Most companies train newly hired employees before sending them off to do their jobs in the field. For fleet managers, the new-hire-orientation training period is a valuable tool for educating drivers on the proper usage of assigned vehicles and for training drivers to follow fleet policies in such areas as safety, preventive maintenance, and after-accident procedures.

Automotive Fleet contacted three fleets with successful driver orientation training - Abbey Home Healthcare. Mallinckrodt Medical, and Marion Merrell Dow - to find out the specific elements of their programs. While some of the elements may differ for your own driver orientation program.

1. Examine employees' motor vehicle records on regular basis.

Pre-screening driver records before an offer of employment is made is a policy recommended by many safety-minded fleet managers. Obviously, this practice must be implemented long before the driver orientation session. Yet, fleet managers can't overemphasize the importance of examining motor vehicle records and possible even criminal records. Since implementing a strict motor vehicle and criminal record checking program about two years ago, Abbey Home Healthcare of Costa Mesa, CA, has experienced a 50 percent reduction in its accident rate, according to Wayne Teece, national fleet manager.

Another reason for examining driver records for new hires - as we as for existing employees - is to stay informed on the types of problems drivers re having in the field, such as accidents or moving violations. This will help you structure your driver orientation sessions to meet the specific needs of your drivers.

2. Devote a portion of the orientation sessions to driver safety.

What better time to train employees to be safe drivers than during a new hire orientation meeting or regional sales meeting? You've got a "captive audience" that probably understands the company believes enough in driver safety to allot precious business time to the issue.

Marion Merrell Dow in Kansas City; MO, sends new hires to a "sales school" early in their employment with the company, and fleet safety plays a critical role in the curriculum, says Pat Kearney, safety manager. Sales reps go through a one-day safety training session provided by Advanced Driver Training Services, a fleet safety company in King of Prussia, PA. The first part of the day is devoted to classroom education, where such issues as avoiding being rear-ended, driving in inclement weather, and proper driver "seeing" habits are discussed in detail. The afternoon is devoted to behind-the-wheel training.

Sam Visintine, assistant treasurer for Mallinckrodt Medical, Inc. of St. Louis, MO, also uses driver orientation sessions for safety training purposes. Classroom sessions for sales reps and delivery drivers are devoted to such issues as crash-avoidance techniques, the effect of drugs and alcohol on driving ability, and the role driver attitude plays in driver safety. The company's driver safety program also offers incentives, prizes, and recognition for employees with good driving records. Since implementing the safety program, Millinckrodt Medical's accident rate has decreased by 65 to 70 percent, Visintine says.

3. Train drivers to follow fleet policies, such as preventive maintenance servicing and after-accident procedures.

Fleet managers recommend that you start drivers out on the right foot, when it comes to ingraining essential fleet policies. Train drivers to make a habit out of following recommended preventive maintenance intervals; explain the disastrous consequences of putting off oil changes and other service procedures to the point where serious engine damage could occur.

Provide detailed after-accident procedures. This may be critical if litigation were to later result from an accident involving a company driver. Marion Merrell Dow hands out accident reporting forms to all company drivers. The forms include blanks for documenting the basic information needed for proper post-accident reporting.

Discuss other relevant fleet policies, such as personal use restrictions and mileage reporting. Mallinckrodt Medical provides employees with driver manuals, which detail company policies on personal use, procedures for vehicles servicing and repair, vehicle replacement policies, safety procedures (including a mandatory safety-belt usage policy), and after-accident procedures.

4. Conduct a "walk through," or "ride along," to make sure drivers understand how to properly operate their vehicles and vehicle equipment.

Before you hand over the keys to a vehicle, make sure that the driver understands everything he or she needs to know about how to safely operate it. Techniques on how to operate anti-lock brakes, how airbags work, understanding optional equipment, and how to operate such special equipment as service bodies, customized storage racks, and other upfitted equipment must be explained in detail.

District managers at Marion Merrell Dow go over a checklist with drivers that includes such items as understanding dashboard gauges and equipment, checking under the hood for proper fluid levels, passenger seat controls, and equipment in the trunk such as spare tires and jacks. Managers then go on a "commentary drive" with the new employees, instructing them on seat-belt usage and techniques for safely navigating through parking lots, using mirrors correctly, and proper loading and storage, including reminders to avoid piling objects on the front or back seat.

Mallinckrodt Medical devotes a portion of its driver orientation sessions to proper lifting techniques. The company's delivery drivers lift lead containers weighing 60 to 70 lbs., and sales reps handle diagnostic equipment weighing about 40 lbs. Training drivers to life containers and equipment without injuring themselves helps the company reduce driver downtime and workers' compensation claims.

Since Abbey Home Healthcare's trucks fall under U.S. Department of Transportation safety and hazardous materials regulations, company drivers are trained to conduct daily inspections of the operating conditions of their trucks and of the contents of the loads they carry. Drivers fill out a 17-point checklist covering such items as tires, lights and lenses, brakes, horn turn indicators, fluid levels, fire extinguishers, and reflectors. Newly hired drivers are accompanied by company managers for their first two weeks, so they will be properly trained to drive their vehicle safely (including backing techniques) and to perform daily inspections and fill out the necessary reporting forms.

5. Present information to drivers precisely and clearly, and reinforce the message later on.

To be effective, information presented at driver orientation sessions must "precise, easily understandable, and get right to the heart of the matter," Visintine says.

Fleet managers also recommend that the message be reinforced through repetition. Visintine makes sure that drivers hear about important fleet topics, such as safety issues, at company sales meetings. Repetition through company news-letters and bulletins is another method recommended by veteran fleet managers.

It's also very important to convey the fact that company management supports the driver training program. "We explain that the program has top management support, and that the company expects them to comply," Visintine says.

"New people take this stuff seriously," Kearney says. "What the district manager says is gospel."

Before You Hand Over the keys…

….make sure that employees taking delivery of fleet vehicles understand fleet policies and know how to properly operate the vehicle you’re entrusting in their care. The following points have been distilled from successful fleet driver orientation training programs:


1. Examine employees’ motor vehicle records on a regular basis. This is important before an offer of employment is made to screen out potential liability problems, and for existing employees so you will better understand the types of problems drivers are experiencing and can fashion training programs accordingly.

2. Devote a portion of the orientation sessions to driver safety. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to train a “captive audience” to become safer drivers through programs emphasizing accident-avoidance techniques.

3. Train drivers to follow fleet policies, such as preventive maintenance servicing and after-accident procedures. A new-hire orientation training session is a great opportunity to impress upon employees the importance of developing good preventive maintenance habits. Also, explain other essential fleet policies, such as after-accident procedures and personal use rules.

4. Conduct a “walk through,” or “ride along,” to make sue drivers understand how to properly operate fleet vehicles and vehicle equipment. Don’t hand over the keys until you are reasonably sure the driver will be ale to properly and safely operate the vehicle. A meeting such as this between a manager and an employee is also a good opportunity to train drivers to inspect and maintain vehicles.

5. Present information to drivers precisely and clearly, and reinforce the message later on. Make sure the message you deliver is clear and to the point. Above all, don’t forget: repetition, repetition, repetition.