Establishing a fleet safety policy is a good thing; outlining and publishing a document that details the rules and regulations attendant to the safe operation of company-provided vehicles is a foundation of a successful program.
The mere existence of such a policy, of course, is certainly no guarantee of success, any more so than a law against robbing banks ensures no banks will be robbed. Policy compliance brings success to the fleet program, and this is where some fleet managers become frustrated. Tracking compliance among hundreds, if not thousands of drivers spread over a large geographic area is no small task, particularly when little or no staff are available to assist and when some stakeholders are actively working against policy enforcement.
Fleet managers can take action, however, to help maximize compliance. These actions begin before the policy is even implemented and continue throughout the normal course of doing fleet business.
1. Include All Stakeholders When Developing Safety Policy
Different companies may have different stakeholders regarding safety policy, but every company has several. The fleet manager is the subject expert in developing the policy; however, a number of disciplines and/or departments generally have a stake in its implementation. For example:
Sales/Service. Most fleets fit into either of these categories, some into both, and no other stakeholder group is more invested in a safety policy.
Human Resources. Safety policy contains many issues and requirements of interest to HR — consequences for policy violations and hiring criteria are two of the more important.
Risk Management. Inevitably, fleet vehicles are involved in accidents. Some will be the driver’s fault, and a fleet policy must address each incident: how it is reported, how physical damage will be repaired, etc.
Legal. All safety policy issues carry the potential for legal action/review.
Senior Management. At the very least, senior management should review the policy document prior to implementation.
The overall point is that it is far easier to avoid future compliance problems if policy development is a team effort, involving all stakeholders.
2. Obtain Policy Endorsement at the Highest Management Level Possible
The logic behind this recommendation is very simple: when senior management (the so-called "C-level" — CEO, CFO, COO, etc.) has reviewed and endorsed a fleet safety policy document, the consequences of noncompliance are far more serious. It becomes more difficult for a mid-level manager to attempt to excuse a driver’s policy violation (which often happens) if the fleet manager can simply point to a memo or e-mail from the company president, approving the policy and charging the fleet manager with full authority to carry it out. Or, better still, make certain a copy of that endorsement is the first page in any rendition of the policy, electronic or hard copy.
3. Make Certain the Policy is Easily Accessed
In fairness to drivers, not all policy violations are willful, i.e., the driver knows the policy content and chooses to ignore it. Some are simply innocent ignorance, drivers who, faced with a decision, make the wrong one simply because he or she wasn’t aware of the correct option. Fortunately, today’s fleet managers have far more sophisticated tools at their disposal than their predecessors of even 10 or 15 years ago.
Not too long ago, a fleet policy was only published in hard copy as a booklet or other document kept in the vehicle’s glove compartment. Today, though a hard copy is still a good idea, fleet policy can be made accessible to drivers in other ways, 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
Intranet. Many companies maintain an employee-accessible Web site, where various department policies can be viewed. Posting fleet policy documents online not only keeps the information at drivers’ fingertips, it also facilitates making major or minor changes (as opposed to a policy manual kept in the vehicle).
A Fleet "Hot Line." One creative way policy can be made more accessible to drivers is via a fleet "hot line," an automated, toll-free number that drivers call for safety policy guidance. A prompted recording asks whether the question concerns procedures if the driver is involved in an accident, the policy for driving out of the country, how to obtain proof of insurance, etc. Nearly all drivers carry cell phones, so calling the hot line is a simple matter.
E-mail. E-mail has made mass communication fast and easy. Fleet managers can use e-mail to highlight various fleet policy matters. An e-mail blast entitled "What To Do in Case of an Accident," for example, reminds drivers what they must do and how to do it. Such e-mails can be sent at the fleet manager’s convenience. Further, a fleet manager can add to his or her e-mail signature a phrase such as "Questions about policy?" with a hotlink to the online policy site.
The more accessible the policy document, the less likely a driver will inadvertently violate policy simply because he or she didn’t know what to do.
4. Keep It Simple
As with any process, a simple, straightforward fleet policy helps with compliance. Here it is important to differentiate between policy and procedure. Policy is the "what," and procedure is the "how." For example, the policy might simply state, "A driver’s motor vehicle record will be obtained and reviewed every six months," while the procedure outlines the process, any communication of policy violation, etc.
A complex policy increases the possibility of errors even if the driver is attempting to comply. Provide a simple statement of policy, then an equally simple procedure by which a driver may comply.
5. Apply Policy Universally
During this step, fleet managers can experience some of the most frustrating policy compliance issues. The classic example is the, "But she’s our best salesperson," situation. It goes something like this: a driver has had previous accidents or a history of moving violations on a motor vehicle report. Fleet policy calls for clear consequences, i.e., revocation of personal use privileges, company car assignment, even up to termination.
At this point, the fleet manager notifies the driver and the driver’s supervisor of the policy violation and begins the steps to apply the consequences. Generally, at this point, the driver’s supervisor or even a more senior manager steps into the process, making the, "We can’t allow this; this driver is our best performer," or even the, "This is a very difficult position to fill," argument and "pulling rank" to void policy application in that instance.
This is a very destructive issue. The fleet driver world is a small one and word gets around. Once a driver has been let off the hook for serious policy violations, it becomes next to impossible for the fleet manager to enforce the policy for anyone else.
Effective fleet policy is applied consistently, without exception, at all levels. A senior VP whose car is compensatory must face the consequences of MVR violations or multiple accidents in exactly the same manner as the lowest level sales or service driver. This policy stance requires the kind of approval, sign-off, and endorsement of fleet policy at the highest level possible, in writing, as described in Tip #2. The approval should include wording by which the executive provides the fleet manager with full authority to enforce the policy and to report to him or her regularly.
