You remember the old adage, “safety first,” drilled into our minds by parents and teachers alike since the moment we first learned to walk. Likewise, driver safety has always been top priority among all company fleets. To ensure that employees safely operate vehicles — not only for themselves, but also for the safety of other motorists — companies continue to become more safetyconscious about driving distractions, from cell phone use to protecting drivers from loose or shifting cargo.

A survey of fleet managers from various corporations with large cargo and passenger van fleets reveals common practices in maintaining a safe fleet program. Most fleets have implemented mandatory driver safety education and training programs, and they screen drivers prior to employment. Additionally, some offer safety incentives, such as money or free use of a leased car for a year, to safe drivers.

Dependent upon a company’s budget, the majority of van fleets are equipped with anti-lock brakes, back-up alarms, automatic door locks, barriers or cages behind the driver seat, bolted or tied-down cargo, various mirrors, airbags, and fire extinguishers. Some are even equipped with OnStar systems.

Avaya: Secure Loose Cargo

With 1,925 mini-cargo vans and 243 full-size vans, Avaya, a global leader in communication systems, applications, and services based in Reston, Va., takes no chances when it comes to safety. Because Avaya drivers transport heavy boxes, equipment, manuals, and books, van interiors are completely stripped to provide more space, according to Fleet Manager Kathy Kent. A black heavyduty rubber mat lines van floors to protect loose wiring. Metal security screens are anchored between the van’s B-pillars to protect the driver from shifting cargo in the event of a sudden stop. Permanently secured racks and shelves and locking drawers are installed for organization and to prevent equipment from falling. Bungee-cord tie downs help secure cargo.

“We also equip our vans with automatic door locks and keyless entry so if a driver is in an alley and someone is chasing him, he doesn’t have to fumble around with keys,” says Kent. Additional safety precautions include a back-up alarm that beeps when the driver shifts to reverse, anti-lock breaks, and cruise control for longdistance driving.

Once drivers are placed on payroll, an online driver-training program is provided, and at its conclusion, drivers are tested on covered material. If a driver is charged with an accident, he or she must take a refresher course.

“We do MVRs (motor vehicle record checks) to make sure employees have a driver license,” says Kent. “Because we’re a fleet that’s located throughout the U.S., we have a process in place where twice a year, driver’s licenses are physically checked.”

A rear glass door and passenger sliding glass door are unique features implemented by Avaya to provide better visibility for drivers. “Most vans only have solid panels all the way around, so they have to rely solely on their mirrors.”

Because a majority of Avaya’s accidents occurred at either dusk or dawn, in 1995, the company switched its vans from a gray exterior to white, improving visibility for other drivers on the road.

“In a study on this issue, people said they didn’t see us because we blended in with the environment. Once we switched, the accident rate dropped,” says Kent.

State Farm Insurance: Ergonomically Speaking

State Farm’s fleet program, with approximately 2,293 cargo vans, features an online driving course for fleet operators that teaches such necessary skills as defensive driving techniques and awareness.

According to Margit Alderson, ergonomics specialist at State Farm, each van is equipped with an aftermarket sensor that provides audio and visual cues informing the driver when he or she approaches an object too closely, such as another vehicle.

Walk-through cages are used to protect drivers from possible projectile items, and mobile office settings are fastened and ladders secured on all State Farm vans. Ergonomically, vans are equipped with a desk and a chair to provide a safe and friendly environment for claims adjusters when writing estimates.

Distractions while driving, including use of cell phones and other electronic devices and eating, are a common problem and discouraged, says Alderson. State Farm is headquartered in Bloomington, Ill.

Safelite Glass: Drawing for Safety Incentives

The largest auto glass service in the U.S., Safelite, based in Columbus, Ohio, provides automotive glass replacement and repair services to more than 2.4 million customers every year. Safelite installs first-aid kits and fire extinguishers in each of its 2,900 vans.

According to John Beyer, risk manager, Safelite began rolling out its “coaching the van driver” program last year. “This allows employees who have not driven vans in the past and are unfamiliar with them to understand the differences in van driving before they operate our vans,” he says. “A large portion of the program also deals with defensive driving techniques. We have tightened our restrictions as far as who we allow, in terms of driving records, to become a driver for us.”

Safelite’s program consists of a point system mandating attendance at a National Safety Council defensive driving course if the driver accumulates a certain point total.

