Expert Commentary

Driver Training and Education—Worth It?

What is the root cause of most motor vehicle crashes? A driver's error in judgment while behind the wheel of a vehicle is the most common contributing factor to collisions.


Personal Risk Management
April 2016

Examples of driver error could include the following.

  • The failure to recognize that the vehicle is being overtasked (e.g., too fast into a sharp turn, too much weight for the braking system to adequately address in a panic stop, driving so fast that the headlights cannot illuminate far enough ahead to stop or swerve to avoid an obstacle in the travel lane).
  • The choice to drive while impaired (from alcohol, over-the-counter medications, illicit drugs, legal recreational drugs, drowsiness, or general illness).
  • The choice to pay more attention to a smartphone or other tech gadget than the roadway ahead (e.g., driving-while-"intexticated," yakking-while-driving, reading e-mails, or webbing-while-driving).
  • The mistakes made by aggressive drivers who allow their behavior to be controlled by their emotional state rather than deliberate and reasoned practice.
  • The mistakes made by inexperienced, overconfident drivers who are unable to cope with the dynamic situation at hand.

Poor weather, hydroplaning on bald tires, sudden tire blowouts, and general mechanical failures also contribute to the overall propensity for a crash to occur, but in the end, we trust that experienced drivers would recognize these issues and adjust their driving habits to compensate until the weather improves or vehicle repairs are affected.

General Driver Safety Countermeasures

Most employers follow a number of recommended practices to minimize the likelihood of suffering job-related crashes.

  • Establishment of a driving safety program that includes specific management expectations for drivers' daily actions (expressed through a variety of policy statements).
  • Methodical screening and validation of essential qualifications and experience when hiring new employees who will have driving duties.
  • Initial training efforts to communicate policy expectations and review driving fundamentals.
  • Ongoing performance monitoring to note ill-advised behaviors, repetitive habits, or changes in basic qualifications (e.g., How's My Driving? (HMD) programs, Motor Vehicle Report scoring and monitoring, telematics, camera-in-cabin).
  • Post-crash investigation and refresher training.

Chronic Risk Taking Overcomes Best Intentions

Occasionally, a driver may accumulate multiple moving violations and/or crash events on his or her driving history record (also referenced as a "Motor Vehicle Report" or MVR). Driver safety specialists have observed that drivers with a propensity to acquire moving violations and/or crashes tend to remain in that mode and rarely escape this pattern. Consider California Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) studies such as S3-187, Using Traffic Conviction Correlates to Identify High Accident-Risk Drivers, and S4-183, Strategies for Estimating Driver Accident Risk in Relation to California's Negligent Operator Point System. The following statements, as quoted from S4-183, help illustrate the dramatic connection between prior behavior and future performance.

  • "The data points in the figure indicate that each additional prior traffic citation increases the odds of a subsequent accident by 10%."
  • "The data points in the figure indicate that each additional prior accident increases the odds of a subsequent accident by 30%."
  • "Prior accident involvements are an important factor in estimating future accident risk; however, models using culpable accidents do not perform as well as models using total accidents."1

Supervisory ride-along trips to make direct observations of a driver's habits enables coaching assistance to be provided in real-time conditions. Unfortunately, ingrained behaviors are often difficult to change on a permanent basis through coaching alone.

When the number of moving violations or crashes exceeds a threshold, the state may intervene to suspend or revoke the operator's license. Some jurisdictions offer an intermediate step in that process with mandated Traffic Violator School (TVS). In theory, the combination of classroom instruction on the fundamentals of safe operation and the twinge of embarrassment of having to attend a set of forced education sessions should help provide an emotional stimulus to break entrenched behaviors.

In California, one such jurisdiction, TVS also comes with a distinctive bonus—upon successful completion of the classes, some points/violations are masked from the MVR. This "reward" helps to incentivize participants to complete the process with diligence and to offset increases in personal auto insurance costs that may come from the accrual of multiple violations.

Does It Work?

The question of whether this sort of intervention produces a predictable and consistent result has been studied repeatedly over the course of time within California. Indeed, the program has been predictable and consistent, but without the intended effect of materially reducing future crash risk.

Two particular studies summarize this historical process, and each provides compelling statements about the issue at hand.

  • A Traffic Safety Evaluation of California's Traffic Violator School Citation Dismissal Policy. "The traffic safety value of the TVS citation dismissal policy has been questioned in several prior California DMV studies. For example, a 1979 study found no evidence that TVS programs had any impact on subsequent crash and citation rates. A 1987 study reported that TVS dismissals result in an increase in crashes compared to the effects of conventional adjudication (traffic conviction). A 1991 study presented evidence that the TVS group had a significantly higher (by 10.2%) crash rate than did a comparison group of convicted drivers after statistically adjusting for the more favorable preexisting characteristics of the TVS group. Three other department studies (1993, 1999, & 2003) found that TVS dismissals in combination with other risk factors increase traffic crash propensity beyond that of drivers who meet the state's prima facie definition of a negligent operator."2
  • Effect of a Postviolation Driver Improvement Class on Traffic Convictions and Crashes. "A total of 5,079 drivers who completed an 8-hour class were compared to a control group of 25,275 drivers from the same locale who had been convicted of speeding during the same time period but had not taken the class … The results suggest that among drivers overall, exposure to driver improvement classes as a means to change drivers' behaviors is not significantly associated with fewer convictions for moving violations but may be effective in reducing crashes."3

Within the studies, efforts are made by their respective authors to understand the results and to identify contributing factors that led to the conclusions offered by the data. The failure to suffer the burden of increased personal auto insurance rates and the masking of points by completing the TVS program were two factors in TVS completers having a "significantly higher 1-year subsequent crash rate than other convicted drivers" (who were not part of the TVS process).4

Implications for Employers in Non-TVS Jurisdictions

If your jurisdictional area does not require participation in a formal Traffic Violator School, your risk management program may benefit from closer monitoring of those drivers who accumulate excessive violations and/or crash events since there is no governmental follow up (other than eventually suspending or revoking driving privileges). It would likely be far more helpful to identify these drivers internally through MVR review and driver risk scoring methods so as to catch patterns in risk taking as early as possible.

