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Interview with Stephen Haughey – Head Trainer (and more) at xdrive

Posted by Marcon : 25 August 2015 in Fleet Auto New

Stephen, can you tell us about XDrive and what you do?

XDrive primarily is a driver training company, specialising in four wheel drive training, safer driving and trailer towing.

Our Safer Driver Course, which most people would associate with defensive driving, focuses on behaviour as opposed to skills. We also have our on-line training program, which we run in conjunction with IPWEA and once again this is based around behaviour and attitude.

XDrive undertake seminars, as well as training for corporations and individuals throughout Australia. We also undertake expeditions and tours to various locations, throughout Australia and we have run various courses in the USA, Europe, Africa, China, PNG and New Zealand.

You’ve trained a lot of drivers, how did you first get into driver training?

I was involved in SCUBA diving for a number of years both for recreation and as a business. I then took up parachuting or sky diving and I realised that there was a big gap in the market between the way people were taught in both these environments as opposed to driving, which accounted for a lot more deaths and injuries than either of these ‘high risk’ activities.

 How did you start in the fleet management industry?

I was involved in fleet management where I consulted to the World Bank on privatisation issues, throughout Africa. One contract entailed a fleet in excess of 4,500 vehicles, 2,500 items of yellow goods (bulldozers, graders, water tankers, etc.) and a staff compliment of 7,000+.

This particular contract took a rather sharp turn, in fact, on the way to the office we had to drive around a number of burnt out vehicles and some rather large craters in the road caused by exploding bombs and mortars. We were approximately half way through this contract, when a war erupted. We had to evacuate all our non-essential staff and enacted a ‘force majeure’ clause in our contract. Approximately three months later we started again and swopped our reflective vests for bullet proof vests.

We had a few setbacks, recovering burnt out and stolen vehicles. Bullet-ridden vehicles also added to the costs of preparing vehicles for auction, as some of the damage simply did not ‘buff out’.

If people already know have a licence, what benefits will they get from driver training?

Unfortunately, the perception amongst most individuals is that once they have a driver’s licence, well we know how to drive so why do we need to go on a ‘driver training’ course.

Statistics tells us that a lot of drivers who have a licence simply do not know how to drive; due to the high number of incidents we see every day.

When we look at, for example, some of our best athletes and sportspeople. One could argue that these individuals are at the pinnacle of their chosen sport. Tennis players, golfers and so forth, come to mind. However, these very people have coaches, people who study what they do and look for ways to improve them. Why therefore, as drivers, do we exclude ourselves from learning more or doing better?

I have a rather simple philosophy, ‘when you know better, do better’ and this you can apply to all facets of life, through constant learning and improvement.

What are the three things that cause fleet drivers to have a crash?

Inattention, inattention and inattention! Without doubt the number one reason why people have incidents is through inattention. We simply do not give driving the attention and respect that it deserves.

People get into their vehicle and then think that it is their office. They can make phone calls, dictate messages, listen to seminars and have books read to them. All whilst undertaking the task of negotiating a vehicle through traffic. And remember, other drivers are doing exactly the same thing.

Is driver behaviour and attitude an important part of driver training?

More and more organisations are realising that behaviour and attitude are important aspects of driving a vehicle. This is also borne out by the various government departments, who also realise that whilst skills are important, attitude and behaviour are more important.

Skills based training, such as teaching people how to control a skid, tend to focus on one aspect of driver training. However, once these skills have been learned, people do not necessarily practice these skills on a regular basis.

This leads to the perception by the individual concerned, that he can now control a skidding vehicle. Once again, statistics show that this is not the case and undertaking these types of courses leads to a false sense of security and can also lead to a degree of risk taking.

How should fleet managers deal with driver distraction in the modern fleet vehicle?

With regards to dealing with driver distractions, one of the most talked about distraction would be the ‘mobile telephone’.  If you were to considers that travelling at 100km/h is the equivalent of 28m/sec. Then even a small distraction – taking only two seconds – would mean that we have covered a distance of approximately 60 metres without seeing what is in front of us. Think about this the next time you glance at your mobile phone to see who is calling or what the message is about.

I would like to see companies introduce a mobile etiquette policy. The first thing that we should be saying to the receiver, when dialling a mobile number, is ‘Can you talk right now or are you driving?’ That way we would establish very quickly that the person is driving and then we can reschedule or call at more convenient time.

Do employees driving 4X4 vehicles need specialised training if they are driving off-road?

A four wheel drive vehicle operating in adverse conditions requires delicate control, ‘balancing’ the vehicle with minute inputs from the throttle, brakes and steering. Placing the vehicle exactly where you require it to be on a narrow track, surrounded by trees, steep drop-offs requires precision and specialised training. It also requires you to know your vehicle intimately and to react to any changes decisively.

Knowing your vehicle and how it will react in various situations, requires an understanding of vehicle dynamics, which does require some knowledge which is not usually provided through ‘on-road’ driving courses.