I had a very simple question for Corey Woinarowicz after several very specific ones.
“What, Corey,” I asked him, “is the sound of one hand clapping?”
He responded with a link to Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.” Well played! I wrote back. The sound of silence, of course, is just that - no cell phones ringing in the car, no “WYD?” (What are you doing?) texts to respond to, no incoming calls to field nor outgoing calls to make.
The sound of silence, in other words, is the sound of safety - or at least, a safer vehicle, driver, and fleet experience.
“Many drivers believe they’re the best driver ever,” says the CRO of NoCell, a fleet safety solutions provider. “There’s an exception to every rule, and it’s them. They don’t need extra training, inward or outward-facing cameras, they don’t need the NoCell product or anything else. They know how to drive with their knees, drink a cup of coffee, eat a donut, and do a Zoom meeting.”
NoCell offers fleets and fleet managers incentives, data, and technology to focus on the road and not on the phone. “You need to be the parent, the advocate for them all the time,” he continues, “there’s no wavering. Seat belts always; make sure the phone is down. Do a pre-check every time you get into the cab.”
It works on airplanes, I think.
Woinarowicz is an advocate for a more egalitarian model of safety, one implemented from the top down, “C-level suite” of executives and/or managers. “Modern safety technology must be implemented and not just talked about,” he says. “There is plenty of discussion about safety being a top priority at many companies, but safety has to be woven into the fabric of the company culture.”
Woinarowicz then makes a keen distinction - the reason safety can’t be some nebulous goal realized in a pre-check poster in the garage or meeting room is because a conceptual “priority” just isn’t enough; a pandemic strikes the fleet. The supply chain breaks down. Commodity prices increase.
Priorities change. And so must fleets if they intend to protect their people, become more efficient, and offer better service to their clients, stakeholders, and drivers.
“There is no price that you can put on safety and nobody is going to take the lead on it,” Woinarowicz says, “so be the advocate for the driver, even when the driver won’t — or refuses — to advocate for themselves using contemporary safety solutions.”
“Your family needs you,” he concludes, “and many drivers think they’re invincible until they’re not. They may cover up the outward-facing camera or put chapstick in front of the inward-facing one; why? Why work so hard to avoid features that let you get home safely? Why do companies allow this to happen?”
Safety, in other words, cannot just be a goal. It must be an agent of change within the office, a high bar never fully perfected.
How Mobility Changes Safety
It’s easy to see how spending more time in the same vehicle begets worse habits. And that’s where Jonathan Kamanns comes in. Kamanns is associate director of fleet and driver safety at Boehringer-Ingelheim (as well as one of the nominees for 2022 Fleet Manager of the Year).
Kamanns says contemporary fleet safety has as much to do with mobility as with practicing sound safety protocol. “Mobility adds a completely different aspect to safety, whether it’s micromobility, locally, or through a subscription service,” Kamanns notes. Each type of fleet asset has different needs, he says, and we need to shift our mindsets to education based on the data supplied.
“The one piece we missed for many moons was collecting information back from those using the services. For instance, I go from a company vehicle in NYC to a subscription service using local transportation. I now have a different set of needs, and I’m probably less familiar with how the service works, what risks I assume, or how to ensure I’m safe. But we’ve got to be able to consume information from the end user specific to that person, or that environment.”
Like Woinarowicz, Kamanns sees safety as one of the primary drivers of contemporary fleet success. To manage a fleet today is to be flexible by necessity, not choice, and those who have figured out how to keep their people and vehicles on the road and out of the shop are those addressing safety problems with a comprehensive, multifaceted view of their fleet and drivers. And no one said it was easy.
“How do we view fleet safety differently than we did five, ten years ago?” he asks. “I don’t think much has changed in that space except that sometimes the technology in the vehicles is creating more distractions.
Kamanns says many fleet managers are simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data at their fingertips. “Suppliers are really focused on getting data to us and they’re good at it. Who is speeding? Who uses the most expensive fuel, or is the least fuel-efficient? Whose routes need improvement?”
He says that though the suppliers have and provide this data, for many fleet managers, that’s as far as it goes; suppliers know you’re expected as a fleet manager to be the one to do something with what they’ve given you, and now you have to account for telematics data and often 200+ data points per vehicle.
“There’s no way for a fleet manager to handle all of that,” he says. “We need suppliers to not only notify us but to institute actionable solutions. Suppliers shouldn’t just give us the data on how we’re failing but instead develop actions to solve the problem. Addressing safety needs to change holistically.”
In other words, we’re good at spreading the safety butter over the toast. But when - as Bilbo notes in Lord of the Rings - are we spread too thin over too much bread? Can change be affected in that environment?