Further, employers who have previously relied on private driver educational programs to mask points and reduce personal insurance costs for participants should be mindful of these other studies linking increased crash risk with the perceived "benefits" of a TVS-type program.

Driver training programs that do not include point masking or personal insurance discounts have been studied with mixed reviews. In some cases, it suggests a benefit to the affected drivers and, in other cases, implies no material benefit.

  • A Technical Analysis of Driver Training Impacts on Safety. "Detailed training information was available for 16,659 of the drivers…. The total 'contact hours' or hours of interaction provided by training programs vary greatly from 88 hours to 272 hours.… the analysis finds little variation among driver safety performance that can be explained by training program duration within the range of 88 to 272 hours."5 So duration doesn't guarantee an increase in safety, and training may not influence it at all.
  • High School Driver Education: Further Evaluation of the Dekalb County Study. "… students assigned to an enhanced driver education program (Safe Performance Curriculum) were more likely to … be in car crashes and to have traffic violations than control students not assigned to driver education."6

Does This Invalidate Driver Education/Training Altogether?

As an insurer of many types of fleet operations, we are often asked to provide driver training support in one form or another. Sometimes our clients are merely asking for curriculum recommendations, and other times, they're asking us to send a trainer to handle the classroom instruction on their behalf.

We still find value in driver education and training programs. First of all, it is one way to communicate your organization's specific expectations about driving duties and customer service. Second, it reminds drivers of the various "rules of the road," including tips and techniques that may be only rarely practiced or encountered. From this perspective, the main advantage is to bring these easily forgotten reminders to the forefront of everyone's minds and reinforce the proper techniques over the easy "shortcut" methods, which may be more risky. Programs that encourage a highly participative approach with small group discussions, workshop activities, and other methods of engaging each participant's full attention are also preferred.

We encourage each client to measure loss and violation activity on a normalized rate basis for the time period prior to offering training and a similar time period following the training program. We also encourage supervisors to leverage their performance-monitoring systems to take advantage of coaching sessions to reinforce the primary training message.

In light of the California TVS studies, we've begun to reevaluate all training curriculum, which offers point masking and personal insurance discounts for completion. While these perceived benefits may be very appealing to both managers and individual operators, it can draw their interest for the wrong (opportunistic) reasons. If this were the case, the operators could view the classroom as a means to an end rather than a genuine educational experience to decrease their on-the-job risk. At its worst case, trading a training class for masked violations and insurance discounts could empower risk taking behind the wheel. For instance, drivers who are one ticket shy of a suspended license and removal from driving duties at their employer could leave that training session with the knowledge that speeding home would no longer jeopardize their driving status (but it may get them killed if they lose control of their car).

Summary

As an insurer interested in minimizing risk and reducing the likelihood of crashes, it's very difficult to justify the use or endorsement of training models that have been shown to increase crash rates in statistically relevant studies. On the other hand, driver training has a significant role to play in most fleet safety programs.

The range of training programs available is considerable with choices in terms of scope (broad topics versus laser-specific topics), format (e.g., computer-based, DVD and workbook, smartphone delivery), content (e.g., general "defensive driving" for any vehicle, vehicle specific, industry specific), and so on. Most experts agree that translation from simple presentations (e.g., classroom, tailgate, individual learning) to behind-the-wheel experiences with coaching tends to be preferred, but we still have little evidence that it makes a material contribution to measurable results.

Each fleet operation will need to experiment or test different scenarios and validate to see what makes the best impact on losses and violations (this may even change over the course of time, as your operators and specific daily duties may change, too).

It's our collective job as risk managers, insurers, and policyholders to find the curriculum and delivery method that enhances safety without adding risk (much like the physicians' Hippocratic Oath  of assuring that the cure is not worse than the disease!).


1California Department of Motor Vehicles, Research and Development Branch, Strategies for Estimating Driver Accident Risk in Relation to California's Negligent Operator Point System, by Michael A. Gebers, S4-183 (July 1999), pgs. iv and 24, http://apps.dmv.ca.gov/about/profile/rd/r_d_report/Section_4/S4-183.pdf.

2California Department of Motor Vehicles, Research and Development Branch, Licensing and Operations Division, A Traffic Safety Evaluation of California's Traffic Violator School Citation Dismissal Policy, by Michael A. Gebers, RSS-07-223 (April 2007), pg. iii, https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/62c070c5-83c7-4d1c-a844-dbeaf18ece74/S3-223.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=62c070c5-83c7-4d1c-a844-dbeaf18ece74.

3Andres Villaveces, Herbert G. Garrison, Jennifer L. Smith, Jennifer P. King, J. Michael Bowling, and Eric A. Rodgman. "Effect of a Postviolation Driver Improvement Class on Traffic Convictions and Crashes," Traffic Injury Prevention, vol. 12, issue no. 5 (December 2011).

4Gebers, A Traffic Safety Evaluation of California's Traffic Violator School Citation Dismissal Policy, pg. v.

5American Transportation Research Institute, A Technical Analysis of DRIVER TRAINING IMPACTS ON SAFETY, (May 2008), pgs. 9, 12, and 18, http://www.atri-online.org/research/results/driver_training_impacts_on_safety2.pdf.

6A. K. Lund, A. F. Williams, P. Zador. "High School Driver Education: Further Evaluation of the DeKalb County Study," Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 18, issue no. 4 (August 1990).


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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