Driver training delivers bonus
YOU'VE just bought a new mobile phone and you have two choices when it comes to understanding its endless operations.
You can either spend the next year learning how it all works or you can give it to a 15-year-old who will sit quietly with it for an hour before showing you everything it can do. And then some.
End result? The teenager has just saved you two years of experimentation and angst and given you a good working knowledge of the new product with a fairly simple, hands-on tutorial in a comfortable environment.
And it is that very same philosophy that is being applied across the trucking industry as manufacturers and fleet owners manage both the emerging high-tech equipment that is finding its way into trucks and deal with the dual issues of driver safety and cutting running costs.
One such manufacturer is Swedish truck maker Scania, which has a driver training component as part of the included package on every new truck sold in Australia.
The reason, says Scania Australia's newest driving instructor, David Whyte, is because of the increasing amount of - and rapidly-changing - technology that has become part and parcel of the contemporary trucking landscape.
"It is particularly different for drivers coming out of American trucks and also for drivers who are upgrading to a new truck for the first time in a few years," Whyte said.
"The technologies are different. European trucks are using hydraulic retarders rather than engine braking, for example, and we are teaching drivers to use 'coasting' methods as a way of maximising vehicle efficiency.
"We are also teaching the correct use of ABS (anti-lock braking) and adaptive cruise control as a means of both boosting safety and reducing overall vehicle running costs."
Rather than simply give a quick dealership forecourt tuition followed by a lap around the block, Whyte and his fellow Scania Australia driver trainers travel the country, showing drivers how to maximise their truck's capabilities in their own working environments.
Reasoning that any new owner or driver will only absorb a certain amount of information at the time of delivery, the five-strong team gives each new owner a few weeks to settle into their new truck before visiting for their half-day of instruction and tuition.
The method, he says, is finding favour with owners and drivers new to the brand, especially with the 'tricks of the truck' demonstrated both in the cab and on the road in each driver's own working environment.
"Scania's priority is to make people into safer operators," David Whyte adds. "We don't just want to sell someone a truck, we also want them to operate a safe and profitable business.
"To do that we give them expert advice about the safest, most efficient way to operate their trucks."
Truck importers are not the only ones with training as part of the agenda. A number of fleet operators have also taken-up the training and instruction cudgels.
Victorian company Don Watson Transport has embraced the notion of having a driver trainer on staff but right now, says company Business Manager Lyndon Watson, results-driven feedback is fairly scant.
"We're fairly new to the game so we only have anecdotal evidence," Watson said. "Ask me in 12 months' time and I'll have plenty of information."
He says that, anecdotally at least, the benefits of driver training are countless but lists a drop in fuel use (with a resultant carbon offset), driver safety, cutting equipment wear and tear and retaining experienced drivers as being high on the priority list.
"I'd expect brakes, drive wheels and tyres to last longer. Putting less stress on motors by down-speeding them, doing fewer engine revolutions, means doing less work, saving mechanical wear and adding life to components," Watson said.
He also suggests the company's 100-plus drivers are "in the operating space" with more responsibility and more say in each truck's operations.
"It's been suggested that the knowledge base in the pool of drivers in Australia is a touch behind the US in terms of driver techniques and we want our guys on an equal footing," he said.
Scott Finemore, Ron Finemore Transport's general manager for its general freight and bulk haulage divisions, says the company, which runs a fleet of 205 trucks, has had a formalised training program in place for the last decade and currently has eight trainers for its 400 drivers.
A comprehensive five-day program covers policies and procedures including safe operating practices and equipment awareness, depot and site procedures and hands-on training using the Smith's System Training methods, all culminating in 'buddy runs' with driver trainers or fellow drivers for assessment.
And that does not include a vast range of supplementary training programs available covering everything from communications to fuel-saving and incident training.
The benefits, Scott Finemore says, are many and all are positive.
"Any investment in training pays dividends (and) for us it's about (working) smarter, not harder.
"Training never ends, the safety journey never ends. Our reputation and culture is all built on safety (and) you can't just train safety, you have to live it."
Slow is smooth, he says and adds that RFT's drivers are taught to drive under the speed limit rather than on it.
"The safety of our people, their families and the public is our highest priority. Safety is our culture, the sum of what we do," he said. "If we train safe and live safe we get safer outcomes for our people.
"RFT maintains a strong safety culture supported by industry best-practice compliance accreditations," Scott Finemore said, pointing to the company's work with Melbourne's Monash University on a transport safety study.
The bottom line? Driver training pays-off by producing safer drivers with a deeper understanding of their profession and a smoothness that promotes equipment longevity as a by-product.
Truly, a win-win situation.