The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Public Sector Fleets: Driver's License Checks Are Crucial

December 2007, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

The City of Coppell, Texas, gets the big picture about fleet safety. It’s not only a dollars-and-cents issue, but also a moral issue of keeping drivers – and the citizens with whom they interact – safe. A cornerstone to an effective fleet safety program is an annual driver’s license check on anyone who might operate a fleet vehicle. You might be surprised how many employees have no driver’s license, or have DUIs, or serious driving infractions.

Another fleet that gets the big picture is the University of Minnesota, which recently started a driver record check program. It gathered the names of all 2,500 people who drive permanently assigned vehicles and checked their driving records. It also mandated that all drivers attend driver training.

The City of Ft. Collins, Colo., also does an annual check on all employees who might drive a vehicle (city-owned or their personal vehicle) on city business. Each driver’s record is reviewed and if an employee has multiple moving violations, the City of Ft. Collins risk department strongly “suggests” to the supervisor that the employee take either an online defensive driving course or the city’s sit-down class.

Drivers who hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) are reviewed annually to see if they have committed a “disqualifying offense” as defined by parts 383 and 391 of DOT regs. A new twist is that an employee who gets arrested for a DUI in their personal vehicle loses the right to drive a commercial motor vehicle for one year.

Other cities monitor drivers even more frequently. For instance, the City of Littleton, Colo., monitors driving records monthly for everyone who drives city vehicles.

In addition, employee/employer pull notice or driver pull notice programs provide a mechanism to address driver-based safety concerns by enabling regulatory agencies to notify employers of changes to a driver’s CDL record in a timely manner. Employers are not always notified about CDL driver convictions in a timely manner and, therefore are unable to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

Worth the Expense
Although a number of political subdivisions employ driver’s license checks, it is far from universal. Often, governments do not see the cost justification of such a program. One reason is that public sector vehicles, particularly those operated by municipalities, travel fewer than 10,000 miles per year. However, municipal vehicles drive primarily in high-density urban traffic, which increases accident risk exposure. Although hard to quantify, common sense says that every accident prevented represents dollars that go straight to the bottom line of a fleet budget. Reducing the number of preventable accidents presents a huge opportunity to reduce fleet costs.

The industry average cost to repair a fleet vehicle involved in an accident is $1,848. Nowadays, even the simplest fender bender costs $500 or more. When other accident costs are included, such as liability, Workers’ Comp, legal expense, third-party litigation, equipment downtime, and other indirect expenses, the total cost exceeds $10,000 per incident. In fleet management, few areas remain where dramatic savings can be achieved by simply reducing the number of preventable accidents.

Some state DMVs have programs in place that help facilitate driver’s license checks. In Oregon, the Department of Motor Vehicles has a system called “Auto Flag.” The city of Eugene, Ore., enters an employee into the system when they are employed and if they will drive a city vehicle. It costs a few dollars per employee. After that, if an employee has any subsequent activity on his or her driving record, the city is notified. This eliminates the need of annual checking.

Indicator of Future Driving
An employee’s motor vehicle record is a written indicator of future driving behavior and predictor of future risk. Overall, an average of 20 percent of all drivers, regardless of tenure, will be responsible for 80 percent of a fleet’s accidents. It is important to identify this risk and your fleet’s liability exposure. What if an accident occurs that involves injuries or a fatality? When a preventable or negligent accident occurs with a fleet vehicle that involves injuries, there are usually punitive damages, in addition to actual damages.

Jury awards in negligent entrustment cases are often huge. Government fleets are particularly vulnerable to high-profile incidents. For instance, the City of Tampa was ordered to pay a nearly $18 million jury award to a man who collided with a city water department truck – the largest award ever against the city. The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the water department truck caused the crash by veering across three lanes of traffic. In another example, the City of Detroit, in two separate lawsuits, paid $5.5 million and $3.9 million for accidents involving water department vehicles.

The Right Thing to Do
Every fleet safety program should include driver’s license checks to ensure the workforce is comprised of safe drivers. Fleet policy should clearly define the number of violations an employee can accumulate before losing driving privileges. Failure to take remedial action could create exposure for a negligent entrustment lawsuit. A fleet must know the driving histories of all its drivers. If you do not know, you are just waiting for trouble to happen. But more importantly, it is the “right thing” to do, especially if these actions prevent a fatality or debilitating injury.

Let me know what you think.

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