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Defensive Driving: How’s That Working for You?

How is your company’s driving safety performance? If you are like most, you’ve conducted defensive driving safety training companywide, invested large sums of money into these driver training concepts, hired this or that company to improve your employees’ driving safety awareness, and still there have been collisions, near misses and customer complaints about driver behaviors. Most likely, you’ve implemented safe driving rules, using programs like the Smith driving system or others, stressed maintaining safe distances and probably have an organizational policy of not using cellphones while driving, or at least being hands-free. Some companies have even placed cameras in truck cabs to record driver behaviors, hoping to ensure safe driving. And yet, for the most part, driving records, statistics and costs are still driving safety downhill (pun intended). The big question remains: How do you get every employee, on and off the job, to utilize defensive, safe driving techniques?

If I had the answer to that question, I would certainly share it with everyone, but there seems to be no magical solution. I’ve been in the electric utility business for 40 years and have seen the frequency and severity of collisions go up and down each year, just as you have. My commitment to defensive driving began about 20 years ago when I transferred from lineworker to the corporate safety department. It just made sense that if I had to teach defensive driving, assess driver behaviors and report to management about customer complaints concerning driver behaviors, I should make sure I practice safe driving techniques myself. In retrospect, I believe this is the key to improvement. If all executive management and supervisors commit themselves to demonstrating safe driving behaviors, others in the company will begin to follow.

I recall one executive management meeting I attended when driving was getting worse among employees, both on and off the job. We had implemented some new driving rules, particularly for our DOT or CDL drivers. One of these rules was employees could not use a cellphone while driving unless it was via a hands-free application. After the meeting was over, two of the five executive board members drove away from the meeting with cellphones stuck to their ears. In fact, one executive team member used his left turn signal to change lanes and ran a car off the road. I wasn’t the only one watching that day. That executive’s message to the staff was loud and clear.

Shortly following that event, I was commissioned to assess and report driving behaviors for some of the company’s service territories. I conducted a full DOT audit, including hours of service, pre-trip inspections and driving on the highway. Of course, most of the drivers did very well with the “safety guy” riding with them, but that wasn’t necessarily the case for all the drivers when they were left to drive by themselves. Two days after being assessed, one of the employees was driving a digger derrick truck pulling a 40-foot pole on a trailer when he turned off the highway into a fast food establishment. Before exiting, the employee put on his left turn signal and then, with one hand, downshifted the truck, turned the wheel and crossed two lanes of traffic, causing other vehicles on the road to apply their brakes to avoid a collision. He accomplished all of this with one hand because his other hand was holding a cellphone to his ear. When the report of these unsafe behaviors reached his supervisor’s desk, the supervisor dismissed the incident as good driving because no collision occurred.

Just as the executive’s message to the staff was loud and clear in the first example I gave, this supervisor’s message to his employees also was loud and clear. But if you actually want to see a decline in unsafe driving behaviors throughout your company, that will only happen if, at the very least, leadership is trying to exemplify safe driving behaviors themselves.

As a defensive driver, do I ever get distracted? Yes, I do. Even the best drivers get distracted sometimes, but when this happens, I do my best to focus on safe driving rather than what was distracting me so that I do not cause other drivers any stress. Data shows that the majority of all drivers believe they are better drivers than the “other guy.” Of course, we all are the “other guy.” You and I are not better drivers than all the other drivers on the road. Our driving ability largely depends on our focus and reducing distractions so that we can keep ourselves and others safe.

Try it, practice it and show others that you are committed. I bet it will catch on.

About the Author: Tony Boyd, CUSP, is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (

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