Fleet Safety Metrics:  Lagging Indicators vs. “Nagging” Indicators

By: Jim Ramirez

In his blog titled Measurement: Friend or Foe, world renown thought leader and recognized expert on management, Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D., wrote, “Measurement changes nothing unless it is associated with meaningful consequences to those being measured.”  This is especially true for fleet safety metrics, where the ability to influence driver behavior is the biggest challenge facing fleets.  Incentivizing driver behavior can help any fleet reduce their risk, including the risk of distracted driving. However, as Dr. Daniels put it, be aware of which metrics are friend or foe.  

Lagging Indicators & Fleet Safety KPIs

Many fleets today still measure safety performance in terms of lagging indicators, or outcome based metrics.  They measure performance in “after the fact” statistics that include:

  • Incidents per vehicle count [(Number of events X 12) divided by (Fleet size X Number of months in period covered)]
  • Incidents per million miles [(Number of events X 1,000,000) divided by (Number of miles driven in period covered)
  • Incidents per division or business unit
  • Year over year number of vehicle accidents
  • On road injuries per 200,000 hours worked (aligned to OSHA reporting)

The major pitfall to using lagging indicators of fleet safety performance is that they tell you how many accidents you had and how bad they were. However, they do not tell you how well your company is doing at preventing incidents and collisions. Furthermore, they give you no real insight to driver behavior.

The reactionary nature of lagging indicators in the fleet world also makes them a poor motivator. For example, when drivers are measured on accident rates, they may become complacent and put safety low on the priority list when they see KPIs or scorecards showing lower rates. Conversely, when rates are shown as increasing, drivers may be reluctant to report incidents or near misses for fear of retribution relative to departmental or business unit goals. This is when lagging indicators become nagging indicators.

Fleet Safety Trucks

Fleet Safety Leading Indicators

Modern fleet safety metrics now include many leading indicators of safety performance.  World-class fleet safety programs include KPIs that focus on management system metrics that measure what you want (proactive safety activity) versus what you do not want (accidents).  Leading indicators for fleet safety are now being developed around:

  • Driver training completion rates (including behind the wheel and online learning)
  • Driver Risk Levels or Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) scores
  • Score on supervisor “ride alongs” or on board coaching sessions
  • Fleet safety program audits
  • Predictive analytics
  • On board camera and telematics data (hard breaking, acceleration, cornering, driver texting, etc.)

Metrics centered on these and other processes are very important, but many drawbacks still exist.  For example, driver training by itself is truly a lagging indicator since it does not account for the quality of training or the retention of skill.  Telematics data cannot always paint an accurate picture of driver behavior (could a hard breaking event could be a lifesaving maneuver by a driver to avoid a road hazard?).  Furthermore, these measures do not account for the health of a fleet’s safety culture or employee engagement.

Fleet Safety Culture

Best Practices for Fleet Metrics

To improve the safety of your fleet, use a combination of leading and lagging indicators that are useful and easy to understand.   In addition, develop a fleet metrics strategy that:

  • Implements a system of meaningful rewards for drivers that provides incentives for proactive participation in the fleet safety program
  • Leverages fleet safety technology and uses data to motivate employees and strengthen company culture
  • Avoids over reliance on outcome-based metrics that can unintentionally drive the wrong behaviors and potentially damage company culture.  
  • Establishes baselines and tracks improvements in performance, even in small increments
  • Enables driver feedback and provides recognition for positive behavior and performance

There is no single metric for your fleet safety program that will allow you to set performance goals and improve driver engagement.  Only through a balanced use of leading and lagging indicators, along with the careful use of fleet safety technology, will your company achieve its safety goals and affect real change in driver performance.   

We’re interested in your thoughts on fleet safety metrics. Please comment below or connect with us on LinkedIn to share your ideas on measuring driver safety performance.



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