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Professor Helps Pizza Delivery Drivers Drive Safely

BOONE — Pizza delivery drivers are among the most dangerous drivers on the road, according to Appalachian State University psychology professor Tim Ludwig.

“These drivers have four times the national average of accidents,” said Ludwig who has studied the industry for more than 12 years. “Most are paid on a commission basis, which sets up a reward system that rewards quicker, more dangerous driving.”

At any given time there are 150,000 pizza delivery drivers on the road, Ludwig said. The drivers are typically 18 to 24 years old, which puts them in a high-risk group for accidents.

Since the pizza industry experiences employee turnover rates as high as 75 percent, repeated training is essential to maintaining safe practices among drivers, Ludwig said. Ludwig provides questionnaires for the hiring process to help managers predict who will be a safer driver.

“Past driving records are the most obvious way to weed out poor drivers,” Ludwig said. “But psychologists have identified other predictors including temperament scales, impulsivity and road rage tests, and emotional awareness identifiers that can make the driver selection process more thorough.”

Ludwig and a team of Appalachian students help drivers improve safety in areas such as using turn signals, maintaining safe following distance and speed, coming to a complete stop and wearing seatbelts.

“These are the areas where drivers are the least safe,” Ludwig said. “So, that is where we focus our training and intervention programs.”

Working with Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Domino’s Pizza, Ludwig and his students meet with all the restaurant’s employees. Ludwig leads the group through a question and answer session, which allows the employees to set their own safety goals.

“Employee-led programs work best,” Ludwig said. “If it is mandated from management, we have found that it is followed less and sometimes even sabotaged.”

Using goal setting and feedback, Ludwig and his students create motivational posters and performance tracking systems based on what the employees do to drive more safely.

“From cooks to drivers everyone can help with safety,” Ludwig said. “We have cooks who not only focus on getting the pizza cooked on time, but they will remind drivers to buckle up as they leave.

“Peer support really makes a difference. It shows that everyone has bought into the importance of safety.”

Ludwig and his students monitor pizza delivery drivers for safety and report back to the group. Often reward systems are created that involve group or individual prizes.

“Individual rewards encourage people to excel, while group rewards create an element of peer pressure and even peer punishment, if you are not contributing to the goals,” Ludwig said.

Hawthorne Press will publish Ludwig’s book “Intervening to Improve the Safety of Occupational Driving” in November. The book aims to help managers understand how to make short haul drivers safer. Short haul drivers are those who drive less than 200 miles a day with no overnight stay. The category includes all types of delivery drivers from pizza to package to product.

“Long haul drivers are already relatively safe and committed to driving safely because this is their livelihood,” Ludwig said. “For the short haul driver, especially pizza delivery drivers, this is not a permanent job, so there is less commitment to safety.

“Twenty-two percent of all workplace fatalities are caused by car crashes, so this is an issue for everyone.”

The pizza industry has made positive changes during the past 15 years after being known for “death by delivery” accidents, Ludwig said. The industry focused on making pizzas quicker, stopped advertising the speed of delivery and restricted the delivery area.

Ludwig hopes to expand his safety training to manufacturers. He is searching for industries to begin working with to create training programs for machinery operators.

“Consultants make a lot of money for doing what we do for free,” Ludwig said. “If a company is willing to let us collect data for research, they can get quality safety training programs for free.”

To contact Ludwig, call (828) 262-2712 or e-mail