On the road, congestion in large urban areas and driver distractions are cause for worry among many drivers. “We as a company stay concerned that even though our drivers get to a point where they are well trained, they still have to deal with other people on the road who aren’t necessarily well trained,” says Beyer.

Safelite has recently emphasized driver safety by creating incentive programs. “We have a program that ties to vehicle accidents and workmen’s comp,” says Beyer. “We have four regions in our company and 79 work groups, and every week all work groups with no vehicle or workmen’s comp accidents qualify for a regional $500 safety-incentive drawing.”

Groups that achieve target incident rates are entered in a quarterly drawing to win a $5,000 safety incentive. Twice a year, employees who are vehicle and workmen’s comp accident-free qualify for a drawing in which the winner receives a one-year GM vehicle lease of the employee’s choice, with an OnStar system and gas privileges.

Comcast: Training for the Elements

In 2002, Comcast merged with AT&T Broadband and is the largest broadband cable network company in the U.S., serving more than 21 million customers in 41 states. Based in Philadelphia, Comcast has more than 10,000 vans and 30,000 total vehicles.

According to Chris Ellis, communications manager, Comcast uses a decentralized approach to instill safety programs that meet the needs of local service areas. “To do this, Comcast Corporate Safety develops baseline programs that are customized by our local management teams to meet expected conditions,” he says. “For example, driving programs are tailored to address local weather conditions, such as snow and ice.”

Comcast University, developed for drivers by the company’s training and development department, stresses consistent positive driving behavior techniques and defensive driving, as well as hands-on practical exercises. According to Ellis, many systems also utilize a “1-800-How’s My Driving” program to encourage safe driving.

Consistency is an important element of Comcast’s safety program, according to Ellis. The defensive driving program utilizes trainers who have completed a “train the trainer” program. Prior to hiring, the company conducts a motor-vehicle review and an initial drug test. Postaccident drug testing is also performed.

Like many companies, Comcast encourages employee feedback and, as a result, improved its Corporate Safety program by incorporating a two-part field component in its classroom-based defensive driving program. Drivers now obtain behind-the-wheel experience in a closed driving environment before moving to the open road with an instructor.

FedEx Express: Competition in Safety

Driver safety is such a priority at FedEx that the company has a safety division that develops and implements driver safety education and training programs. “We have certain standards that drivers must meet and maintain to be a FedEx driver,” says Ed Coleman, of the Air Operations/Environment department. “One of the programs is ride-alongs, in which management will ride with drivers as part of their evaluation process.”

Based in Memphis, Tenn., with more than 40,000 vans, FedEx promotes safe driving by encouraging drivers to participate in state truckdriving competitions. According to the company’s Web site, FedEx drivers have won several awards, including the Top Safety Award for three consecutive years, based on the lowest accident rate per million miles of operation, and have placed first in numerous state championships.

Competitions typically consist of a difficult driving skills and maneuvering test, pre-trip inspections, a personal interview, and a written examination covering vehicle operation and knowledge of federal safety regulations.

FedEx drivers who compete in and win at the national championships are eligible for awards through the company’s safe-driving awards program, The Chairman’s Challenge.

FedEx vans (with 600-900 cubic feet of cargo space) are generally equipped with three-point seat belts, a cart-stop, fold-up and split shelving, grab handles on doors, insulated floors, and non-slip bumpers. According to Scott Mugno, managing director of corporate safety, health, and fire prevention, FedEx was one of the first companies to install round rear mirrors on the back lefthand side of its vans. New vans with backing cameras will be added to the FedEx fleet soon.

The company’s Sprinter vans feature keyless entry locks, heat vents for cooling, and adjustable seats and pedals. The FedEx Safety Above All program is intended to reduce accidents and provides investigation when accidents do occur. This committee strives to stay proactive and is currently preparing employees for winter driving issues, says Mugno.

Driver safety is not an issue that can be overlooked, for obvious reasons. Maintaining a safe fleet requires common sense and driver skill. Loose cargo must be tightly secured to prevent shifting, and cages used to separate drivers from cargo. Vans should be serviced at least every 3,000 miles. Distractions, such as cell phone use while driving, must always be avoided. Additionally, fleet managers should adhere to a strict driver training and education program before allowing employees to get behind the wheel. Making vans safe for drivers and drivers safe for the road is an ongoing process.