Driver assistance system, such as backup sensors and blind spot monitoring, can induce drivers to rely less on proven safe driving behaviors. - Photo: Skica91/Pixabay

Driver assistance system, such as backup sensors and blind spot monitoring, can induce drivers to rely less on proven safe driving behaviors.

Photo: Skica91/Pixabay

There are two key pillars to all fleet safety programs: The first is managing the asset to ensure a vehicle is safe and the second is managing driver behavior while they are behind the wheel. Both are effective safety strategies, but there are limitations and constraints to an asset-focused fleet safety program.

Today’s fleet vehicles are the safest vehicles ever build. Traditionally, the latest vehicle safety equipment has been primarily found in higher end models. But this is changing as more and more OEMs are migrating their safety technology options downstream to less expensive models in their product portfolios. One reason for this change in vehicle content is that OEMs are responding to fleet manager requests to offer more safety technology options to vehicles typically ordered by fleets.

Despite this positive trend, there continues to be constraints in getting the latest safety technology in vehicles used by vocational service fleets, which typically operate full-size vans and other lower-trim level models.

Most service fleets tend to order the lowest trim level package on trucks and cars and often do not have the budget to acquire added cost OEM optional safety equipment, such as forward collision/automatic braking, or lane departure warning.

Increasingly, fleets are asking OEMs to offer Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), such as backup sensors, blind spot monitoring and hands-free communication, but find it difficult to do so when it substantially increases vehicle acquisition costs.

One unintended consequence of the proliferation of safety equipment and sensors is the increased cost to repair accident damaged vehicles. The higher repair cost is causing an increase in the number of vehicles being declared total loss because the repair cost exceeds residual value due to increased content of sensors and electronics that require replacement.

Concern that Safety Tech Will Create Driver Complacency

With the abundance of safety technology available in today’s vehicles, there is a concern that drivers will begin to over-rely on this technology. This over-reliance contributes to drivers not practicing proven safe driving techniques, such as a vehicle workaround before backing or looking over the shoulder when changing lanes and instead rely solely on the blind spot monitor.

Backup cameras are causing drivers to solely fixate on the screen forgetting that there are blind spots in the camera vision.

Many service vehicles are upfitted with laptops in the cab that allow the screen to be viewed while the vehicle is moving creating a new distraction.

One of the most frequent fleet accidents is being hit in the rear by another driver. ADAS technology can’t prevent this. Drivers can’t become complacent feeling that ADAS will keep them safe. They need to be visually aware of the surrounding environment and potential dangers around them.

The danger is that there is no standardization of safety equipment between OEMs and drivers may not fully understand how to fully use this technology as they are assigned new company vehicles.

There is a limit to how much you can modify asset before it begins to impact the fleet mission. Your business application necessitate a minimum equipment requirement for assets. The bottom line is you can’t change the fundamental requirements of your business.

If you are constrained by equipment limitations, the best way to achieve additional corporate cost control is by modifying driver behavior.

Changing Driver Behavior

Changing driver behavior is the key to long-term success. There are five principles to changing driver behavior.

Engagement. All stakeholders – from senior management to local supervisors – should be engaged in the process of managing driver behavior. To ensure success senior leadership must support the initiative and communicate that support to everyone within the organization.

Policy: 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 polices.

Training: New hires should receive onboarding assessments and training. Existing drivers should receive regular driver training to keep safety fresh in their minds. Violators should receive remedial training to help them improve deficient skills.

Measurement and Scoring: Organizations need to measure driving behavior through regular MVR checks and real-time evaluation of the driver provided by telematics. Drivers should be scored for their driving performance. Whenever a driver exceeds the organization’s threshold for a given data parameter, the driver should be assigned points. Points should be tracked, aggregated, and categorized in order to identify high-risk drivers, as well as consistently safe drivers.

Immediate Management Action: When an event occurs – whether it is an accident, an infraction, a violation, or exceeding a set organization threshold – it is critical that action be taken immediately to improve the driver’s behavior. The action may include driver training, supervisor coaching, or ride-along observations, but it needs to be immediate in order to reinforce safe driving expectations.

The safety message must be viewed as a message from senior management. All employees must have no doubt that the corporate fleet safety program is being championed by the president or CEO as the corporate safety culture. he message must be consistent and regularly reinforced throughout the year by all levels of management. Focus on at-risk drivers, field managers, and new-hires.

The safety culture policies must be clear and concise for everyone. Set the level of expectation from the beginning. There should be no gray areas in how policies are interpreted.

There should be no exceptions to violations regardless of rank or stature within the company. Everyone must be treated equally. Establish accountability.

