When Steve Wilson, general manager of transportation and logistics at contractor Allan Myers, saw recent data from one of his drivers come in, he knew something was wrong.

Wilson relies heavily on telematics, the combination of GPS, telecommunications and data analysis used to monitor vehicles or fleets. He employs telematics to gauge the performance of the company’s 120 drivers and 90 vehicles—only, that is often just a first step in diagnosing problems. On a 100-point scale for a day running a dump truck, with 100 being the best grade possible, his drivers regularly score 95 and above, he says. So, when he saw one driver’s daily score come in below 92, he decided to send him a text and encourage him to do better.

In response, Wilson said, the driver apologized and shared that his score had suffered because of a bad night after breaking up with his girlfriend. “Take a deep breath and relax,” Wilson texted back. “It all works out. Stay focused and center around what’s important to you.”

“I won’t let you down,” the driver responded.

The next day, the driver’s score jumped back up to a 98.1. That willingness to show care and concern—and to see the link between driving performance and a driver’s state of mind—is a big reason Wilson says the company is seeing results.

“Make telematics a tool, not a weapon,” he says.

For Allan Myers, whose headquarters is in Worcester, Pa., leveraging analytics has made a big difference in improving safety. When the company first started using electronically generated data from trucks in 2010, Wilson says the drivers’ scores averaged in the 80s. Today, the fleet average is around 97.5, and the lowest average score for an individual driver is just below 95.

Much of the equipment is kept at Myers’ Elk Mills Quarry facility in Elk Mills, Md., where Wilson and others recently talked about safety management using technology and a human touch. The company tracks speed, acceleration, braking and cornering, equally weighted in the overall score. Wilson recognizes that drivers may have an off day, where factors outside of a driver’s general skill level undermine the test performance.

Speeding is the most common violation, but also one of the easiest behaviors to address, he says. In terms of skill, cornering is the most difficult.

“It’s the one they struggle the most with,” he says. “We take a ride with them and talk about slowing down prior to entry of the corner and accelerating through, rather than waiting and braking late. … The biggest thing is just to stay smooth.” When he sees consistent issues, drivers may have to work with one of the company’s in-house trainers.

Even with drivers who consistently struggle with the skills involved, Wilson can see how outside factors such as traffic affect performance behind the wheel. He recently noticed three drivers whose data regularly showed signs of harsh acceleration and braking. When digging a little deeper, he realized that all three lived in or near Philadelphia. “It’s the environment that they’ve grown up in and they drive in, so they tend to be more aggressive,” he says. “They are fighting city traffic every day—coming home and going to work—so they are used to mashing it.”

The company’s in-house trainers are other drivers, so they work alongside their trainees as both co-workers and mentors. One of them, Jeremy Webster, understands bad habits from firsthand experience. When he started driving dump trucks in 2002, Webster would often speed or leave his seat belt unbuckled. He also had issues with road rage. “When someone did something [on the road], I wanted to run them over.”

What helped him improve the most was camaraderie with other drivers. “If you did something wrong, they didn’t come at you to get you down,” he says. “They would tell you to try it this way or that way. … If they all say that, then maybe I need to change what I’m doing.”

Webster says he is able to check his own performance by reading the steady flow of data from on-board monitoring equipment for clues and leading indicators that his performance may be slipping below company standards—and as possible precursors to accidents. Drivers at the company regularly share data, using it as a friendly competition to see who can get the best scores. But it’s also a way of looking out for each other.

For Webster, that kind of attitude is what makes the difference. “What happened was, I started caring about my job and what I’m doing,” he says. “When I looked back [at some past incidents] and what could have happened, I realized that might not have been good for me or someone else. Someone could have ended up dying. So, I started pulling myself together. Once I started doing that, I felt better knowing I’m going home safe, and the people around me are going home safe.”

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