View from the Edge

The Behavioral Approach: Why Avoiding Fixed Object Collisions Doesn't Work

In this issue, CarriersEdge co-founder Mark Murrell looks at the issue of fixed object collisions and why the traditional approach rarely solves the problem.

Fixed object collisions: A headache for many fleets and a subject that gets a lot of attention in the risk management world.

As training developers, we regularly get requests for a course on avoiding fixed object collisions. The request may be detailed, or may be as sparse as "do you have a fixed object course?" but we get them regularly.

There are lots of 'fixed object' courses available in both classroom and online formats so I'm not surprised people ask. However, the reality is that there's no such thing as training to avoid fixed object collisions. This is a great example of people treating the symptom rather than the disease.

After a few of these requests I looked into it to see what the issues were. I'm not a driver or a fleet safety expert, so I have to do research to see what's behind the request. What I found is that fixed object collisions are either backing incidents, bad turns, or improper clearance, with the occasional rear-end incident popping up as well. They aren't a special class of collision on their own, just occasions where bad planning or execution combined with an existing structure to create a problem.

As such, they shouldn't be treated as a distinct entity with dedicated training. Instead, drivers should be trained to properly execute the specific maneuvers – backing, turning, etc. – regardless of whether other objects are present. If you train someone specifically to avoid a fixed object, are you saying it's okay to do the turn poorly if there's nothing in the way? Is it okay to do a terrible job backing as long as you don't hit something? Of course not.

So, the focus should be on performing the activity properly. Avoiding fixed object collisions when turning is really about making turns properly, which is a course on handling intersections, turns and curves. Avoiding fixed objects when backing is about checking the surrounding area and clearances, mirror adjustment, and other best practices for backing.

Focusing on the behavior rather than the specific outcome of one situation leads to much better performance, and provides for a more effective training experience as well. Imagine the poor driver who got put into a "fixed objects" course and is trying to figure out why some of the content talks about turns, some talks about parking lots or loading docks, and some talks about low bridges – it's all over the map and not connected in any way that's meaningful. On the other hand, a course specifically about all the ins and outs of doing proper turns is going to make a lot more sense and the content will be way more sticky once it's over.

To perform properly, drivers need to understand how all the different best practices fit into the context of their daily activities, and build habits that incorporate those best practices. Trying to teach a specific task in isolation will never allow the driver to assimilate that task, greatly reducing the effectiveness of the training.

In summary, think about the behavior that needs to be changed and focus on improving that in a holistic way, rather than focusing too much on a specific outcome of that behavior. You'll have fewer issues with fixed objects, and better performance across the board.

View from the Edge is a bi-monthly review of best practices in risk management, driver development, and technology for the trucking industry, produced by CarriersEdge.

CarriersEdge provides interactive online driver training for the North American trucking industry. A comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses is supplemented with extensive content creation and customization options, full featured survey tools, detailed management reports, and the industry's first dedicated mobile app for driver training.

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