New year, new training: Four principles for successful driver safety programs

Researchers at leading traffic safety institutes around the world acknowledge that training plays an extremely important role in developing cultural values, beliefs, sound habits, and skills. But that’s only if the proper instructional design methods for adult learners are incorporated into the driver-training program. Why is this important? Because properly trained fleet drivers can lower their risk of crashes using advanced driving techniques. However, gaining control of the behavioral challenges of drivers— the largest safety issue fleet-based organizations struggle with today, still seems elusive when using outdated training methods. This is an indication that it’s probably time to take a new approach and reevaluate your driver-training program in terms of sound instructional design, the inclusion of higher-order cognitive skills, and determine if your drivers are receiving relevant information to deal with today’s complex traffic safety issues.

When evaluating fleet driver safety training services, look for programs that follow the four principles developed by Malcom Shepherd Knowles, an American educator, who is renowned for his authoritative work in the field of adult education. He proposed that the following should be applied to all adult learning activities, including driver safety training:

    • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction
    • Experience provides the basis for the learning activities
    • Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance and impact on their life
    • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented

Sophisticated training providers that incorporate Knowles’ four principles can deliver driver safety programs that not only focus on traditional advanced driving skills and situational awareness but also “higher-order cognitive skills” (e.g., perception, insight, and motivation). A study conducted in 2011 (Isler, Starkey, and Sheppard) determined that participants who received higher-order driving skills training showed a significant improvement in relation to visual search, improvement in hazard perception, safer attitudes to close following and dangerous overtaking, and a decrease in driving-related overconfidence (e.g., speeding, aggressive driving, etc.). Their attitude and behavior toward risk were also changed to support these important safety functions.

The driver, after mastering the necessary advanced driving skills, should also be encouraged to engage in the focus and outcome of his or her training. In other words, a program that coaches drivers through a self-assessment process that can reveal and personalize the experience based on how the individual really performs behind the wheel. Through this coaching process, drivers learn to acknowledge the dangerous level of risk from their activities and behaviors and can reinforce the safe driving techniques through e-learning opportunities on specific problem areas such as aggressive driving, distracted driving, or speeding. 

It’s important to ask questions and to keep Knowles’ four principles in mind when evaluating the design of your provider’s suite of services. Look for programs that coach your drivers to be self-aware, improve diminished skills and reinforce safe driving habits.

The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety, (2016). Cost of Motor Vehicle Crashes to Employers – 2015
Isler, R.B., Starkey, N. & Sheppard, P. (2011). Accident Analysis and Prevention 43, 1818-1827

About the author

Art Liggio, CEO and president at Driving Dynamics, is guided by a passion for elevating awareness and improving the capabilities of all drivers on the road and a focused commitment to helping organizations greatly improve their fleet safety performance. Recognized as an industry leader and pioneer with more than 30 years of experience helping fleet-based operations manage driver safety and mitigate losses, in 2020 Art was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame.