- Photo: Gettyimages.com/DenisTangney Jr.

Photo: Gettyimages.com/DenisTangney Jr.

Three challenges consistently high on the list of objectives for many fleet managers are fleet safety, fuel management, and sustainability. The good news is that all three of these challenges are interrelated and represent an excellent opportunity for fleet managers to demonstrate their value to senior management by synergistically addressing all three simultaneously.

A  fleet best practice is to meld eco-driving and safe-driving techniques into a single program. In many ways, safe driving and eco-driving are one and the same, with both focused on modifying driver behavior. By making drivers safer and more fuel conscious, you will also decrease fuel consumption and the incident of preventable accidents.

Changing Driver Behavior

The biggest obstacle to fuel efficiency, fleet safety, and sustainability initiatives is often the company drivers themselves. By training drivers to practice safe driving techniques, you will also contribute to reduced fuel consumption and decreased emissions. A safe driving program allows a company to leverage constrained resources and reduce liability exposure by lowering the incidence of preventable accidents.

Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year and driver behavior is a major influence in both the incident of a preventable accident and fuel consumption. There’s a direct correlation between safe driving and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The safer the driver, the fewer preventable accidents, the greater the fuel efficiency and the lower the GHG emissions.

How employees drive a company vehicle determines how safe they will be on the road. The same is true in terms of sustainability. A corporate sustainability program will not succeed without driver participation. How an employee drives a vehicle can improve (or decrease) fuel economy and decrease (or increase) emissions. In fact, up to 30% of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency is impacted by driver behavior. The way an employee drives makes a significant difference in the volume of GHG emissions emitted by a company vehicle, regardless of vehicle size or engine displacement. For example, every unnecessary gallon of gasoline burned by a car creates 19.5 lbs. of CO2. The same is true for trucks — every unnecessary gallon of diesel burned creates 22.1 lbs. of CO2.

When striving to modify driver behavior, there are fundamental areas fleet managers should focus on and communicate to their drivers. For example, aggressive driving (such as speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking) can lower fuel economy by 33% at highway speeds and by 5% on city streets. A typical fleet sedan consumes half a gallon of fuel for every hour spent idling. Likewise, by monitoring and maintaining manufacturer-recommended tire inflation, you can improve fuel economy by up to 3.3%.

Fuel management initiatives are doomed if drivers do not comply. The way employees drive company vehicles can either improve or decrease fuel consumption.

If the potential for fuel efficiency is constrained by equipment requirements, the alternate strategy to achieving corporate sustainability objectives is modifying driver behavior. This represents the greatest opportunity for fleet managers to green their fleets. The way an employee drives determines the volume of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emissions produced by a company vehicle. Even if a vehicle’s EPA fuel economy is rated high, aggressive and inefficient driving can substantially degrade a vehicle’s fuel economy.

If you change driving behavior, you have a direct impact on the safety-consciousness of your drivers, the amount of fuel consumed, and the volume of emissions. The net result of making employees safer drivers is a reduction in GHG emissions. To illustrate, consider that the greatest amount of GHG emissions occurs during aggressive driving. Less than a minute of high-powered driving produces the same volume of GHG as a half hour of normal driving. Even small increases in mpg can yield substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet. By limiting acceleration and fast braking, a driver can increase fuel economy and minimize the potential of a preventable accident.

Route planning is an important component of eco-safe driving. Stop-and-go driving burns fuel more quickly, increases emissions, and, from a safety perspective, increases the probability of being involved in a rear-end collision. By pre-planning trips to minimize stop-and-go driving, you can reduce emissions. It is important to remember the highest volume of emissions occurs when starting a cold engine. Eco-safe driving encourages combining several short trips into one. Since a catalytic converter must be heated to a certain temperature to work, fewer emissions are produced during longer trips because the engine is warmed up.

In addition, fleet managers are feeling pressure from other corporate departments to increase fleet driver safety. For instance, corporate risk management has become more influential in the types of vehicles added to fleet selectors. Some corporate risk management departments dictate that only models with NHTSA 5-Star ratings can be added to a fleet selector.

Another department with a growing influence on fleet safety is Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) because drivers are one of the largest sources of workers’ comp claims. Under OSHA regs, an employer must provide a workplace free from hazards and company vehicles are considered a workplace. Good ergonomics contributes to accident avoidance. Poor ergonomics reduces driver comfort, which increases fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents.

There are many other factors that influence the success of a corporate fleet safety program.

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Onboard Vehicle Safety Technology: There is an ongoing assessment about the efficacy of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), such as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, etc. The question is whether the data demonstrates lower accident rates to support the investment in these safety options. Another issue is ensuring that drivers know how to fully utilize these various safety technologies, otherwise it negates their value.

