Fleet managers spend much of their time following up - being reactive and addressing issues after they've arisen. From exception reports to accident review committees, fleet managers must use post-event data to track fleet cost and performance, and develop cost-saving processes.
Being "proactive" can be difficult, but the rewards can be substantial - preventing excess cost is far preferable to trying to recapture it after it has been incurred. Nowhere in a fleet is this truer than in managing the risk of accidents and related costs, and nowhere is risk more manageable.
Risk of What?
What types of risk should fleet managers seek to pin down? There are two primary costs associated with accidents: physical damage, the damage incurred to a company asset (vehicle) when it is involved in a collision; and liability, the company's responsibilities in compensating others for their loss when the company is found liable for that loss. Both incur hard and soft costs; however, identifying at-risk drivers can help avoid these costs.
Collision risk factors cannot be determined by simply reviewing a motor vehicle report (MVR) and looking for violations. Some violations exhibit behavior that brings greater risk than others. The so-called "big three" violations are those that generally result in the largest portion of physical damage:
● Rear-end collisions.
● Intersection collisions.
● Merging/lane change collisions.
There are, of course, any number of additional accident types; however, these three are the most common (we'll leave out, for the moment, the infamous "hit while parked" explanation on so many fleet accident reports), and correspondingly result in the largest portion of physical damage.
Additionally, these are accidents that necessarily involve a third party, and thus open the door for liability risk and resultant costs. The first and most important step in managing risk and pegging at-risk drivers is the MVR.
Utilizing Motor Vehicle Reports
Each state provides interested parties (insurance companies, fleets, etc.) a record of drivers licensed to drive in that state. These reports are used to track violations and help determine insurance premiums (in the case of insurance companies), and for fleets, the risk the driver exhibits - and whether or not it is safe for the company to provide (or continue to provide) a vehicle.
There are several violations that don't necessarily exhibit risky driver behavior - non-moving violations such as an expired license or inspection sticker, expired registration, or cracked taillight lens are not indications of risk, provided a pattern of such violations does not exist.
Recalling the "big three" accidents, certain moving violations can place the driver, and the company, at risk of significant costs:
● Speeding: a risk factor for just about any type of collision.
● Following too closely: a major risk factor for rear-end collisions.
● Failure to obey traffic signals: cause of many intersection accidents.
● Failure to signal: merging/lane change accidents.
Rather than just looking at violations versus clean records, pay particular attention to the type of violations that appear. Drivers with these violation types on their record should be monitored carefully. If there is a pattern, some action should be taken to mitigate the risk they bring.
Handling Driver Infractions
Certainly, any number of violations - even crimes - should trigger immediate action by the fleet manager, including:
● Reckless driving.
● DUI, DWI.
● Speeding (multiple violations).
● Any multiple moving violations.
The question is, of course, how should they be handled? A driver with several years of safe driving who incurs a DUI might be handled differently than a new hire whose record shows such violations before a vehicle is even assigned. The former might have his or her personal use privileges suspended; the latter could be put on a probationary period, during which he or she must drive a personal vehicle safely before vehicle assignment.
Either way, a policy should already be in place to handle situations where risk is significant, as exhibited in serious or multiple violations on the driver's record.
Policy for New Hires & Others
Certainly, for every new hire whose job requires a company vehicle, a careful review of the MVR is important. However, there are other risk factors that should contribute to a risk profile.
If the job entails a regular territory or route, a new hire unfamiliar with the geography poses some level of risk. Regularly checking driving directions or a GPS device can lead to distraction, and driving while distracted poses as much risk as driving while impaired. New hires should have some period during which they can familiarize themselves with the territory, perhaps during training or even on their own, before setting out in a company vehicle. A similar process should be in place for any drivers transferred from one territory or route to another.
Looking for patterns of behavior can go beyond the review of motor vehicle records. Certainly, not all accidents are the fault of the fleet driver; indeed, not all are even chargeable. However, there is something afoot when a driver, over some period of time, has more than one accident, even if none can be considered "at fault." Keep in mind an accident may well not be your driver's fault, but may be preventable. Ensure all drivers receive defensive driver training and ongoing communication regarding basic driving techniques.
Using Demographic Factors to Assess Risk
There are a number of demographic factors that must be considered when assessing fleet driver risk. There is, however, a very important step before using demographics in risk assessment: the company's legal department should be consulted before using anything related to age or sex in assessing risk. Make absolutely certain the process is within the legal scope of any federal, state, or local statutes.
Demographics will contribute to the accuracy of determining which drivers will pose risk in the operation of company vehicles.
● Age: There is somewhat of a reverse bell curve when examining risk of accidents by age. Younger drivers (25 and under) pose the greatest risk on the bell curve, while drivers over the age of 55 also have a slightly greater accident rate than drivers between 26 and 55.
● Sex: Men at all ages pose a greater risk of accidents than women do.
It is certainly not legal to refuse to provide a company vehicle, or to hire, drivers based solely upon either age or sex. It is perfectly legal, however, to use these factors in assessing risk, along with others:
● Mileage driven: Clearly, the more miles a driver will be driving, the greater the risk of accident.
● Hours: Drivers who must drive at night, or very early in the morning, pose a greater risk of accident. Driver fatigue is far greater during the night and early morning hours and poses as great a risk as most all other factors.
● Driving experience: The more experience a driver has, the lower the accident risk. Hiring a driver who has never driven the high mileage a fleet job requires, for example, will increase risk factors.
Once again, be careful when using demographics as part of an overall risk assessment, but don't ignore them.
Personality Traits Can Show Risk
Many companies use personality assessments, for internal use as well as to share with the employee. Certain personality traits can be used to assess risk in driving as well.
● Confidence - or lack thereof. Overconfident personalities tend to show riskier behavior on the road; lack of confidence can lead to the same behavior.
● Aggression. Overly aggressive traits will clearly pose great risk; many law enforcement agencies look for aggressive driving while patrolling the highways.
● Impatience. Drivers who use the horn not to warn, but to exhibit impatience with other drivers, are bad risks behind the wheel and cause accidents.
● Accountability. Some personalities tend to make excuses, point fingers, or blame others for their own shortcomings. Exhibited on the road, such a personality trait does not make for safe driving.
● Recognizing authority. Employees who constantly challenge authority, who tend to ignore the "chain of command" when making decisions, may well do the same while driving - the authority being factors such as traffic controls.
Absent of formal personality testing, many of these traits can be seen by managers who travel with their drivers. Riding along on sales or service calls can reveal a great deal of a driver's personality, and thus contribute to risk assessment.
Building a Crash-Free Culture
Not only does careful assessment of driver risk help weed out unsafe drivers and reduce both physical damage and liability costs, but it will help the fleet manager to develop a "crash-free" culture, a culture of safety. It is also very important to ensure there is a clearly stated fleet policy to back up the assessment of risk. Not only does the fleet manager need to know which of his or her drivers pose the greatest risk, but also have at hand formal consequences. The company is providing employees with an asset worth tens of thousands of dollars and trusting the driver to operate it safely.
● Begin with motor vehicle reports for all new hires, as well as ongoing reviews for all existing drivers.
● Know which violations exhibit the highest risk.
● Use demographics, both personal as well as job-related, to fill out a risk assessment.
● Don't ignore personal traits.
Using risk assessment for all drivers can help reduce accident rates and potential liability, and save thousands of dollars. More importantly, it will help keep your drivers - and the public - safe.