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Safety Programs with Monetary Incentives May Encourage Under-Reporting of Incidents

August 22, 2016, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Do fleet safety incentive programs “dis-incentivize” the reporting of safety incidents, especially if employees are monetarily rewarded for achieving a low rate of incidents? Often, under the umbrella of these monetary-based safety incentive programs is not just cash or bonuses, but also award merchandise, award trips, paid days off, and upgraded vehicles or availability of driver amenity options.

At its most fundamental level is the question of whether these monetary incentive programs are potentially counter-productive to the intent of fleet safety programs? Some argue that if the monetary rewards provided are relatively large, drivers may not report incidents to avoid jeopardizing their rewards. Another example is that some fleet safety incentive programs focus on group performance, whereby all drivers on a team get a reward based on the group’s total incidents over a specified period of time. Critics ask if the group reward is monetary, could there be peer pressure from other team members to under-report safety incidents?

Other critics argue why should a company provide monetary awards to drivers for something they should be doing in the first place. In addition, once a monetary award is given, it is hard to stop the practice. It’s not uncommon to hear: “You gave me a bonus once, why not again?” The other risk is that a monetary safety program can create a “Pavlov’s dog conditioning,” whereby drivers elevate their safety consciousness only during award periods when they are eligible to receive a monetary award.

The counter-argument is that senior managers get supplemental bonuses for doing their jobs, why not employee drivers? This is a fair retort, but, in my mind, this validates the argument against monetary-based incentives as there are numerous instances of how senior managers “juggle the numbers” to ensure they attain the threshold to trigger a bonus payment.

Tangible Versus Non-Tangible Recognition

Monetary-based fleet safety incentive programs are well-intentioned efforts by companies to encourage drivers to maintain a high level of safe driving practices. However, there may be better ways to encourage and recognize safe driving practices. Often, the most effective recognition programs do not involve tangible recognition, such as monetary rewards. There are other non-tangible rewards that can be offered, which may be more effective in motivating employees to be safer drivers.

There are a variety of non-tangible recognition programs that can include recognition in a corporate meeting, a written commendation, a visit or dinner with senior management, patches or badges if the drivers wear uniforms, a reserved parking space, or recognition using social media. In talking with fleet managers, they tell me that most drivers are best motivated by recognition from their peers and senior management. Plus, fleet managers add that this recognition is most effective when it is given more frequently versus an annual recognition program.

Keep in mind what motivates an employee depends on the employee and you should attempt to tailor a fleet safety recognition program to meet the needs of a diverse driving population. The effectiveness of a safety recognition program is influenced by personality types. For example, employees with introverted personalities may not want public recognition and would prefer to be recognized privately.

There is also a generational difference in recognition preferences. Some companies are using Facebook-style postings to recognize drivers and allow their peers to make congratulatory comments. By matching the medium to a generational preference, it provides drivers with instant recognition and the feedback mechanism to provide instant gratification.

Lastly, to increase the effectiveness of a safety recognition program, it is important to reach out to drivers to identify what they consider important. It is also important to keep the program fair by taking into account different driving environments by normalizing scoring of drivers in urban territories vis-a-vis rural areas.

Behavior-Based Safety Recognition Programs

The current trend is toward behavior-based safety recognition programs, which provide rewards for demonstrating safe driving behaviors using a driver scorecard. Behavior-based programs take the subjectivity out of driver recognition by using objective and tangible measurements that use multiple data points.

The end result is recognizing drivers based on specific results and behaviors with a simple overall score. One word of caution is not to make the scoring too complex. Also, the scoring criteria should be customized to your organization and needs. By tracking driving trends over time, you can recognize those drivers who have improved.

Using telematics data, a driver scorecard can give a more comprehensive view of an employee’s driving habits, such as seatbelt use, harsh braking, speeding, rapid cornering, etc. If you are using a driver scorecard as the basis for driver safety recognition, it is important to make it granular so drivers know how their score was derived and how they can improve it. Consider establishing an online FAQ about the program to assist drivers in understanding the criteria employed. By keeping a safety recognition program simple, you will increase driver involvement.

Let me know what you think.


  1. 1. Paul Farrell [ September 06, 2016 @ 06:46AM ]

    In addition to the very real threat of under-reporting, incentive programs may have tax implications in some states in terms of how the tangible awards, gift cards or cash is awarded. Further, a true incentive plan rewards the performance of a positive behavior; however, many fleet safety teams fall into a trap of devising a long list of negative behaviors or outcomes that, when discovered, lead to the removal of the bonus (i.e. "Sanctions" in lieu of "Incentives"). In these scenarios, the progressive discipline program (seeking to identify, stop and change policy violations or safety rule violations) attempts to become a wolf that wears sheep's clothing -- disguising itself as friend to the driver. If you obey the rules, you'll get a bonus, if you break the rules, you'll lose the bonus. This thinking produces an entitlement culture from those who were safe all along and breeds discontent when a small handful "ruin it for everyone else". Peer pressure to avoid losing the bonus may also contribute to under-reporting, or worse, covering up safety mistakes and mis-deeds instead of engaging in coaching, mentoring and re-fresher training to avoid injuries. Incentive programs can be a useful part of a fully developed, well running safety program (icing on the cake), but should not be used in lieu of a strong foundational program nor as a short cut to short term successes. Safety is not sexy or glam, but mundane and tedious -- like a diet and exercise program. If you work it, you'll get results - if you cheat, you're only cheating yourself and your team.

  2. 2. Brian Kinniry [ September 09, 2016 @ 12:07PM ]

    On balance, the positives of a driver recognition and reward program outweigh the negatives, especially when the program is set up in a way that discourages employees from underreporting accidents. CEI’s DriverCare customers have adopted several solutions to this challenge. For example, we have seen successful programs institute periodic manager drive-alongs, with the manager inspecting the vehicle for unreported damage. Telematics data is another way to assess driver behavior that doesn’t rely on the driver to do the reporting. While no system for preventing accident underreporting may be 100% foolproof, the prevention of even a relatively small number of fleet accidents can more than pay for judicious driver reward and recognition programs.

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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