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The Driver Debrief: The Catalyst for Better Truck Route Planning

To control fleet operating costs, businesses invest significant time and money in truck route planning to minimize miles and fuel and to maximize utilization of trucks and drivers.

The problem, however, is that they then fail to take the one critical step that ensures continuous improvement in route efficiency and cost control.

We’re talking about the driver debrief – a quick, post-route discussion with drivers to determine if routes went as planned and, if not, why not.

Avoiding the driver debrief is like a business spending $50,000 on advertising to grow its business and not asking how the ads performed. If you’re not regularly assessing routes with drivers, your routes are likely performing about as well as that poorly monitored advertising program.

Questions asked during a debrief will depend what the available data suggests about the route and how it deviated from plan. Some examples:

  • Why did you use so much fuel?
  • Why were you out for 10 hours instead of the planned 8?
  • Why did you take a different route to your third drop?

The answers may suggest a need for the driver to better follow the plan or a need to change the plan to align with the reality of driving conditions and time required at drop points.

What’s the downside of poor truck route planning?

The driver debrief is the linchpin of efficient truck routing. Ignore it and the consequences can be harsh in several key areas:

1. Profit drain 

Inefficient routing can inflate total fleet costs by 10%–30%. If you’ve got a 50-vehicle private delivery fleet, where each vehicle drives 40,000 miles/year, a 20% efficiency loss means $636,000 in lost profit annually. (For more information, download our eBook: Is Your Private Fleet a Drain on Company Profits?). Imagine finding that you can cut 100 miles every day or that, by reducing wait times at 2 or 3 customer sites, you can increase drops per driver by 10%?  Driver debriefs provide the data needed to assess improvement opportunities.

2. Decreased driver satisfaction 

It could be that planned routes are simply not realistic. If this is the case and there is no debrief that allows the driver to explain this, the driver will inevitably become frustrated and leave. In this tight driver market, keeping drivers happy is pretty important. Lose a driver and the costs are high. A study by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute found that the average cost of driver turnover is $8,234 per driver, including lost productivity, lost revenue, advertising, recruiting staff, training, sign-on bonuses and other elements.

3. Decreased customer satisfaction 

Let’s say there’s a problem at a drop point that you’re not aware of. A customer is holding the driver 35 minutes instead of the planned 10. That delay has a knock-on impact on all customers later in the delivery sequence. As we all know, today’s customers want faster, more precisely timed deliveries. Unless you proactively identify delivery problems and fix them, customers may decide to take their business elsewhere. A high price to pay for not investing a few minutes with a driver, post route.

The Impact of telematics on the driver debrief

The nature of the driver debrief will be very, very different depending on whether or not you have installed telematics in the cab and have this data integrated with your route planning software.

Without telematics, you are relying on the driver to record events manually, like when the route started and ended, the length of time for each drop, and any difficulties encountered along the way. For businesses where route planners depend on a driver’s memory and notes to assess route performance, it’s important that debriefs occur quickly since the driver won’t remember what happened 3-4 days before.

With telematics, your discussions with drivers will be based on known facts. There’s no hiding the fact that the driver went 20 miles off the planned route or took a 90-minute lunch break. The only question is why. Beyond GPS data, telematics also gives visibility to very granular data on truck performance, like idling rate or speeding events. This allows a fairly detailed level of analysis, with the potential to flag some key areas for improvement. Another benefit of integrating telematics data with route planning is that such systems can actually eliminate the need for the driver debrief. If the driver followed the plan and there were no anomalies, you can “green lane” the driver after his route and get him home early.

Telematics-aided debriefs can be very effective, but you DO NOT need integrated route planning and telematics to benefit from a solid driver debrief. Your driver can still tell you that they have been repeatedly kept waiting for 30 minutes at one customer location. For some companies, optimizing routes may be a two-step process that starts with automated pre-route planning and then evolves to allow the transportation manager to compare planned routes versus actual.

The best driver debriefs are collaborative, not confrontational

Driver debriefs are part art and part science.

Most companies understand the science part: identify deviations from plan and adjust accordingly to optimize the route for the next day.  The “art” of the driver debrief can be a little more nuanced and is an area where many companies fall down. Instead of creating a positive atmosphere for collaborative problem solving, some managers give the post-route Q&A a confrontational feel.

We have to remember: most truck drivers get into the profession because there is an element of freedom and independence. When businesses view post-route debriefs solely as a means to monitor drivers and hold them accountable, they strike a dissonant chord.

The best driver debriefs are not “us” vs. “them” discussions. They are about manager and driver teaming up to create a win-win outcome for better truck route planning.

  • Companies increase profits by reducing fleet operating costs.
  • Drivers improve their day’s work by helping planners create realistic routes with predicable finishing times

Interactions with drivers should underscore the value of their input and the collaborative nature of the debrief process. Drivers hold the key to continually fine tuning routes to both improve company performance and drivers’ quality of life.

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