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Using Self-Monitoring for Drivers in a Behavior-Based Safety Process

By Don Nielsen, Ph.D.

Safe driving requires a number of simultaneous and often complex behaviors. The trend in accidents and injuries in many countries is increasing. Speeding and distractions are two of the many factors involved in accidents and injury.

Self-monitoring for drivers is an approach to change their behavior by manipulating antecedents, observing and recording target behaviors, and receiving feedback and consequences. There are basic elements to a self-monitoring approach. Drivers must have an understanding of the process and driver representatives need to be involved in the development of the process. Target behaviors are identified and a method for recording behaviors is developed. Once a baseline is established, attainable goals are identified along with behavior change strategies. As the process moves along, data is shared with employees.

There are some key features necessary to the development of a self-monitoring process for drivers. This process is valuable for promoting safety among these often isolated employees. It is essential to have upfront involvement of workers throughout the process.

Self-observation processes are different from peer observation processes in a few key ways. For example, safety checklists are typically much shorter than peer observation checklists. Observations are usually prompted by a supervisor or other employee by contacting the driver by cell phone, radio, pager, or other signalling device. The driver then completes the checklist at the next stop. Effort is made to randomize the time and day of the signal to complete an observation.

Research related to self-observation for drivers is somewhat limited. Olson and Austin used self-monitoring and feedback to increase safe driving by bus drivers (1). Improvements for drivers ranged from 2% to 42% over baseline.

In another study, Hickman and Geller used self-monitoring and computer recordings of data to improve driver’s behavior (2). Speeding was reduced by 19% and extreme braking was reduced by 49%.

There are several things to consider when developing checklists for self-observations. It is important to identify safe behaviors to monitor and what practices would prevent incidents. The format that will be easiest to use needs to be identified. Different checklists for different situations may need to be developed.

A self-observation checklist for drivers might include items such as the following:

  • Vehicle maintenance and condition
  • Dash/floor clear of clutter
  • Seat belts used
  • Maneuvering clearances

Each of these checklist items would include specific definitions.

Process specifics need to be identified. For example there needs to be a determination of how often and when observers will conduct observations. Who will supply checklists, where will the checklists be stored, and where will the completed checklists be deposited?

Once completed observation checklists begin to be collected, the data concerning the frequency of safe behaviors should be posted for the employees. The data will be used to determine goals for improvement and to provide an ongoing refinement of the safety process. Data will also be used to determine group and individual recognition.

There are several key features for this Values-Based Safety® approach and other safety processes that may be essential for success. For example, many safety processes ensure that the identity of the employee being observed is protected. It is also important that the process have a positive focus and provide immediate feedback to the employee being observed. With self-observation processes, employees can receive feedback based on their own observations. Supervisors can also use the completed observation form to provide feedback to the employee. Of course, keeping the process short and simple is helpful to increase the likelihood that employees will stay involved in the process. Many safety programs make the process voluntary and do not tie discipline into the observation process.

Using a steering committee to drive this process is preferred. A steering committee could manage the process in several ways. They could be responsible for developing and revising observation checklists, presenting safety data to employees, setting goals, and planning safety celebrations. Steering committee members could also model, encourage, and reinforce safe work behaviors. Training for steering committee members in each of these areas is essential.


  1. Olson R, Austin J. Behavior-based safety and working alone: The effects of a self-monitoring package on the safe performance of bus operators. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 2001, 21: 5-43.
  2. Hickman J, Geller E. Self-management to increase safe driving among short-haul truck drivers. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management 2003, 23: 1-20.