The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

10 Ways to Increase Driver Safety to Policy Compliance

October 2008, by Staff

Establishing a fleet safety policy is a good thing; outlining and publishing a document that details the rules and regulations attendant to the safe operation of company-provided vehicles is a foundation of a successful program.

The mere existence of such a policy, of course, is certainly no guarantee of success, any more so than a law against robbing banks ensures no banks will be robbed. Policy compliance brings success to the fleet program, and this is where some fleet managers become frustrated. Tracking compliance among hundreds, if not thousands of drivers spread over a large geographic area is no small task, particularly when little or no staff are available to assist and when some stakeholders are actively working against policy enforcement.

Fleet managers can take action, however, to help maximize compliance. These actions begin before the policy is even implemented and continue throughout the normal course of doing fleet business.

1. Include All Stakeholders When Developing Safety Policy

Different companies may have different stakeholders regarding safety policy, but every company has several. The fleet manager is the subject expert in developing the policy; however, a number of disciplines and/or departments generally have a stake in its implementation. For example:

Sales/Service. Most fleets fit into either of these categories, some into both, and no other stakeholder group is more invested in a safety policy.

Human Resources. Safety policy contains many issues and requirements of interest to HR — consequences for policy violations and hiring criteria are two of the more important.

Risk Management. Inevitably, fleet vehicles are involved in accidents. Some will be the driver’s fault, and a fleet policy must address each incident: how it is reported, how physical damage will be repaired, etc.

Legal. All safety policy issues carry the potential for legal action/review.

Senior Management. At the very least, senior management should review the policy document prior to implementation.

The overall point is that it is far easier to avoid future compliance problems if policy development is a team effort, involving all stakeholders.

2. Obtain Policy Endorsement at the Highest Management Level Possible

The logic behind this recommendation is very simple: when senior management (the so-called "C-level" — CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) has reviewed and endorsed a fleet safety policy document, the consequences of noncompliance are far more serious. It becomes more difficult for a mid-level manager to attempt to excuse a driver’s policy violation (which often happens) if the fleet manager can simply point to a memo or e-mail from the company president, approving the policy and charging the fleet manager with full authority to carry it out. Or, better still, make certain a copy of that endorsement is the first page in any rendition of the policy, electronic or hard copy.

3. Make Certain the Policy is Easily Accessed

In fairness to drivers, not all policy violations are willful, i.e., the driver knows the policy content and chooses to ignore it. Some are simply innocent ignorance, drivers who, faced with a decision, make the wrong one simply because he or she wasn’t aware of the correct option. Fortunately, today’s fleet managers have far more sophisticated tools at their disposal than their predecessors of even 10 or 15 years ago.

Not too long ago, a fleet policy was only published in hard copy as a booklet or other document kept in the vehicle’s glove compartment. Today, though a hard copy is still a good idea, fleet policy can be made accessible to drivers in other ways, 24 hours a day, seven days a week:

Intranet. Many companies maintain an employee-accessible Web site, where various department policies can be viewed. Posting fleet policy documents online not only keeps the information at drivers’ fingertips, it also facilitates making major or minor changes (as opposed to a policy manual kept in the vehicle).

A Fleet "Hot Line." One creative way policy can be made more accessible to drivers is via a fleet "hot line," an automated, toll-free number that drivers call for safety policy guidance. A prompted recording asks whether the question concerns procedures if the driver is involved in an accident, the policy for driving out of the country, how to obtain proof of insurance, etc. Nearly all drivers carry cell phones, so calling the hot line is a simple matter.

E-mail. E-mail has made mass communication fast and easy. Fleet managers can use e-mail to highlight various fleet policy matters. An e-mail blast entitled "What To Do in Case of an Accident," for example, reminds drivers what they must do and how to do it. Such e-mails can be sent at the fleet manager’s convenience. Further, a fleet manager can add to his or her e-mail signature a phrase such as "Questions about policy?" with a hotlink to the online policy site.

The more accessible the policy document, the less likely a driver will inadvertently violate policy simply because he or she didn’t know what to do.

4. Keep It Simple

As with any process, a simple, straightforward fleet policy helps with compliance. Here it is important to differentiate between policy and procedure. Policy is the "what," and procedure is the "how." For example, the policy might simply state, "A driver’s motor vehicle record will be obtained and reviewed every six months," while the procedure outlines the process, any communication of policy violation, etc.

A complex policy increases the possibility of errors even if the driver is attempting to comply. Provide a simple statement of policy, then an equally simple procedure by which a driver may comply.

5. Apply Policy Universally

During this step, fleet managers can experience some of the most frustrating policy compliance issues. The classic example is the, "But she’s our best salesperson," situation. It goes something like this: a driver has had previous accidents or a history of moving violations on a motor vehicle report. Fleet policy calls for clear consequences, i.e., revocation of personal use privileges, company car assignment, even up to termination.

At this point, the fleet manager notifies the driver and the driver’s supervisor of the policy violation and begins the steps to apply the consequences. Generally, at this point, the driver’s supervisor or even a more senior manager steps into the process, making the, "We can’t allow this; this driver is our best performer," or even the, "This is a very difficult position to fill," argument and "pulling rank" to void policy application in that instance.

This is a very destructive issue. The fleet driver world is a small one and word gets around. Once a driver has been let off the hook for serious policy violations, it becomes next to impossible for the fleet manager to enforce the policy for anyone else.

Effective fleet policy is applied consistently, without exception, at all levels. A senior VP whose car is compensatory must face the consequences of MVR violations or multiple accidents in exactly the same manner as the lowest level sales or service driver. This policy stance requires the kind of approval, sign-off, and endorsement of fleet policy at the highest level possible, in writing, as described in Tip #2. The approval should include wording by which the executive provides the fleet manager with full authority to enforce the policy and to report to him or her regularly.

In this manner, when the, "But she’s our best salesperson," excuse is given, the supervisor is simply reminded, with a copy of the endorsement if necessary, that the CEO (for example) has required the policy be applied without exception.

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