Kamanns has his doubts. When he first arrived at Boehringer-Ingelheim about 18 months ago, he describes the sort of overarching safety goals and policies that existed without any sort of documentation or plan to realize any of them.
“How do I identify the right population to apply this policy to, for example?” he asked.
He created a plan. First, he leveraged the IT team to automate as much of the rote data collection as possible. Then he had to break his drivers and vehicles down into segments - executive vehicles; take-home vehicles; drivers on assignment from outside the country.
“At the time we had less than 50% of the actual driving population identified, and now we have almost 98%, allowing us to implement downstream policies and processes appropriate to the vehicle, driver, and purpose.”
“Once we ID’d our populations, we developed a simpler, more direct, and more actionable set of questions and policies regarding each segment,” he says, “and we were able to more effectively engage our drivers.”
Both Kamanns and Woinarowicz say the same thing in different terms - in the end, you have to connect the idea of safety to the person behind the wheel; if they don’t understand safe driving in the short-term leads to long-term safe habits and fleet success, then changing the safety tech inside the vehicle won’t matter much; the effort has to be top-down, holistic, and practiced throughout the entire organization.
When asked what’s the best advice he’s ever heard regarding driver safety, he says to make it real for the person behind the wheel - if the data and safety services implemented from that data doesn’t change a driver’s behavior, it won’t do anything except leave drivers wanting more. And desire for more is the opposite of what fleet safety and culture is all about; it’s hard to develop good habits when constantly adjusting driving habits, routes, or personal safety checks when not empowered to simply do the job in a clear, concise, and ultimately safe manner.
Funny what real-world data can do. It’s almost like seeing people for who they are - and not merely who or what they represent - can do wonders for morale, efficiency, and yes, safety.
Inside Look: Nussbaum Transportation’s Culture of Safety
Rick Schmidt oversees about 500 trucks and 470 drivers as director of HR and safety for Nussbaum Transportation, an employee-owned commercial trucking business almost 75 years old. With headquarters in Hudson, Ill., Nussbaum has been voted eight consecutive times as one of the Best Fleets to Drive For by The Truckload Carriers Association. Even as the safety czar, he’s continually surprised by the sheer volume of data and software involved with contemporary safety.
“We’re high-tech and spec’d out on all our trucks,” he says, “we use adaptive cruise control, descent assist, lane-monitoring alerts, ADAS, all of it. This stuff has been around for almost 20 years and we still may not use it correctly. So getting the correct information to our drivers about why the technology works the way it does is crucial to keep driving scores high.”
Schmidt says that Nussbaum built a strong culture around safety using clear goals communicated between every office. Whether talking to drivers on the road, customers in shipping/receiving, or in an interoffice meeting, “we all have the same goal - get from A to B as safely as possible.”
Schmidt says Nussbaum keeps driver turnover low and incidents even lower because many of the best safety habits have been brainstormed by the drivers, not those responsible for reporting their numbers. Schmidt describes a grassroots buy-in for safety and culture that has long-lasting ripple effects for the company and the greater industry.
“You need to find common understandings and understand we won’t all agree on everything. Most people don’t want to drive poorly, so what’s stopping them? What’s their side of it?”
Schmidt understands why drivers are suspicious of new and evolving technology. First, it doesn’t always work, as he describes a recent event in which the tech engaged the brakes on a truck, locking up when they shouldn’t have been.
When an incident like this occurs, Schmidt keeps a sharp eye for one quality that kills any growth opportunity from no-fault incidents: complacency.
“We must treat complacency with caution,” he says. “We’ve been innovative and done well, but it doesn’t mean we stop growing and stop learning. COVID throws a wrench in things and you have to be flexible; suddenly we had a ton of vehicles off the roads. Now everyone is back and incidents are skyrocketing. We must drive differently in June of 2022 than in March 2020.”
Discussing why tech fails is as important as identifying the right tech to increase safety, he says. It’s all a part of driver (and the greater company) buy-in. When people feel protected, it usually means they are.
“We can show drivers how their driving makes us profitable,” he says. “Fuel optimization is a big one. Drivers are working to get the best fuel stops - we saved $2 million last year because our drivers worked to find cheap fuel.”
Nussbaum also has in-depth safety bonuses. Nussbaum uses both inward and outward-facing cameras. When the inward-facing camera policy was declared, they only lost a single driver. Schmidt says they encouraged open conversations about the long-term benefits of the new policy and tech.
“Would you rather be caught with a cell phone, correct it, and continue driving, or get in an accident and lose your commercial license? An accident could cost you your career or your or someone else’s life, so have those open conversations.”
It’s an old tune on the radio and maybe a new one in fleet - never has the sound of silence told so much, nor protected so many.