Skip to main content



Using Virtual Tools to Create a Safer Reality for Utility Fleets

Successful organizations operate under the mindset that people are their most important assets, and they always take employee safety into consideration when making business decisions. Safe employees are happier, have greater rates of productivity, are more supportive of clients and contribute to the bottom line. Does your organization already have this mentality? Or is there some room for improvement?

For companies with vehicle fleets, the need for workplace safety extends beyond brick-and-mortar environments; avoiding on-the-job incidents is even more critical when an employee gets behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle and drives on public roads.

Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of occupational fatalities and cost fleet owners more than $60 billion each year. A three-year study published in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (see reported that on average, more than 30,000 lives were lost annually in vehicle-related traffic crashes from 2009 to 2011. Of those deaths, nearly 10 percent directly involved large trucks, which are defined as vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds. Additional crash statistics drawn from the study can be found in the chart below.

FMCSA Stats Chart Web

Although there are myriad factors that contribute to motor vehicle traffic crashes, a better-educated driver is arguably a safer, more alert and more defensive driver. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your company’s driver training program isn’t in need of its own corrective action.

“Delivering targeted safety training is critical for educating drivers on hazards and defensive techniques, potentially avoiding incidents and managing risk overall,” said Bill Doman, department head at ARI (, a fleet management company headquartered in New Jersey. “But as a fleet professional, how do you accomplish this when your workforce is already trying to do more with less?”

A Balanced Training Approach
Going virtual is a large part of the answer to that question, according to Doman, who works with driver-facing programs at ARI. “Virtual training can help overcome logistical challenges, get more drivers trained faster and help protect your organization both proactively and post-incident.”

Compared to other fleet types, utilities have unique training requirements due to the additional responsibilities of most drivers. For certain educational needs, behind-the-wheel or direct classroom training is the most effective way of preparing personnel to safely operate vehicles and equipment. The logistics and planning involved with these training methods, however, can be costly, result in downtime or not cover all applicable drivers.

For certain training needs, a virtual learning management system (LMS) can be the quickest and most effective way to deliver important safety education to as many drivers as possible. An LMS is a software application for the administration, tracking and delivery of electronic educational technology.

For example, instead of sitting operators in a classroom or at individual kiosks to passively watch videos, an online module can deliver the same content in an interactive fashion with a quiz at the culmination of the module to test for comprehension. Drivers might even dread training less if there’s a little more variety at play.

“A balanced training approach will include an assortment of classroom, behind-the-wheel and virtual methodology,” Doman said. “We’re finding that an increasing number of fleet owners are taking a fresh look at how they train their drivers to determine where virtual modules can be a good fit.”

How Virtual Training Works
Virtual training is delivered via online modules that engage drivers in a variety of interactive exercises and activities. Common topics include aggressive driving, avoiding crashes, distractions, speeding, limited visibility, towing and parking lot safety. Training recipients are prompted throughout the module to click and participate with the lesson at hand.

“Drivers aren’t just bombarded with text and statistics to passively memorize,” Doman explained. “They interact with the content and complete a comprehension test at the end to help ensure they retain the information.”

Training can be done on a desktop computer, laptop and even mobile devices. This means that drivers can go through training simultaneously in an infinite number of locations. What’s even better is that this also means more employees are receiving safety training faster and more frequently, instead of having to wait for a scheduled class.

Many virtual training providers will also supply proactive skill assessments to help identify at-risk drivers before there is an incident. Based on assessment results, drivers can be matched with the appropriate modules. Targeted modules can also be assigned to drivers who have recently been involved in a collision or received a violation.

Ensuring compliance with your vehicle policy is another good use for these modules. Your organization invested time and effort in assembling a thorough policy, and it’s imperative to verify that the drivers are actually reading it.

“After reviewing an online version of the company’s fleet policy, the drivers electronically acknowledge that they read the policy and take a comprehension quiz,” Doman said. “These modules can be customized with special touches to reflect the company’s culture, such as a video message from senior management demonstrating the organization’s commitment to safety.”

The Real Value Proposition
Adopting a robust blend of training content and delivery to help keep your drivers and others on the road safe just makes sense. It’s the right thing to do. But there are many more reasons to invest in a diversified safety approach, most of which have a measurable, positive financial impact for your organization. Among these reasons are:
• Decreased crash rate. Crashes are expensive. The crash that never happened can potentially pay for an entire year of training for all of your drivers.
• Positive community image. Safe drivers are typically courteous drivers who will reinforce a positive association with the branding on your fleet vehicles.
• Goodwill among clients. Your clients appreciate patronizing a company that values its employees and has a reputation for safety. It’s simply good business.
• Reduced liability exposure. Trained drivers help mitigate risk through better driving behaviors. And, by offering training to those who operate company assets, your organization is demonstrating a culture of safety.
• Decreased fuel spending. Teaching drivers more efficient driving techniques can lower your overall fuel expenses.
• Reduced maintenance expenses. Behaviors such as hard stops can increase premature wear on vehicle components. Training reminds drivers that every decision can have a long-term impact.

Above all, the most important reason to invest in safety training is because crashes can take lives. “Getting your drivers home safely is the most compelling reason to take another look at your training regimen,” Doman emphasized. “Safety is the best example of where trying to cut upfront spending can be exorbitantly more costly in the event of a fatal incident. The harshest reality is that you can’t replace a life at any cost.”

Management, Fleet Safety

Kate Wade

Kate Wade is the managing editor of Utility Fleet Professional and Incident Prevention magazines. She has been employed by Utility Business Media Inc. since 2008.