Safety is of paramount importance for commercial fleets of all types and sizes. Even minor collisions can disrupt operations in significant ways.

Improving fleet safety is a continuous effort. It includes installing commercial dashcams, undertaking comprehensive driver coaching programs, and focusing on improving driver practices on the road.

Most of it boils down to how well your drivers are driving on the road. The probability of collisions reduces if drivers drive more defensively and avoid risky driving practices such as excessive acceleration, hard cornering, tailgating, hard braking, speeding, etc.

This article covers strategies regarding defensive driving, how drivers can become safer by being more defensive on the road, and how fleet managers can encourage defensive driving practices to improve the safety of their fleet.

See how you can improve driver safety with Motive.

What is the definition of defensive driving?

Defensive driving is defined as driving to save lives, time, and money, in spite of the conditions around you and the actions of others.

Defensive driving means that drivers should take personal responsibility to make the road safer for everyone. It requires drivers to employ driving strategies that will protect them and other people on the road.

The defensive driving definition also goes beyond basic traffic rules and procedures. It’s an essential mindset commercial drivers should always have when operating on the road.

What are the benefits of defensive driving?

There are numerous benefits of defensive driving for commercial drivers:

1. Minimize vehicle crashes

Practicing defensive driving increases driver safety since it conditions them to be alert at all times when they’re on the road.

Defensive driving programs also educate and equip drivers with techniques to prevent causing or getting into crashes, recognize possible road safety perils, and more.

2. Reduce insurance premiums

Some insurance companies may offer incentives of reduced insurance premiums by up to 10% or more when drivers complete a defensive driving course (though eligibility depends on state laws and insurer’s policies).

This may motivate drivers to operate more carefully, leading to fewer accidents and preventable insurance claims.

Remember, the more claims drivers make, the riskier the business will appear to insurance companies. Making too many requests can even prompt insurance companies to deny coverage.

Defensive driving may reduce insurance premiums and help drivers and commercial fleets save money on insurance.

3. Boost driver retention

Defensive driving improves your commercial drivers’ skills, resulting in better employee performance. A reward and recognition program can boost your drivers’ morale, increase company satisfaction, and eventually motivate them to stay and keep performing.

Driver retention or turnover is a big problem, especially in the trucking industry. Defensive driving by commercial drivers may help extend their careers, employment opportunities, and job tenure within a company.

Defensive driving tips for commercial drivers

Below are practical defensive driving tips for truck drivers or commercial drivers that your company can implement.

Keep a safe and reasonable distance from other vehicles

Rear-end vehicle crashes happen when commercial drivers lack adequate time to check and react to slowing or stopping vehicles. Large commercial vehicles require more time to stop.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a fully loaded commercial truck, driving at 65 miles per hour, may require 200 yards or 600 feet to stop.

A rule of thumb for commercial drivers is to give three seconds of space between them and other vehicles. For larger commercial trucks, it should be at four seconds when running at 40 miles per hour. For every 10 miles per hour of speed increased, they should add one second. They can give a space of five seconds or more when driving in low visibility or under adverse weather conditions.

Be mindful of your driving speed

Driving speed plays a huge role in safety. If drivers drive too fast, it becomes harder to stop their vehicles and distance themselves from other vehicles. Bumping and rear-end crashes are also more likely to occur.

Additionally, drivers should pay attention to other factors that can affect their vehicle’s ability to stop. They must consider road conditions, the weight of their vehicle and its cargo, the conditions of their vehicle, the weather, etc.

Watch out for any road hazard

There may be obstructions and hazards that drivers should watch out for, such as debris, overhanging trees, animals and children suddenly crossing the road, bikers, etc.

Your drivers must always stay alert, anticipate possible road hazards (especially when entering danger zones), and stick to best driving practices.

Avoid getting distracted

Long stretches of road can be boring and dull. As a result, drivers may easily get distracted and zone out. Commercial drivers need to exercise mindfulness and catch themselves as soon as their thoughts begin to drift.

One thing they can do to stay alert is to focus their attention on other drivers — as long as it doesn’t distract them. They can try to predict others’ driving behaviors and figure out the reasons behind them.

For instance, when other drivers change lanes, they can guess whether the other drivers are steering clear of slow motorists, planning to turn at upcoming intersections, etc. This technique activates and heightens their senses and helps bring back their attention on the road.

Commercial drivers should also refrain from anything that impairs their cognitive awareness, such as drinking liquor before driving and taking certain drugs — which often cause drowsiness and reduce alertness.

Drivers must avoid texting, taking phone calls, and trying to get an object from the passenger side of the vehicle.

See how the Motive AI Dashcam can help root out distracted driving.

Make driving intents known

This is one of the most helpful defensive driving techniques. Commercial drivers should notify other drivers on the road of their actions before performing them. Your drivers can do that through turn signals, high or low beams, hazard lights, and horns.

They should avoid making sudden movements as much as possible, e.g., switching lanes without alerting other vehicles. This gives other drivers enough time to respond to such changes.

Be on guard against careless drivers

Experts sometimes describe defensive driving as “driving as if everyone else on the road were drunk.” It may help drivers to assume that other drivers are drowsy, distracted, drunk, or unprepared to react correctly to sudden hazards.

