The case for every organization with a vehicle fleet to have a comprehensive and effective fleet safety program has never been stronger than it is right now. The average total cost per accident exceeds $16,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This doesn’t include the additional potential cost company fleets face from litigation since a company may bear the liability for a driver’s actions if the proper precautions have not been taken.
Given the country’s current litigious environment and the fact that juries generally are sympathetic to the plight of an injured individual when the defendant is a faceless corporate entity, the cost of that liability can run into millions of dollars. Other costs to consider include lost employee productivity and, in some scenarios, damage to a company’s public image.
Potential harm to the driver is an even bigger consideration. According to the National Safety Council, vehicle accidents are still the leading cause of work-related deaths.
Based on information from the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) combined with collision statistics compiled by Wheels Inc., companies, on average, see one out of every six vehicles involved in an accident each year. The grim reality is that certain industries, such as biotech and pharmaceutical, see accident rates as high as 20-30 percent or more annually.
Getting Started: Common Setbacks
The high impact of fleet vehicle accidents should act as a strong driver to develop and implement an effective fleet safety program. Every executive with responsibility for the corporate fleet must deal with the issues of risk, cost, and downtime. Despite the obvious need for a clearly communicated, comprehensive driver safety program, there are typically some barriers that must be overcome before any program can even begin.
First, while there is always general agreement that driver safety is important, it’s an issue that may not be in the front of the minds of key senior executives. It is necessary to sell safety as an important priority at the highest possible executive level. To achieve this objective, it is necessary to:
It is also important to recognize the variety of different managers and executives this issue touches. Stakeholders include the fleet management office, risk managers, human resource executives, legal staff and, of course, the drivers themselves.
In addition to getting support for a driver safety program across the multi-senior executive team, a strategy that calls for identifying organizational “wins” that can act as motivators for each decision-making group can be successful in winning organizational support. A human resource executive, for example, might be enlisted to help support the program by tying in a safety program that offers training to employees’ spouses as an employee benefit, while those in marketing may respond to the fact that such a program can improve the organization’s image as a good corporate citizen.
While safety program implementation will vary across organizations, keep in mind that, once you are discussing what the program should include rather than whether a program is needed, significant progress has already been made in overcoming organizational barriers.
Strategies that have proven successful in identifying specific program components include benchmarking what competitors are doing in terms of vehicle driver safety and requesting help from key decision-makers in researching a specific potential program component. These strategies can help create strong alignment internally about a proposed solution.
Leveraging the expertise available from an organization’s fleet management company is also recommended throughout development and implementation of a safety program. Wheels, for example, assists clients in multiple areas critical to such a program, including:
Fleet Safety Program Components
There are multiple paths to creating a safe fleet driving program. Building the program should take into account factors such as the fleet’s business application, business goals, and driver culture. At a high level, virtually every program in place today includes the following steps:
Each of these steps support the goals of ensuring that drivers stay safe and lowering liability risks by taking reasonable precautions to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring.
Developing a Safety Policy
Developing and publishing a written safe driving policy serves multiple purposes. First, it clearly spells out what is expected of the driver. Second, the existence of a written policy demonstrates that the organization has taken steps to put safe drivers on the road. Finally, the policy provides guidelines for those bearing the responsibility for promoting and enforcing fleet safety.
The policy typically includes an explanation of how the program works, expectations of good driving practices, and acceptable vehicle uses including a detailed explanation of personal use (if allowed).
The following list, while not all-inclusive, may serve as a springboard for information that should be included in a comprehensive written policy as you evaluate how the policy needs to align with both your fleet goals and other fleet policy components:
Monitoring Driver Performance
Assessing a driver’s performance through MVR checks and predicting future risks based on that assessment is the most common approach used by corporate fleets. MVR checks can be handled by the company’s fleet management firm during the hiring process or when an employee is initially provided with a company vehicle. Record checks should be done annually or more often for higher-risk drivers. Note that the Fair Credit Reporting Act governs the employer’s process for performing record checks. Additional information on this process is available at www.fts.gov/os/statues/fcra.htm.
Monitoring the performance of spouses/domestic partners and dependents (based on who is allowed to drive the company vehicle) is also an increasingly common practice. Inclusion of an employee’s family in other parts of the program, such as safe driver training, is also increasingly considered by those responsible for policy development.
Combining MVR checks with a risk points system and a driver risk profile scale can help standardize violation types across states/provinces and make it easier to identify highrisk drivers. Points are assigned based on the severity of a vehicle record violation, and the driver’s accumulated points equate to a certain risk level on the profile scale. Since the actions to take for each risk level are clearly defined, response consistency is measurably enhanced.
Other approaches to monitoring include reviewing collision data for at-fault accidents and utilizing technology in the form of location-based (GPS) data.
The response to driver violations varies depending on applicable laws, corporate culture, management commitment to the safety policy, and other human resource policies. The responses can run the gamut from placing a memo in the driver’s personnel file through temporarily eliminating driving privileges up to termination. Whatever the response, it is critical that it be applied consistently throughout the organization.
Providing Safe Vehicles
Ensuring that fleet vehicles are safe, both in terms of equipment and ongoing maintenance, is another key aspect of a successful safety program. Considerations when selecting vehicles include how the vehicle will be used and possible safety benefits from vehicle size, visibility to sides and rear, and other details specific to each organization.
Drivers can perform a role in vehicle safety by conducting a pretrip inspection to ensure proper working order. In addition, it is critical to adhere to the vehicle’s preventive maintenance schedule.
Providing Driver Safety Training
Safety training is a useful tool for reinforcing good driving practices. It also provides evidence of a company’s commitment to putting safe drivers on the road.
Training can be in the form of self-study or hands-on, with some organizations favoring a tiered approach where behind-the-wheel training is reserved for high-risk drivers.
Utilizing safety programs offered by a fleet management company supports consistent training delivery. Wheels, for example, provides online safety training, which makes it possible to select those topics relevant to a given fleet and provide the driver’s training over a period of weeks or months rather than condensing it into a single session. This approach validates findings that frequency and repetition of safety messages is as important as the message itself in reinforcing desired behavior.
Promoting Driver Safety Through Ongoing Communications.
It will come as no surprise to any executive responsible for communicating key information to the organization and external stakeholders that ongoing communication is a necessity for ensuring that information is accepted and retained. The same principle applies to driver safety communication.
Short e-mails or audio messages on relevant topics can promote safety awareness. Information such as the latest accident and safety statistics, seasonal suggestions for vehicle maintenance, topical issues such as cell phone usage, and reminders of the organization’s commitment to fleet safety are all relevant for a periodic communications program.
Promoting a safety program’s success is key to maintaining momentum. It is, therefore, recommended that companies leverage the tools typically provided by a fleet management company to benchmark the program. Possible measures of success include:
In summary, the return on investment (ROI) for an effective safety program includes measurable cost savings, reduced company liability, and increased employee productivity and well being. Less measurable, but no less important, the ROI can also include a positive impact on overall corporate image. That’s a total that can only be viewed as positive to the bottom line.
About the author:
Patrick Fahey is manager of safety & collision services at Wheels Inc., a fleet management company based in Des Plaines, Ill.