The best approach is a carrot-and-stick strategy. Reward and recognize safe driving behavior. Institute accountability and consequences for unsafe driving behavior. The message must be that it is a privilege to driver a company vehicle, not an entitlement.

It is important to establish and communicate a written fleet safety policy and procedures to set clear and consistent expectations of drivers. It is critical that senior management is vocal in its support of the fleet safety policy. A safety program establishes the policies and procedures to ensure a safe work environment for employees and to help minimize liability resulting from vehicle accidents.

Establish clear hiring standards and a thorough screening process for anyone who drives on company business. Based on this policy, it is important for HR to screen applicants who would drive company vehicles.

It is important to make fleet policy flexible enough to cover unanticipated situations. If fleet policy lists prohibited vehicle uses, be sure to include a qualifying phrase “including but not limited to.”

It is important for a company to identify all employee drivers, even occasional drivers who are not assigned a company vehicle. Businesses are often not completely aware of the full extent of their non-company vehicle exposure.

Implementation and documentation are important to reduce a fleet’s legal liability. There must be evidence that training programs were implemented. Programs should be well documented including details as to when the training occurred, length of training, training topics, and whether there was testing of driver retention of the materials covered.

When liability claims occur, the ability to produce records can reduce the amount of a potential settlement.

The biggest deficiency in safety training programs is a lack of ongoing driver engagement. Safety training should be ongoing for all drivers regardless of seniority. They should be reminded and reinforced of the lessons learned in previous training sessions.

When experienced drivers received repeated defensive driving courses, they’re more likely to apply that training in an emergency.

Identifying At-Risk Drivers

One way to identify at-risk drivers is by using telematics. GPS-based telematics has come a long way from jut being a routing and location solution. Today, it can be used in concert with a fleet safety program to minimize risk associated with distracted and risky driving behaviors.

Telematics technology can help fleets modify driver behavior by helping to monitor, identify, and correct the underlying behavior that lead to increased risk, crashes, and liability exposure.

Telematics documents dangerous driving behaviors, such as aggressive driving, hard braking, hard cornering, sudden lane change allowing identification of drivers who need coaching or remedial driving skills.

Telematics can pinpoint the specific driving behavior 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.

Using Telematics to Improve KPIs

Telematics KPIs should focus on three categories:

  1. Safety – repeated acceleration, harsh braking, and speeding.
  2. Financial – Idle time, fuel consumption
  3. Compliance – Hours of service, authorized use of vehicle

A telematics safety program can measure, manage, and communicate these results.

It is crucial that drivers understand how they can impact corporate KPIs and improve their driving scorecard. Drivers will self-correct their driving behaviors to improve their scorecards. No one wants to have a low score.

Below-average scorecard drivers should be coached on how to improve their scores.

Other KPIs, such as idle time and fuel consumption, should be reported to managers on a monthly basis to show progress and identify areas for improvement.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving caused by cell phone usage is the biggest threat to any fleet, surpassing drunk driving. Drivers are multitasking while driving because they feel pressure from their immediate management to be accessible and to stay connected.

Many drivers use their smart phone for GPS navigation dividing their attention between the device and the road, while driving with one hand. Drivers are bringing their personal cell phones to bypass company prohibition on using the company-issued cell phone.

Accountability is critical to a successful safety program, especially for tampering with GPS devices, lack of seat belt use, and unauthorized use of the company vehicle.

Attaining Management Support

Senior management support is the key to success for a fleet safety program. The hard reality is that many senior managers do not consistently view fleet safety as a top priority.

When you talk with suppliers of fleet safety programs and related services, they point out that the “talk” often does not translate into action. Management interest in fleet safety ebbs and flows. Fleet safety is currently a hot button issue due to fleets experiencing an uptick in preventable accidents. The primary cause of the uptick is due to driver distraction.

Liability exposure resulting from preventable accidents has made senior management more sensitive to enforcing fleet safety policies. Unfortunately, this sensitivity sometimes arises after the fact following a lawsuit or fleet-related fatality.

 Industry studies show that accidents represent 14% of a fleet’s total expenses, although it is probably even higher since these studies do not take into account soft costs, such as downtime, lost employee productivity, etc.

Speaking “Finance”

Most company drivers average 20,000 miles per year and driver behavior is a major influence in both the probability of a preventable accident and fuel consumption.

If you change driving behavior, you have a direct impact on safety-consciousness of a driver, amount of fuel consumed, and volume of emissions.

The annual accident rate for fleets averages around 20%, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, even higher.

In terms of fleet safety programs, any vehicle-related accident should be viewed as a defect.  What company would view a 20% or more defect rate as acceptable?