With this mindset, commercial drivers can operate more safely and carefully. They should be on a constant lookout, checking their blind spots and side and rearview mirrors every three to five seconds before and after switching lanes.

Good defensive drivers should also watch out for vehicles suddenly pulling out from concealed driveways, side alleys, and unmarked roads.

Are there defensive driving courses for fleets and commercial drivers?

Drivers can take defensive driving courses from various training program providers, particularly reputable institutes such as the United States Truck Driving School, Inc. (USTDS).

Some driving schools have similar modules but with different durations, formats, and methods. Your drivers can choose the program that best meets their needs and schedules.

If your company has a contract under the U.S. government’s General Services Administration (GSA), you can get either of its two-course offerings:

  • The GSA has a four-hour online Defensive Driving Course for light-duty vehicles and a Professional Truck Driving Course, especially for commercial driver’s license holders.
  • The second course specifically suits drivers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, one-ton or larger pickups, and ambulance buses.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also provides more defensive driving techniques based on several research studies. These recommended techniques come with real-life video clips of sample non-test driving errors, followed by some training questions.

The FMCSA website also has plenty of pages that share more defensive driving information. Integrate these into your company’s coaching program as needed.

How to encourage defensive driving as a fleet manager

You can enhance your company’s fleet safety by encouraging defensive driving. Below are some ideas to help you do that:

Promote safe driving

Create a defensive driving culture among your commercial drivers by establishing a safe driving policy. This must consist of driving practices that comply with all applicable local, state, and national regulations.

Here are some examples of company-required driving practices:

  • Banning holding and using mobile and similar devices while driving
  • Setting regular periods for drivers to accept calls (and encouraging drivers to communicate this clearly to their contacts)
  • Promote safe driving through regular and effective training, education, and mentoring sessions on how to be a defensive driver

Additionally, set up a comprehensive safe driving program with rewards and recognition schemes and corresponding penalties for violations. These will help reinforce the required safe driving practices you establish for your fleet.

Encourage self-coaching

Instill a defensive driver mindset among your drivers. Urge them to take the personal responsibility of actively contributing to road safety.

Remind them that no matter how much you may coach them, they’re still the ones behind the wheel and in control of how safely the vehicle runs. Make sure they understand the consequences of risky driving behaviors and how they’re also responsible for other lives on the road.

Encourage your drivers to seek other educational resources and to study their driving performance, taking note of any positive actions, mistakes, lessons learned, and areas for improvement.

Invest in safety-first technologies

Using the right technology can go a long way when it comes to improving your efforts to promote and establish defensive driving among your commercial drivers.

It can provide relevant defensive driving information and data analytics and capture real-time video clips useful for coaching sessions.

These solutions and the information gathered are meant to promote driver safety and improve driving performance.

Here are some technologies you should consider investing in:

Commercial dashcams

Opt for modern dashcams with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. These smart devices can recognize unsafe driving behavior and alert you and your drivers about them.

Dashcam data can be used to turn collected data into actionable insights to enhance your drivers’ performance. With the help of actionable data and insights, fleet managers can create more effective and data-supported driver coaching programs.

To learn more about fleet dashboard cameras, check out our ultimate dashcam guide.

ELDs for Hours of Service compliance

Electronic logging devices (ELDs) can help drivers comply with the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations.

Drivers who don’t comply with HOS regulations and frequently work overtime are more prone to drowsiness and exhaustion. This can impair their ability to stay attentive on the road and react quickly in case of a critical safety event.

A feature-rich ELD solution can help your drivers comply with HOS rules, simplify fleet management, and make sure your drivers aren’t exhausted or overworked.

Real-time GPS tracking

One of the benefits of GPS tracking for fleets is it provides you with your vehicle’s precise location and the best routes to take.

When your drivers know they’re traveling through a particularly risky, accident-prone route, they can take proper precautions or reroute to safer roads. You can also automate this process by creating geofenced parameters around risky areas to receive instant notifications whenever a driver enters such areas.

How Motive encourages safe driving

As an all-in-one fleet management solution, Motive offers advanced, dependable technologies to help encourage defensive driving practices and improve fleet safety.

Motive has an easy-to-install AI Dashcam with real-time in-cab alerts triggered by risky driving behaviors, e.g., close following and cell phone usage. The alerts encourage safe driving by interrupting driver complacency and unsafe driving habits and improving driver performance.

Motive’s AI Dashcam also detects critical safety events like speeding and near-miss collisions, and safety events are uploaded to the Motive Safety Hub. Numerous fleet safety features analyze the data and provide valuable insights that you can integrate into your driver coaching program.

Drivers can proactively self-coach by reviewing the footage in their Driver App. Drivers can also use the Quick Capture button on the AI Dashcam to record anything they see worth documenting and share it directly with their safety team.

Defensive driving involves taking personal responsibility. However, you still need to manage the safety campaign effectively and identify what drivers can do better. And for that, you need powerful technology and tools.

Request a free demo today to learn how Motive can help you increase fleet safety.