Because every fleet is unique, safety programs can vary widely from one organization to another. The safety program for a large municipal fleet might be very different than that of a small business with just a dozen vehicles. However, experts agree that there are some essential ingredients common to all effective fleet safety programs.
“Safety, and especially risk mitigation, with regard to vehicle safety is a top down center lead initiative. You've got to have a full suite of policies to support every decision that you're making and what the rules are for your drivers. They need to know what's expected of them. It must be data driven, you have to use technology, and it has be auditable,” said Rick Harland, assistant director, City of Austin, Fleet Mobility Services. “And, you have to set some KPIs for continuous improvement across the board at the highest level. That sets the framework that's going to be required to actually be successful on any level with any kind of safety program.”
During a recent webinar, a panel of three industry experts shared their insights on key ingredients that are vital for building an effective safety program. Here are some highlights from their discussion.
Buy-In – While many organizations struggle to gain employee buy-in on safety programs, experts say it is priority number one and it starts at the top. Moreover, buy-in is driven by the frontline, meaning your drivers and their direct supervisors. The experts say leaders need to walk the walk, which means getting drivers involved and taking their safety concerns seriously.
“It's about increasing transparency between the driver and then the direct managers and supervisors. You want input from the drivers as well as what they are concerned about, and you want to make sure that they are being heard,” said Alex Firl, associate product manager, Safety, at GPS Insight. “How that's addressed is dependent on the organization, but you want to make sure that they have that participation in the program.”
Sharing data with drivers so that they know they are working toward an overall goal of increasing a culture of safety is very important. Drivers should understand specific KPIs that the fleet is striving for so they recognize ways to bump up the score, say the experts. In addition, rewards and incentives — say for driving 100,000 miles accident-free, for example — can inspire your drivers to actively participate in the safety program.
Finally, when an accident does occur, it’s critical to engage in fact finding versus fault finding. To earn drivers’ buy-in to your safety program, you must treat them with respect even when something goes wrong.
“When people are doing accident investigations, a lot of times the managers are saying, ‘Oh, my gosh, that was the dumbest mistake ever. How are you so stupid to miss that stop sign or not buckle up?’” said Matt Camden, Senior Research Associate for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “And when we just kind of assigned fault by calling people stupid, or saying that was a dumb mistake, that just puts people on the defensive, and they are automatically not listening to the criticism or the opportunities to get better, because they're just being defensive.”
Consistency — A second key ingredient for an effective safety program is consistency. By that, the experts mean that rules and policies exist for a reason and they apply to everyone; there are no exceptions.
When policies are waived, said Camden, there can be grave consequences. Camden’s team conducted a study among commercial carriers to identify strategies that fleets have used to successfully reduce crashes and improve safety performance. The study also identified tactics that didn’t work — and being inconsistent with enforcing hiring criteria policies was one tactic that backfired.
“Right now it's really hard to find people to fill seats. So a lot of times carriers will make exceptions to their hiring criteria for drivers just to fill seats. And in a couple of the companies who participated in this study, they made exceptions to that — and those drivers were involved in collisions,” said Camden. “That is a recipe for disaster from a liability standpoint, and your safety performance. When those carriers stopped making those exceptions, their safety performance started to get better.”
Proactivity — Experts agree that being proactive is another critical element of a safety program that works. Essentially, that means anything you can do pre-crash to keep drivers safe. Utilizing technology — telematics, dash cameras, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) — is probably the biggest component of being proactive.
With telematics, fleet operators are able to track vehicles and use the diagnostic data to monitor speed, harsh braking, and other factors. “When you when gather that data and you're able to see it, then you can point out specific vehicles or areas where you can improve safety,” said Firl.
Video telematics options are also available. These give operators the benefit of actually seeing situations such as a harsh breaking event.
“If you look on a camera, you can get the context behind the event. Why did that driver do a harsh braking event? Was there something that flew into the middle of the road that they had to do a harsh break? Or did they do a harsh break just to avoid an accident, which is ultimately what we want to try and do — lower the amount of collisions and accidents that are happening,” said Firl.
