As a manufacturer, Scania has long realised the importance and potential of driver coaching, particularly in one-on-one situations with a trainer sitting in the passenger seat offering tips to the driver.
Peter Clarkson is one such driver trainer. With a 21 year involvement with the Fire Brigade in Victoria, Peter draws upon what were often stressful experiences in operating a fire truck under lights and sirens and exudes a calm demeanour.
He makes the initial point of speaking on the drivers’ level and not lecturing them.
“I’m not here to teach you to drive,” is his usual opening statement which sometimes comes as a surprise to his clients. Rather, Peter suggests the drivers see themselves as the conductors of an orchestra.
What used to be regarded as the symphonic melding of clutch, throttle and gear-changing has, today, morphed into the operation of the latest electronics-based systems which also involves pre-programming of features such as adaptive cruise and hill descent controls.
“My role is to teach them the functionality of the controls of the truck so they can get the best out of it, and they might even save their boss some money by saving fuel,” Peter says. “I’m trying to create new habits with the new technologies.”
Most modern trucks have impressive arrays of switches and control levers, many of which are hardly, if ever, used by typical drivers.
An example on Scania vehicles is the load transfer button that Peter frequently uses as a demonstration, and not just because he can reach it from the passenger seat.
“I ask them if they ever go to Bunnings, and of course, everyone goes to Bunnings,” he begins. “Then I’ll ask: ‘Do you ever buy stuff in Bunnings that you say you’ll use one day?’ That’s like one of those buttons that you just bought from Bunnings. It’s not something you’re going to use every day, but it’s something you’re going to use every now and then.”
Should a driver find themselves on a slippery dock that they can’t get out of, pressing that button transfers the weight onto the ground under the drive axles without putting more weight on the truck.
“When you explain what it does,” says Peter, “I often get ‘I could have used that last week’ as a response.”
As most drivers tend to work alone in their cabs, Peter recognises that for some of them what he does might, at first, appear invasive.
“You can’t get in the truck and say ‘I work for Scania’ and just drill it down their throat,” he says. “You have to speak on their level otherwise the shutters go up.”
Peter’s psychological approach to inclusiveness extends to the apparel he wears.
Initially, his uniform was to be slacks and a business shirt, but he saw that as an impediment to his acceptance not only in the cab, but as a credible source of information and advice. Now he wears cargo pants and polo shirts.
Peter is of the view that during the 120 hours of instruction, which some states require for car learners, drivers should spend time as a passenger in a truck to instill an appreciation of vehicle clearance, vision blind spots, and stopping distances.
Such a program would be worthwhile, not just from a safety perspective, but may even lead to the recruitment of new truck drivers.
Drivers towing caravans is another area where some time spent in a truck would improve safety. According to Peter there should be a higher level of licencing standards for drivers towing caravans.
“It’s an articulated vehicle,” says Peter. “They’re driving something more than 7.5 metres long with a sign which says, ‘do not overtake turning vehicle,’ so it’s a truck. They buy the littlest car and the biggest caravan and try to tow it up the road and it’s dancing all over the place.”
Peter fine tunes his approach and frequently uses different analogies to illustrate the points he is trying to get across. This often requires him to read his audience.
“I meet different characters from young people who are just starting in the industry, to others who have been driving for 40 years, some of whom have never driven an Automated Manual Transmission such as the Scania Opticruise,” he explains.
“I try to break it down into quirky bits such as the world’s strongest man trying to pull a truck and get it moving which is the hardest part, but once it’s moving he’s OK. So try to keep the truck you’re driving, moving.”
Scanias have a driver score system that draws from various metrics to award up to five stars for performance activities such as braking, anticipation, and fuel efficiency.
Within some fleets the scoring can be quite competitive between drivers. It can also be a distraction, so Peter suggests configuring the screen to have the stars in the corner so the driver cab can keep track of it, without compromising the concentration required to operate the vehicle. Part of his aim is to prove the value of the driver score to drivers.
Sometimes he will emphasise the importance of nailing the anticipation and braking scores, as those two ultimately go hand-in-hand.
“An intersection or roundabout will always be there — the only thing which may change is traffic and once they start anticipating and coasting more and using the retarder more they hardly use the brake pedal at all,” says Peter.
“I suggest anticipation is the five second rule so count five in your head. If, say, a roundabout or slow traffic comes up earlier than five seconds then back off earlier next time.”
Pre-setting functions such as Adaptive Cruise Control and Downhill Cruise brings about good improvements in fuel efficiency as well as safety.
“They’ve got to feel it working to have confidence in it, especially mature drivers,” says Peter. “I tell them if they set it up right, they can drive it all day. Even if they think they are close to retirement, I say they can get another ten years in this Scania.”
Changing mindsets, however, is not often an easy task. Yet Peter relishes his role in assisting improvements in efficiency, safety and driver well-being by providing familiarisation of the controls in the clients’ Scania trucks.
“Every day is different,” he adds. “Every day is a mystery tour.”