The COVID-19 pandemic has every business revisiting long-established operational protocols to ensure the safety of its employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders.
For over 20 years, PARS’ drivers have played a critical role in delivering a superior customer experience, and we have continuously invested in tools and technology to support them.
However, this crisis made it clear that protecting the health of these front-line workers required extraordinary safety steps for both vehicle pickup and delivery. The following article provides “best practices” for every fleet to sanitize vehicles and protect their own drivers.
Early Sanitizing Recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
In early April, the CDC recommended the use of alcohol as a sanitizing agent for hard surfaces. Other chemicals were too harsh for a car’s interior surface or too toxic to use inside a car’s cabin. The agency specified a concentration of 70% or higher concentration, applied for 30 seconds to decontaminate a surface.
In late May, the CDC restated its recommendation that people should continue to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces that could be harboring the virus. That statement was in response to news that the transmission of the virus from contaminated surfaces to persons was still undocumented. The agency noted, “Current evidence suggests that COVID-19 virus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
Following CDC recommendations, companies are providing drivers with sanitizing wipes and instructions for proper sanitizing of any vehicle. The following four steps are “best practices” for drivers:
- Drivers should wash their hands before and after driving, plan their journey with prearranged stops and interactions in mind, and bring all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid contamination, including mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, and alcohol-based wipes. Wear gloves when possible outside of your vehicle, especially when fueling. Pumps, keypads and other surfaces are frequently touched and may not have been sanitized. When possible, use contactless payment methods to avoid touching keypads or pens. Consider using knuckles rather than fingertips to touch common-use contact areas.
- Drivers should conduct a pre-start check that includes hygiene management. Many of the same household cleaners that kill coronavirus on hard surfaces at home can also clean most car interiors without causing damage but don’t use scented wipes or wipes containing bleach. Don’t use ammonia-based cleaners on car touch screens or dashboards, as they can damage anti-glare and anti-fingerprint coatings. Nearly every interior surface of a vehicle can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol, and vigorous washing with soap and water can also destroy coronavirus, but be careful not to saturate the surfaces. When using wipes, remove excess liquid before wiping surfaces, especially electrical components and touch screens.
- Drivers should sanitize vehicle high-touch areas, including keys and fobs; door handles; latches; lock buttons; steering wheel; shift lever; buttons or touch screens; wiper and turn signal stalks; center console; cup holders; driver and passenger armrests; seat belts; grab handles; seat adjusters; headrests; seat pockets, and the rear-view mirror.
- When finished driving the vehicle for the day, drivers should thoroughly wipe down the vehicle with disinfectant wipes or other appropriate cleaning solutions. When leaving, the driver should remove and dispose of used wipes.
The Order Process Prevents Driver and Customer Contamination
PARS has utilized a mobile driver app for the past few years, and it has allowed us to employ the technology for contact-free pickup and delivery.
The first important step requires customers to inform us when placing an order if the vehicle had been occupied by anyone who had COVID-19 symptoms prior to or after vehicle pickup. If so, the vehicle must either stay in place for 72 hours. If that’s not possible, professional decontamination is necessary.
Because PARS drivers deliver vehicles that meet or exceed our clients’ high standards for transported vehicle condition, sanitizing a vehicle is often an important prerequisite to vehicle delivery.
Professional Sanitizing Process
There is a difference between cleaning and sanitizing a vehicle. Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Cleaning uses soap, detergents, cleansers, and clean water before using a disinfecting method.
Sanitizing, or disinfecting, is typically performed using approved commercial or household disinfecting solutions. Finally, professional cleaning and disinfecting refers to the most comprehensive use and application of chemicals to kill germs on surfaces.
PARS’ sanitizing partners can go to a vehicle site typically within 24 hours of notification and take the following steps to disinfect the vehicle:
- The technician dons appropriate PPE, including N95 filtering facepiece (per CDC guidelines), eye protection or face shield, disposable gown or full, non-porous body covering, and gloves.
- An EPA- (or, Health Canada-) recommended disinfectant and associated dwell time are used to clean and disinfect, the FOB/key first, outside of the car, all doors, including door handles, window frames, and all hard interior high-touch items.
- Trash and debris are removed and a vacuum with HEPA filtration is used to remove dust, dirt, and debris.
- All vertical and horizontal surfaces are cleaned using a detergent or soap and water before the application of a disinfectant.
- Seats and carpet flooring are cleaned and disinfected. For cloth upholstered seating, it’s recommended to use water extraction (using water to the highest temperature possible attempting to achieve 160 degrees Farenheit) for cleaning. Once done, the seat is covered with protective plastic.
- When this is complete, the technician rolls up windows, shuts doors, turns the car on and runs heater at maximum temperature for 30 minutes. The heat helps to dry the product on cloth surfaces and can be effective in the disinfection process.
- Finally, it is recommended to restrict access to the vehicle for at least three days.
It is clear that, despite changing COVID-19 conditions from state to state, every fleet operation now needs to expand the definition of driver safety to include the prevention of driver exposure to viruses.
As more is discovered about COVID-19, further adaptation may be necessary, but as described here, these “best practices” afford protection today.
About the Author: Lori Rasmussen is president and CEO of PARS. She oversees all aspects of the organization, working closely with the company’s operations and customer service teams. In addition to her responsibilities at PARS, she volunteers with various professional fleet industry associations, including the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA).