmission, use a vehicle with a manual shift. Oftentimes, a candidate will indicate that they can drive a small truck until they realize it has a manual transmission.

See if the candidate does the little things like adjust the seat and mirrors and buckle the seat belt before the vehicle is moved. Once you are satisfied with the basics, begin driving. Take note of such things as speed, stopping distance, cushion between vehicles and turn indicators. If driving a stick shift, are the starts and stops smooth or jerky? Does the driver try to beat the traffic light? What is his/her overall temperament? Is the driver confident behind the wheel? Most of these determinations can be made with only 15 minutes of driving. Before a passing grade is awarded, have the driver back into an appropriate parking space. Backing up is the cause of most minor accidents.

One last thing would be to obtain the motor vehicle record of the potential employee. Most insurance companies insist upon it, and depending on the findings, the insurance company may or may not approve the employee to drive a company vehicle.

What about existing employees? Does it make sense to wait for a call from a motorist about poor driving habits or for them to have an accident before driving capabilities are checked? Every employee should have a driving check each year. That can be as informal as having an observer ride with the driver noting driving habits, good and bad, and sharing them with the employee.

There are also formal programs available from insurance companies, the National Safety Council and even some local schools. Most of these programs involve some classroom work and some actual driving evaluations. These programs can be self-taught, however, most involve a facilitator. Several agencies and insurance companies offer “Train-the-Trainer” courses so that one individual from a company can learn to conduct these sessions, and then return to the company to be the driver trainer.

No matter which path is chosen, driver evaluation and training should be a part of every business. Encourage everyone who drives to take the privilege seriously.

The author has been in the lawn care and landscape industry for more than 30 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in ornamental horticulture, and has worked with many national and regional companies in varying capacities from lawn tech to director of training.