If your company is sued over a vehicle-related problem caused by an employee driver, it is important to know that the lawsuit decision may be based on prior precedents and exceptions you have made to your company vehicle policy.
Any time you make an exception to fleet policy in resolving a driver-related problem, you may potentially create a new problem that will come back to haunt you in the future. The last thing you want to do is to create a future problem in the course of resolving a current problem, and the surest way to do so is to make an exception to your company’s vehicle usage policy. An attorney can tear the most carefully developed fleet policy to shreds upon discovering the first precedent-setting exception and using it to argue negligent entrustment of a vehicle or negligent retention of an employee driver.
For instance, it is extremely important that the fleet policies governing the withdrawal of a company vehicle privilege be uniformly enforced for all employees. You should not set precedent by allowing exceptions, even if it involves a star salesperson or senior corporate officer. If your company becomes embroiled in litigation involving a company vehicle because of a problem driver, these exceptions and prior policy precedents will be used against you.
As the fleet manager, it is your responsibility to establish policies governing company vehicles and communicate them to employee drivers. Make fleet policy easily accessible by drivers and managers by posting it on the company intranet. Each of your drivers should know the rules governing the use of a company vehicle. Not only should your drivers be aware of these rules, but they must also understand what actions will be taken for non-compliance. Your drivers need to understand the circumstances under which the company may revoke the use of a company vehicle. In extreme situations, you will be responsible to withdraw a problem driver’s privilege of using a company vehicle. Some reasons (but not all) for withdrawing the company vehicle privilege are:
- A conviction or a guilty plea to driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.
- Abuse or misuse of the vehicle or failure to comply with the rules and procedures stipulated in your written company vehicle policy.
- A conviction for impaired or reckless driving, such as repeated citations for cell phone use while driving.
- Failure to remove ignition keys from the vehicle, which results in the vehicle being stolen or damaged.
- Operating the company vehicle in an unsafe condition after being notified of this unsafe condition and failing to take actions to correct the problem.
- Leaving the scene of an accident without making the required reports to the fleet department and appropriate law enforcement agency.
The point to stress is that these rules must be uniformly enforced to all employees. If litigation should occur as a result of an employee driving a company vehicle, the plaintiff’s attorney will ask to review your written fleet policy guidelines. Prior exceptions to fleet policy, if found, will render you and your company vulnerable to negligent entrustment or negligent retention allegations.
Your fleet policy should be a living document that is updated annually. As changes occur within your company, revise your procedures to reflect these changes. Likewise, eliminate those policies that have become outdated. What was right yesterday may not be right today.
When developing or reevaluating fleet policy, solicit the participation of all affected departments, such as sales, administration, purchasing, and accounting, along with all vehicle user groups. By involving them in the decision-making process, you will increase the likelihood of their buy-in and support of fleet policies. Also, as part of your annual fleet policy review, you should survey drivers to give them an opportunity to express their opinions or dissatisfaction about fleet policies that govern them.
Everything written on this page can be summarized in a one-sentence rule: There should be no exceptions to your company vehicle usage policies. This should be the First Commandment of any fleet policy.
As the fleet manager, it is up to you never to break this rule.
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