Telematics and Data Analytics: How employees drive a vehicle determines how safe they will be on the road. If you can change driving behavior, you have a direct impact on driver safety. Telematics tracks compliance to fleet safety policies and identifies high-risk drivers. In addition, telematics technology continues to evolve. For instance, fleets are assessing bi-directional video systems with artificial intelligence to improve security and safety. However, even with the installation of telematics devices, drivers still continue to do things they shouldn’t, but now these high-risk drivers can be identified and infractions documented.

Distracted Driving Isn’t Abating: Driver distraction accounts for 25-30% of all fleet-related accidents. Eco-safe driving teaches drivers to avoid distractions and focus on driving. These driving habits likewise contribute to reduced fuel consumption and emissions. An eco-safe driving program allows a company to leverage constrained resources to simultaneously green its fleet and reduce its liability exposure by lowering the incident of preventable accidents.

Distracted driving remains the most significant ongoing risk that fleet managers must mitigate. Also related to distracted driving is fatigued driving. The reality is that today’s field employees are being pushed to do more with less, contributing to driver fatigue. Fleet managers must develop and implement policies and investigate the use of technologies to minimize in-vehicle distractions. However, there are often multiple devices in the vehicle – a company cellphone, personal phone, a navigation device, a company device for billing, etc. The bottom line is there are too many devices in a vehicle that can cause driver distraction. With the ease of making and receiving calls and texts, some believe we are losing the battle with driver distraction.

Recreational Marijuana: In addition to the concern about impaired driving, there is liability exposure with the use of recreational marijuana or its transport in a company car. This concern is growing as more states look to decriminalize marijuana use.

Gaps in MVR Reporting: It is difficult to stay current with MVR reports, especially in states with special requirements. Also, gaps between annual or semi-annual MVR checks can create liability exposure. As a result, many fleets are turning to continuous MVR reporting to minimize negligent entrustment liability.

Preventable Accidents: Accident repairs are a major expense for fleets, representing, on average, 14% of total fleet costs. Fleet accident rates average around 20%, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, even higher. Of the 20% of vehicles involved in an accident, about 40% are involved in preventable accidents. If 40% of all accidents are preventable, this is a huge opportunity to reduce costs.

Fleet Safety Policy: It is important to communicate a documented fleet safety policy to set clear and consistent expectations of drivers. It is critical that senior management is vocal in its support of the fleet safety policy. Policies should be updated regularly for new developments such as COVID-19 safety protocols and consistently enforced without exceptions.

Managing High-Risk Drivers: Having a fleet safety policy is not enough, you need to consistently enforce it, as well as hold drivers accountable. Most fleets have implemented safety training programs and technology to modify unsafe driving behaviors, such as in-vehicle cameras for driver coaching. A key challenge is keeping safety top of mind in a high-turnover environment where driving isn’t the main responsibility.

Budgeting Process: While management often talks a good game about the value of fleet safety programs, getting them to put money behind it is another story. Many fleets have budget restrictions and are not able to fund training programs or purchase optional safety equipment packages during new-vehicle ordering.

Ladder Safety Training: Fleets that have high employee turnover must continually train drivers on how to safely operate drop-down ladders and how to correctly lock them.

Pedestrians and Bicyclists: There is an increase in accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians and bicyclists. Drivers must be alert that pedestrians or bicyclists may not stop at stop signs or will unexpectedly cross the road outside of marked walkways.

A new report projects the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) rose to 2.2 deaths for the first six months of 2020 compared to 1.8 during the same period in 2019 — a staggering 20% increase.

Specifically, the report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) found that 2,957 pedestrians lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes from January through June 2020. That’s six more fatalities than the 2,951 in the same period in 2019, but the analysis also factors in a significant 16.5% reduction in VMT nationwide in 2020.

The report also evaluates data at the state level. While 27 states experienced increases in pedestrian fatalities in 2020, 20 states and D.C. saw decreases, and three had no change in fatalities from 2019. Noteworthy, seven states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina and Texas — accounted for over half (54%) of all pedestrian deaths.

Dumb Accidents: Despite all of the investments in fleet safety programs and technology, companies still experience dumb accidents, such as vehicle rollaways, box trucks hitting overhangs or awning, and inattentive parking lot accidents.

Although fleet safety can reduce fleet costs, the more important reason to make it your No. 1 job priority is because it’s the right thing to do. Your actions (or inactions) can be the difference that prevents (or contributes) to a family tragedy.

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