Of the 20% of vehicles involved in an accident, about 40% are involved in preventable accidents due to driver negligence. If 40% of all accidents are preventable, this presents a huge opportunity to reduce what a fleet spends on accident-related costs.

Overall, accidents represent 14% of a fleet’s total expenses. Eliminating preventable accidents would lower the expense rate to just over 8%. In today’s fleet world, there are few areas where such dramatic cost savings can be achieved.

Melding Sustainability and Safety

An eco-safe driving program allows a company to leverage constrained resources to simultaneously green the fleet and reduce its liability exposure by lowering the incident of preventable accidents.

Paying attention is the key to safe driving and eco-driving helps drivers remain focused when they are behind the wheel.

Driving economically requires the driver to be more aware of their driving actions and surroundings.

With budgets constrained, eco-safe driving allows management to combine two programs into one that uses similar criteria. This allows a company to accomplish both goals, while minimizing pushback from management.

The net result of making employees safer drivers will result in a reduction in corporate GHG emissions.

A trend has been melding eco-driving and safe driving techniques into one program known as eco-safe driving. There are many similarities between safe-driving techniques and eco-driving.

Both focus on modifying driver behavior. There is a direct correlation between safe driving and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.The safer the driver, the lower the GHG emissions.

Examples of Eco-Driving

The greatest amount of GHG emissions occurs during aggressive driving.

A key principle of eco-safe driving is that by limiting acceleration and fast braking, a driver can increase fuel economy and minimize potential of preventable accidents.

Scanning ahead is a safe driving technique, but also allows see a light change, which allows for smoother, gradual stops. This reduces fuel use, wear on brakes, and decreases risk of being rear-ended because you are coming to a gradual stop vs. abrupt stop.

The accident rate for corporate fleets averages around 20%, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, even higher.

Driver distraction accounts for 25-30% of all fleet-related accidents.

Eco-safe driving teaches drivers to avoid distractions and focus on driving.

Maintaining Driver Engagement

Driver compliance is critical for all fleet programs.  All too often, managers attempt to control fleet costs on the backend. The best time to control cost is before it occurs and the way to do this is through establishing policies and procedures that inhibit unnecessary spending and establish the parameters as to how drivers operate and maintain an asset. By establishing fleet policies up-front for expense control and making a concerted effort to ensure these policies are uppermost in the minds of your drivers, you will reap substantial cost savings. Fleet policy institutionalizes the mechanisms to curb money-wasting behaviors.

Unless you have an enforcement program with incentives, the danger is that drivers will drift back to old behaviors. It has been proven that by using more “carrot than stick,” you can maintain these efficiencies over the longer-term.

For example, fuel management initiatives are doomed if drivers to not comply. The way employees drive company vehicles can either improve or decrease fuel consumption.

A corporate sustainability program will not succeed without driver participation. The way employees drive company vehicles can either improve or decrease emissions.

A safety program will not work if drivers do not comply with safety policy or do not modify bad driving behavior. The way employees drive company vehicles can either improve or decrease the incident of preventable accidents.

Driver participation and compliance is critical to the success of any fleet program. The way best ways to ensure driver participation is three-pronged:

  • Training
  • Policy Compliance
  • Technology

Hold quarterly safety meetings to reinforce the company safety policy, but also to solicit driver feedback, such as ways to minimize backing up accidents, and reinforce compliance with the fleet’s core safety values.

For new drivers, onboarding programs allow them an opportunity to get to know a fellow driver to discuss issues or ask questions they would not feel comfortable asking a manager. For veteran drivers, quarterly safety meetings helps avoid complacence and ensures they are up-to-date on the company’s safety standards.

Driver Recognition Programs

With recognition programs what are the pros and cons between tangible versus non-tangible recognition programs?

Monetary-based fleet safety incentive programs are well-intentioned efforts by companies to encourage drivers to maintain a high level safe driving practices.

Under the umbrella of monetary-based safety incentive programs is not just cash or bonuses, but also award merchandise, award trips, paid days off, upgraded vehicles or the availability of driver amenity options.

Fleet safety incentive programs may “dis-incentivize” the reporting of safety incidents. Some fleet safety incentive programs focus on group performance, which could bring peer pressure from other team members to under-report safety incidents.

Non-tangible awards may be more effective in motivating employees to be safer drivers. This can include recognition in a corporate meeting, a written commendation, visit or dinner with senior management, patches or badges if drivers wear uniforms, reserved parking spaces, or recognition using social media.

A successful fleet recognition program is tailored to the employee. What motivates an employee depends on the employee. The effectiveness of a safety recognition program is influenced by personality type. For instance, introverted personalities may not want public recognition and would prefer to be recognized privately.

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

View Bio