A drive for safe and productive trucking in India

One of the highest rates of fatal road accidents is in India, where more than 231,000 people lose their lives on the roads very year. This terrible statistic gets worse: approximately 65 per cent of fatal crashes in India are caused by trucks. Besides the obvious direct consequences – the lives lost, the injuries sustained, the liabilities incurred – there’s also a negative effect on the productivity of the trucking company. But research led by Dr Debjit Roy, of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) and Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) has uncovered how truck drivers – and truck fleet managers – can reduce this terrible toll on lives and on business.

Approximately 65 per cent of all freight transport is carried on India’s seriously congested roads that bring a trucks’ average speed down to around 35 km/h, even on highways. This is what makes combining productive driving with safe driving especially challenging. Trucking in India is complicated by the fact that India faces a severe shortage of professional truck drivers. It is estimated that there are only about 750 drivers for every 1,000 trucks, so trucking companies and truck drivers are under enormous pressure to keep the wheels turning, often by driving through the night.

The trucking company whose data was used by Dr Roy believed that avoiding night driving would reduce productivity and increase transit time. But to their surprise, the study indicated that safety conscious drivers – who drove less at night – were also more productive.

Other findings from the research were equally enlightening for trucking companies, and may well be incorporated into more trucking companies’ driving practices – plus the management of haulage companies and fleets, and also into management and leadership styles in the industry.

What drives these terrible statistics?

The study first aimed to understand the driving concerns on the Indian highways. While many of the safety concerns stem from issues related to infrastructure, others relate to drivers’ personalities, not following driving rules, and drivers getting too little rest between trips (Roy et al., 2016).

Truck drivers also have to meet clients’ often-stringent timelines, and satisfy fleet operators’ desire for high productivity. Debjit Roy, who is an associate professor of Logistics and Operations Management at RSM, explains: “We realised that understanding the factors that affect drivers’ safety and productivity will be a first step towards improving their safety, productivity, and overall job conditions.”

Small changes for safer driving

The research used empirical techniques and big data to establish the role of the drivers’ personal characteristics, and the role of a focus on safety in company leadership. Then they could work out what influences safe driving behaviour and productivity for short and long-haul truck driving. They discovered that small changes in several different parts of the business can have a beneficial effect. They suggested changes in recruitment practices, identifying who needs training, scheduling trips, and leadership styles for fleet managers.

The relationship between driver characteristics and objective performance outcomes was investigated by collecting data from several of India’s major transport companies. The researchers used three sources of data: the transport company’s ERP databases that provide an integrated and continuously updated view of core business processes, plus the company’s GPS database, and a survey of truck drivers.

The researchers managed to collect data about productivity (total driving time) and safety (by collecting data about speeds driven) from more than a 1,000 trips driven by more than 100 drivers. These drivers also completed the survey.

Who’s unsafe?

Surprisingly, the results revealed that highly conscientious drivers are more likely to engage in unsafe driving behaviour, and that more safety conscious drivers can complete their trips faster. What also emerged from analysis of the data was that the way that managers show leadership to their truck drivers in matters of safety affects the productivity of long-haul trips. This finding suggests that even without physical proximity, managers in truck transportation are capable of influencing the work behaviour of employees.

Better for truck drivers

This is a significant finding that can help improve conditions for thousands of truck drivers, particularly for vulnerable drivers on long-haul trips in challenging environments. Debjit explains: “The company that allowed us to use its data for our research believed that avoiding night driving would reduce productivity and increase transit time. But to their surprise, the study indicated that safety conscious drivers – who drove less at night – were also more productive. “

“Since we finished the study, the company has reduced the amount of night driving resulting in fewer accidents without increasing transit time. The company’s truck drivers also got fewer speeding tickets.”

“They even plan to integrate the findings of our study in their driver recruitment process! We hope that fleet operators and their drivers benefit from appropriate interventions proposed by our study and improve driving conditions to save lives and also improve productivity.”

About the researchers

Jelle de Vries is  Assistant Professor, Rene de Koster is Professor of Logistics and Operations Management, Alexandros Pasparakis is PhD Candidate and Debjit Roy is Associate Professor of Logistics and Operations Management in the Department of Technology and Operations Management at RSM.

This article draws its inspiration from the book and papers:

Roy, D. ,Raghuram, G, Jain, R.,Tripathi, S.,Sharda, K., Trucking business management: cases and concepts, New Delhi McGraw-Hill Education, 2016, pp 296

De Vries, J., De Koster, M.B.M., Rijsdijk, S.A., Roy, D, Determinants of Safe and Productive Truck Driving: Empirical Evidence from Long-haul Cargo Transport. Transportation Research. Part E, The Logistics and Transportation Review, 97, 2017, 113-131

Pasparakis, A., De Vries, J, De Koster, M.B.M., Roy, D. In the Driver’s Seat: Leadership in Safe and Productive Truck Cargo Transport. Working Paper.

For more information about RSM or this article, please contact Irene Bosman, Media Officer for RSM, on +31 10 408 2028 or by email at bosman@rsm.nl.

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China. www.rsm.nl

Picture:  Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

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