Proper maintenance of vehicles is another way of being proactive. With telematics tools, fleet operators can log data and see when the vehicle was last worked on and if it’s due for a check. Maintenance is very important in upholding the safety aspect of the fleet.
Harland, who manages a fleet of 7,200 vehicles ranging from refuse trucks to police vehicles, says his organization relies heavily on camera and video technology. These include videos that are outward facing and an evidence collecting type camera to ADAS technology.
“Advanced driver assist systems like blind spot warning and lane departure warning and backup cameras and front end collision warning, these are all forms of camera systems, or our sonar type systems that are giving feedback to the driver,” said Harland. “We think all of those are critical in that before the accident happens if you can put this technology in and make sure you have it on the vehicle, then I think you're doing everything you can to help your drivers.”
The experts are big believers in the effectiveness of video monitoring cameras. They can get drivers to be safe on the road because it’s like they have someone watching them all the time. Moreover, video monitoring offers good documentation of what really occurred during any given incident.
With the implementation of AI, some of the cameras today are able to recognize when a driver is bringing the cell phone up to their ear and talking on the phone, or if they don't have their seatbelt on. And while ultimately that may improve safety, drivers may initially bristle at the technology.
“The important thing for drivers to know is that the cameras are there to help them improve their driving habits. Ultimately, it's not supposed to be a Big Brother. That's not the point and that's what needs to be communicated to drivers as well,” said Firl.
Evidence suggests that video monitoring cameras can play a very valuable role in a company’s safety program. In the study led by Camden, the carriers that did use video monitoring — along with multiple other safety strategies — saw a 53% to 66% reduction in incidences.
Training — Training is the basis for setting your safety culture — it’s a “must-have” ingredient for a successful program. Safety managers and fleet operators have an array of training to choose from — there's online training, classroom training, on the road training, video based coaching, using video telematics automated coaching alerts, and more. Experts say that the best training includes a mix of methods.
“Vehicle based technologies produce so much data on individual driver trends and driver safety. That's a wealth of information that managers and companies can use to train their drivers on the specific risks that particular driver has,” said Camden. “So telematics data, speed data, video go a long way. But it has to be done right. It has to be holding the driver accountable. Teaching them and framing training sessions in a positive light to keep drivers accountable.”
Video telematics can be an excellent driver coaching tool. With AI integrated, the camera picks up on specific events and deposits those alerts into specific coaching sessions for the driver that's assigned to that vehicle. Then, a supervisor can review that alert specifically with the driver.
A fleet manager can sit down with the driver and use both the data and the video feed to have an open discussion about what the company can do to help that employee improve their driving habits. The goal is to frame things in a positive way, while letting the driver know you have evidence that this is a negative habit you need to change.
“A fleet manager would say, I noticed that you were talking on your cell phone; here’s the alerts. This is something that we've caught you doing and we've seen it on the videos,” said Firl. “But you know, we'd like to try and curb that a little bit. We want to try and improve your safety and help you stay focused on the road. What can we do to help you in curbing that behavior and improve your driver behavior overall?”
Harland says the City of Austin uses all kinds of training — online, classroom, and good deal of specialty training. He also believes driver scorecards can be highly effective.
“When you hire people, you've got to make sure they have the proper endorsements. And that's a form of training too, for their driver's license,” said Harland. “And so we do an annual audit of all of our equipment and our drivers just to make sure they've got the proper endorsements. We do use a driver's scorecard.”
With a driver’s scorecard, Harland assesses all types of aggressive driving behaviors, from speeding violations to seatbelt violations and then provides drivers with that feedback
“We try to do it monthly. Because a lot of people don't realize how they're driving. They may be speeding and it just may be the way they've been operating for a long time,” said Harland. “There are a lot of habits that you've got to break. And it takes consistent feedback through let's say, the drivers scorecard or some of the telematics systems in order to break some of the bad behaviors.”
Ultimately, the experts agree that there is no perfect safety recipe. “Every fleet is unique, every set of drivers is unique. And you can't make a comparison to everybody else,” said Harland. “You've got to compare yourself to yourself, and where your baseline is today. Set those next improvement safety goals and then move forward and build programs to support those goals.”