It is important to keep fleet safety visible and top-of-mind, not only with your high-risk drivers, but with all drivers. It’s critically important to foster a fleet safety culture and to reinforce the message with ongoing driver training and regular communication by:
- Sending e-mail reminders.
- Providing safety memos.
- Discussing behind-the-wheel safety at company meetings.
But the “low-hanging fruit” are your high-risk drivers, and it is imperative that you actively address these risks.
On average, 10% of fleet drivers are responsible for 40% of fleet crashes. A key challenge is keeping safety top of mind, especially in a high-turnover environment where driving isn’t the primary responsibility of the workforce.
Many fleets have implemented safety training programs and technology to modify unsafe driving behaviors, such as in-vehicle cameras for driver coaching, but more is needed.
In addition, having a fleet safety policy is not enough; you need to consistently enforce it, as well as hold all drivers accountable.
Fleet managers should check motor vehicle records (MVR) and accident histories of every driver in the fleet and non-employees who by fleet policy have the privilege to drive a company vehicle. This practice will allow you to find a group of drivers who have a high number of moving violations and have been involved in numerous crashes.
One way to identify at-risk drivers is using telematics.
Telematics technology can help fleets modify driver behavior by helping to monitor, identify, and correct the underlying behaviors that lead to increased risk, crashes, and liability exposure. Telematics documents dangerous driving behaviors, such as aggressive driving, hard braking, hard cornering, and sudden lane changes allowing identification of drivers who need coaching or remedial driving skills.
Telematics can pinpoint the specific driving behaviors that needs to be corrected. Because telematics monitoring is often in near-real-time, fleets can address these driving issues quickly before an incident occurs. Telematics tracks compliance to fleet safety policies and identifies high-risk drivers. 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 is No. 1 Issue
Distracted driving remains another significant ongoing risk that fleet managers must mitigate since it is the No. 1 cause of preventable fleet accidents.
A big challenge, especially in sales and service fleets, is controlling the use of screen electronics being used while driving, which create distractions and accidents. This is a touchy area, especially when you want to stop the use of the cell phone altogether while driving but even upper management at many companies argue that employees need to able to work on sales calls or teleconferences during long drives.
Fleet managers must develop and implement policies and investigate the use of technologies to minimize the growing number of in-vehicle distractions. Often, there are multiple devices in a work vehicle: a company cell phone, a personal phone, a navigation device, a company device for billing, etc.
The bottom line is there are too many devices in a work vehicle that can cause driver distraction. Most companies have a hands-free policy, but with the ease of making and receiving calls and texts, some believe we are losing the battle with driver distraction. Another form of in-cab distraction arises from infotainment systems and other technologies that drivers use while driving.
While everyone recognizes the danger of distracted driving, there is strong pressure from management and sales to allow use of electronic devices because their prohibition will impact productivity.
Asset vs. Driver Safety Focus
Too often, fleet managers tend to focus more on the asset instead of the driver when developing fleet safety programs.
The bottom line is you can’t change the fundamental requirements of your business, which necessitates specific asset requirements. If you are constrained by equipment limitations, the best way to enhance driver safety and minimize preventable accidents is by modifying driver behavior.
Fleet professionals need to think in terms of drivers and not just assets. From a risk standpoint there is no difference between a driver who is assigned a company car and a reimbursed driver who drives for the company using his or her personal vehicle – both can create corporate liability exposure.
Uptick in Preventable Accidents
The primary cause of the uptick in preventable accidents is due to driver distraction. Liability exposure (and out-of-court settlements) resulting from preventable accidents has made senior management more sensitive to enforcing fleet safety policies.
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 resulting from driver negligence. If 40% of all accidents are preventable, this presents a huge opportunity to reduce costs.
In addition to the ever-present concern about impaired driving, there is a growing liability exposure with the use of recreational marijuana or its transport in a company vehicle. This concern is growing among fleet managers as more states look to decriminalize marijuana use.
Currently, marijuana is either legal or decriminalized or can be used for medicinal reasons in all states except:
- South Carolina.
From a federal level, marijuana continues to be illegal.
Prohibitions about the use of medical marijuana while operating a company vehicle must be documented in writing and drivers must acknowledge receipt. In the final analysis, fleet policy must be a living document and updated regularly.
Gaps in MVR Reporting
MVRs give employers insight into their employees driving profiles. The report includes information about current license status, accident history, and record of driving violations.
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 during the intervening months.
Decreasing the gaps between MVR reports is always the goal. The shorter the gap between reports, the less risk. As a result, many fleets are turning to continuous MVR reporting to minimize potential negligent entrustment liability.
Communicating Fleet Policies
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. For many employees, the company vehicle is their workplace.
Consequently, it’s absolutely critical that an organization has a well-communicated policy in place that defines acceptable driving practices as well as standard driving performance expectations, and that drivers fully comprehend the organization’s policies.
Just because you have documented fleet policies and procedures doesn’t mean your users are following them. To ensure that fleet policy remains uppermost in the minds of users, it is important to regularly re-communicate it to them. When policy is constantly re-communicated, you will find that you spend less time discussing policy infractions with department heads and users.
Not only do you need to communicate it to them, but, more importantly, you need to re-communicate it on a regular basis. This is especially important in industries that experience a high turnover in employees.
One example is the need to provide ongoing ladder safety training to ensure all new employees are familiar with the operation of vehicle-mounted ladder racks and as a refresher for existing employees or those taking possession of a new vehicle. Past accidents have proven that fleets must continually train drivers on how to safely operate drop-down ladders and how to correctly lock them.
From vehicle safety featurest and telematics to behind-the-wheel training and online safety classes, there is an abundance of opportunities to have safety be a common daily topic and to continue to strive for improvements and updates in this space. Also, it is an opportunity to reward those drivers for good driving behavior.
A cornerstone of implementing an effective corporate fleet safety program is getting consensus from the many stakeholders involved with fleet. This oftentimes includes EHS (Environmental Health & Safety), HR, legal, risk, compliance, and sourcing/purchasing.
Fleet should seek out cross-collaboration opportunities with other departments. One cross-collaboration opportunity is with EHS, which is responsible for employee safety issues elsewhere in the company, such as the factory floor and workstation ergonomics. In recent years, EHS has been extending its reach into fleet because company drivers are one of the largest sources of workers’ comp claims.
Driver-related ergonomics issues that result in workers’ comp is on the rise at truck fleets. Vehicle ergonomics has a direct bearing on driver productivity, employee satisfaction, and frequency of workers’ comp claims. Optimized ergonomics can increase accident avoidance. Poor ergonomics increases driver discomfort, which increases fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents. There are numerous fleet-related safety issues whose responsibility invariably overlaps with other corporate departments. Companies need to address these issues and include their risk management, safety management, and legal teams in their conversations.
While senior 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. Fleet managers report that they struggle in getting management approval to move forward with some sort of a telematics program or mobile app.
Suppliers likewise report similar resistance. “This occurs every year; management want to improve safety but is unwilling to pay for telematics,” said one supplier who asked to be kept anonymous.