CCJ: Con-way uses technology, peer-based coaching to drive safety results

By Aaron Huff

On a poster in the dispatch area of Con-way’s Salt Lake City service center is a handwritten announcement: March 14, 2014, is a day for celebration. The service center, among the largest in Con-way’s nationwide less-than-truckload network, has gone 15 days without accident or injury.

It’s been six months since the last 15-day streak, which is a big achievement for an operation this size, explains Brian Ressa, assistant manager at the service center with 185 employees, 86 trucks and operations that span 24 hours a day, six days a week.

Technology has played a major role in the success at this and other locations for Con-way which has a total fleet size of 15,000 drivers and 8,600 tractors.

In late 2009, the company completed a fleet-wide deployment of three “sense and alert” safety systems that consist of lane departure warning, collision avoidance and rollover stability control.

Last year, Con-way expanded its safety investment with two additional technologies. One is a real-time, on-board performance management system. The other is an event recorder that drivers often refer to as a “dash cam.”

The recorder is a compact, windshield-mounted unit that records activity inside and outside the cab. The recording is continuously erased unless the unit is triggered by an event such as hard braking, turning or rapid deceleration. When activated, the unit saves a 12-second audio and visual recording— eight seconds before and four seconds after the event.

With the addition of these two products, Con-way has created what it calls Drive Safe Systems. The number one reason for investing in the technology is to make sure all employees make it home safely each day, says Tom Clark, senior vice president of operations.

“That’s the reason why we continue to invest in systems that affect people. By giving us greater data, we can go back and coach drivers to prevent a defect from re-occurring and help to improve their overall safety performance.”

The plan in action

Every morning at about 5:00, Jack Malloy enters an office to the side of the main dispatch area in the Salt Lake City service center. The work he does helps reduce accidents and injuries and improve fuel efficiency.

Malloy has been driving for Con-way for 20 years. Three years ago he became a driver trainer, a job that he performs in addition to making daily pickup and deliveries. Last October, his job changed significantly with the rollout of Drive Safe Systems.

Con-way made a strategic decision to use its most safe and experienced drivers to coach other drivers using the data it receives through the on-board performance system and event recorder.

When an incident occurs, such as rapid deceleration or “hard braking,” Malloy sees the event through an online management portal. He then notifies the driver’s manager to schedule a face-to-face coaching session. Malloy says he usually talks to drivers within two days of an incident.

Data is shared with drivers in the context of the Smith system of driving behaviors. Once the incident is discussed and training given, the driver commits to improvement and “we move on,” Clark says.

The coaching sessions don’t always go smoothly. Sometimes drivers get defensive in these situations, Malloy says, but having a peer-to-peer discussion with a trainer certainly helps.

“Sometimes drivers are against new policies. They think corporations are after ‘poor little me,’” Malloy says. “We disengage that tension so drivers are able to be coached and understand the situation. We’re all peers.”

Malloy showed this CCJ editor an example of what a coaching session involves. The week prior, a driver had an event that was given a “5? on a severity scale of 10. The driver rolled through a stop sign.

The event recorder, known as DriveCam powered by Lytx, was likely triggered by an uneven road surface and lateral movement of the vehicle, Malloy says. When a behavior analyst at Lytx reviewed the incident, the severity rating was assigned to the event and made available for Malloy to review.

This particular driver has been with Con-way for three years. During the coaching session, the driver was eager to be the best and one day be among the Con-way drivers with three million safe miles, Malloy says.

“He wants to be one of those and is willing to change anything he needs to change to become one of them.”

The event recorder also gives Malloy opportunities to recognize drivers for defensive driving skills. Before having the technology, management never saw what drivers had done to avoid an accident, he says.

Six months ago, Malloy was meeting with drivers about 12 times per day to review incidents. The number of incidents have since dropped to about one to three per week.

Monitoring performance

Before Con-way used the on-board performance management system from Vnomics, drivers did not know what they were getting for mpg. The only people in the company who knew were mechanics who downloaded engine data when trucks came in for service.

The Vnomics system gives instant feedback for fuel efficiency. When drivers exceed 1,500 RPM the device emits a beep that sounds similar to grinding gears, prompting the driver to shift and bring the RPM down.

When drivers come to a stop, a “shift efficiency” score appears on the display along with a color-coded, vertical bar chart that shows the percentage of time drivers shifted in the “good,” “acceptable,” and “poor” range.

“Most drivers use it as a game during the day,” Clark says. “If they do not hear any sound, or alert, they are going to have a great score at the end of day.”

Since Con-way began using the Vnomics system, the fleet has reduced its fuel consumption by four percent, Malloy says. The Salt Lake City service center displays weekly progress in a number of fuel efficiency metrics on a scoreboard in the dispatch area. The average shift score is in the high 80s.