In this manner, when the, "But she’s our best salesperson," excuse is given, the supervisor is simply reminded, with a copy of the endorsement if necessary, that the CEO (for example) has required the policy be applied without exception.
6. Get Driver Sign-off
Before a new-hire candidate is employed in a position for which a company vehicle is assigned, the process should include an MVR review and the driver must indicate in writing that he or she has read and agrees to abide by the company fleet policy. This step is generally a relatively simple matter. For example, when giving permission to the company to obtain and review the MVR, include such language in the sign-off form.
Fleet policy is a fluid document; for this reason, it isn’t a bad idea for such a sign off to be provided by all drivers every year, at the very least for any changes in the policy that may have occurred during the year.
7. Track Exceptions to Uncover Compliance Problems
While exception tracking is most often used for fleet expense, such as maintenance and repair or fuel, it can be applied to safety policy as well. MVRs are one of the most critical aspects of a safety policy and should be reviewed regularly for existing drivers, as well as new hires and drivers involved in accidents. The larger the fleet, however, the more time-consuming the task can be. The fleet manager is looking for violations — who isn’t driving safely, who has been cited, etc. — not for clean records. Rather than obtaining the full inventory of reports, only those with violations are filtered out, leaving a far smaller number to address.
8. Reward Compliance; Punish Noncompliance
Employees are motivated in various ways, some with the possibility of reward, others by facing discipline. Reward/penalty programs are used in nearly every corporate discipline from clerical to management. Employees undergo annual performance reviews with rewards including increases in compensation and penalties involving perhaps no pay increase or even a probationary period during which performance must improve.
Encouraging fleet policy compliance differs little from encouraging excellence in job performance. A cynic might scoff at the idea of "rewarding" employees for simply doing the job they’re paid to do. However, when the job includes the daily care and "feeding" of a company vehicle, the consequences for not doing so can be expensive and the rewards much less so.
Rewards can take a number of forms. Some people are satisfied simply with recognition, i.e., a photo and/or mention in the company newsletter or perhaps correspondence from a senior manager recognizing excellence in compliance. Still others look for concrete financial reward. Either way, drivers are encouraged to keep fleet policy in mind as they go about their day-to-day duties.
Rewards are often used when reviewing MVRs. For example, drivers who have completed some period of time without violations or chargeable accidents are recognized or rewarded. Such rewards can also be applied to drivers whose overall vehicle operating costs are lower than some benchmark or among the lowest in the fleet. Again, keeping policy compliance in mind is the goal.
Penalties for safety policy violations begin with defining terms: what is a chargeable accident, how will MVR violations be treated, etc. Fair and effective penalties are imposed on a sliding scale, that is, a citation for failure to signal versus reckless driving. Penalties can range from letters of reprimand to suspension of personal use privileges, revocation of company car to termination, etc. Whatever the penalties may be, Tip #5 is critical; penalties are not effective unless they are applied universally from the sales trainee up to the executive suite.
9. Communicate Regularly
Let’s face it, fleet drivers know what they should do behind the wheel. They know they should not speed, follow too closely, drink and drive, etc. Ensuring driver compliance with fleet safety policy is a combination of proper screening, tracking performance, safety training, and perhaps most importantly, repetition. Regular communications with fleet drivers should include information regarding safety and safe driving.
Many companies publish a safety newsletter, which can be in hard copy or electronic. These are extremely useful in keeping safety paramount in the minds of fleet drivers. A safety newsletter can contain defensive driving tips, highlight various portions of the safety policy, and include an FAQ (frequently asked questions) section with announcements and photos of safe driving awards. The more drivers hear about safety, the more likely they are to comply with policy.
It can also be helpful to have the CEO or other senior executive repeat mention of the policy, his/her endorsement thereof, and provision of authority to the fleet manager for its execution every year. Repetition of policy items on a regular basis will ultimately have an effect on compliance as drivers think of that communication when policy issues arrive.
10. Review & Update Policy
We’ve described fleet policy as "fluid." This is true of any company policy document as rules, regulations, and circumstances change rapidly. What seemed a good idea has unintended negative consequences or a better idea is suggested. Policy can become obsolete as the vehicle fleet industry changes, and if policy isn’t reviewed and updated, compliance can become more difficult, even impossible.
At least once each year, gather those stakeholders included in the original policy development to discuss what may have changed in their areas that might require an appropriate change in fleet policy. Then, as changes are made and policy is updated, communicate these changes not only to the drivers, but to their supervisors, middle and senior management, and particularly to that senior executive who has provided the original policy endorsement.
Interim communication is a must as well. For example, a change in human resources or risk management policy might also impact fleet. Encourage those disciplines to keep the fleet manager informed when this happens, so if fleet policy change is necessary, it can be made promptly.
Include, Plan, Communicate
To recap, 10 tips on increasing driver compliance with fleet safety policy are:
- Include all stakeholders in policy development.
- Obtain policy endorsement at the highest management level possible.
- Provide easy access to policy documents.
- Keep it simple.
- Demand universal application.
- Obtain driver sign off.
- Track exceptions.
- Reward compliance, punish non-compliance.
- Communicate regularly.
- Review policy regularly.
If taken together, these tips can seem daunting to a fleet manager whose time and resources are limited. However, none are especially complex or difficult, and over time, they can be developed into a regular process.