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J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.
“Since implementing the Smith System training program, we have reduced the number of accidents, particularly catastrophic accidents, despite increasing the number of drivers over the last six years.”
Charles (Chuck) Conklin
Director of Safety
J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.
J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. began offering transportation service in 1969 with five trucks and seven refrigerated trailers and has grown to become one of the largest transportation logistics companies in North America. The company operates more than 10,000 tractors, 49,000 trailers, and employs approximately 16,000 people. J.B. Hunt focuses on the safe and reliable transport of freight to a diverse group of customers throughout the continental United States, Canada and Mexico. Business segments include Dedicated Contract Services, Intermodal and Dry Van.
The current risk management environment is very complex. There is a shortage of qualified drivers, which makes it challenging to hire and retain professional drivers. Increased litigation expenses, increasing jury awards, insurance premiums and increased deductible or self insurance are major issues as well. There is also on-road performance such as lowering DOT collisions as one criterion for deterring DOT audits. This is all magnified by regulatory oversight. Prior to 1997, defensive driver training for J.B. Hunt’s drivers was not always consistent despite the ever-present emphasis on safety. Each year the company utilized a different training program in an effort to keep things fresh.
“Because we changed training approaches so often, it became difficult for the training staff,” according to Chuck Conklin, Director of Safety at J.B. Hunt. “It also became confusing for our drivers and managers due to changing terminology, philosophy and program emphasis. To address this problem, we asked the companies that provided training in the past to come in and tell us why we should commit to their program over a longer period of time.”
Among other requirements, J.B. Hunt needed a results-oriented program from a company that was able to train, test and certify their inhouse trainers. “Before we sent them off to train our drivers, we wanted each trainer on our staff to learn good driving habits firsthand and to prove his or her proficiency in training and coaching professional drivers,” Conklin said. “Professionalism and knowledge of how to train and test our trainers were very important.”
After hearing numerous presentations, Conklin and the safety staff chose the Smith System training program. Each member of J.B. Hunt’s Executive Management Team completed the Smith System training prior to making the final decision. As part of J.B. Hunt’s implementation of the Smith System program, instructors completed an intensive five-day program, alternating between the classroom and on the road, learning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of drivers. Once a J.B. Hunt instructor acquired the information and skills needed to train drivers, Smith System trained them how to be effective instructors, including how to teach people with different personalities and learning styles.
“We liked the emphasis that Smith System places on being trained behind the wheel,” Conklin said. “It was the only program offering both classroom and in-vehicle training. We were also impressed by the level of professionalism and numerous training materials they provided. They are some of the best trained and most knowledgeable instructors that we have experienced.”
After becoming Smith System certified, the J.B. Hunt instructors trained all 12,000 drivers in the company over a 6 month period. Today, there are ongoing classes for new drivers just joining J.B. Hunt as well as other key employees, such as fleet managers, who need to be knowledgeable about the Smith System training. Additionally, each driver is re-trained and re-certified at least every three years.
Starting in 2006, J.B. Hunt began re-certification of all operational management in the Smith System training. “We’re going to have to start early and stay late but it will be worth it in the long run,” said Conklin.
Safety isn’t just a word at J. B. Hunt. It’s a culture, and J.B. Hunt has consistently set the pace for safety in the trucking transportation industry by establishing itself as one of the safest carriers in North America.
15/7 Saves Lives
In addition to teaching eye-mind coordination that prevents collisions before they happen, the Smith System program has incorporated J.B. Hunt's '15/7 Saves Lives' credo into the training. This credo emphasizes the importance of a 15-second eye lead time and a 7-second following distance and teaches drivers how to anticipate the situation and stay focused as a way to prevent accidents.
“Greater visibility and more space between vehicles means drivers have more time to react,” said Conklin. “Everyone knows this at some level, but the difference is that we teach this as a deliberate strategy.”
It’s no surprise that J.B. Hunt is one of the safest carriers in the nation based on a review of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) SafeStat information system. The company has instilled a multi-faceted “safety culture” that has produced superior results. Since implementing the Smith System, the company has increased the number of drivers to more than 12,000 while substantially decreasing the collision frequency.
Perhaps most important is the role that Smith System and J.B. Hunt’s safety culture has played in reducing the company’s catastrophic collision rate. Though Conklin can not specifically attribute this reduction to the Smith System alone, he notes that DOT collisions have decreased by more than 50% since 1996 and continued to fall following implementation of the Smith System training.
“By lowering DOT collisions we have reduced injuries, because we’re not involved in the larger, more serious accidents. There’s no question that Smith System has contributed significantly to this downward trend. This in turn has helped to control our claims and insurance costs.”
“The Smith System defensive driving training is a big part of our safety culture, and it has helped us set the pace for the transportation industry,” Conklin continued. “It is also a very popular program with our drivers. They like it because it makes sense, they are able to learn from their peers and it works to reduce collisions.”
Conklin acknowledges that even million-mile drivers – drivers who have driven a million miles without an accident – often come away from the training with valuable new skills. “I observed one Smith System class where a student observer criticized a veteran driver. The veteran driver who was being critiqued turned to the more junior observer and said, ‘I thought you were my friend, why are you being so critical?’ To which his friend said, ‘I am your friend, and that’s why I’m being so hard on you. I want you to be safe.’”