Identifying high-risk drivers and determining and enforcing consequences for unsafe driving constitute a large portion of a fleet's driver safety policy. Employee safety is a main concern, and companies and organizations have worked with their safety and accident services providers to formulate ways to ensure high-risk fleet drivers are trained on proper driving practices.

From using motor vehicle records (MVRs) to determine risk, to point or tier systems to identify when actions should be taken, to training programs and consequences used to address high-risk driving behavior, fleets have found ways to improve driver safety. Fleet and safety professionals discuss the nuances of their respective organization's safety strategies and identify new policies and proven methods that have increased driver safety.

MVRs: An Effective Method to Determine Risk

Pulling a driver's MVR is the most commonly used method to measure driver risk, and organizations can pull MVRs from twice annually to every three years, depending on their needs.

St. Paul, Minn.-based Ecolab, a provider of cleaning, sanitation, food safety, and infection prevention products and services, operates a 7,200-vehicle fleet in the U.S. and has followed a formal driver safety program since 2003. The company runs MVRs twice annually on its fleet drivers. Ecolab policies charge drivers cited for reckless driving, traveling 35 mph over the speed limit, or other similar dangerous actions with "critical events." The company assigns driver points for incidents and calls to a 1-800 line from other motorists commenting on employee driving behavior.

At Mosaic, a non-profit organization that specializes in assisting people with intellectual disabilities, MVRs are run on every new hire and rechecked every one to three years based on the results of the driver's previous MVR, according to Helen Hoffman, director of risk control. The Omaha, Neb.-based organization operates a fleet of approximately 700 vehicles in 14 states.

In addition to MVRs and driver behavior on the job, NuStar Energy L.P. has its drivers "complete a series of profile and defensive driving questions" to complete its risk analysis assessment, according to Krista Davis, fleet and travel coordinator. Headquartered in San Antonio, NuStar Energy owns and operates pipelines, crude oil storage assets, and asphalt refineries. It operates a fleet of 400 vehicles and employs about 650 drivers.[PAGEBREAK]

How Fleets Handle High-Risk Drivers

Fleets have found that re-training drivers determined to be high risk is one effective strategy for handling such employees. Many safety policies assign differing levels of training to corresponding risk levels.

Mosaic determines driver risk through a 10-point system based on MVRs for the previous 36 months and incidents while driving for the organization. It has enacted measures to take once drivers reach a specific number of points. "A speeding ticket is 'X' many points, driving without a buckled seat belt is 'X' many points, and a DUI is 10 points, which makes them an automatic 'do-not-drive.' If they have 10 or more points, they can't drive for us," Hoffman explained. With a risk score between five to nine points, Mosaic works with each driver by providing remedial training on safe driving practices.

Princeton, N.J.-based healthcare company Novo Nordisk Inc., which operates 3,100 vehicles in the U.S. and Canada, is in the process of implementing a new safety program that includes the identification of high-risk drivers. It also uses a 10-point system for determining risk (based on MVRs and at-fault accidents).

Consequences associated with each level of risk include verbal warnings, written warnings, withheld bonuses, and immediate termination, according to Donna Bibbo, manager, Fleet and Travel. "Some drivers will be required to take classroom training, some will get classroom and behind-the-wheel, and the highest level of risk will get one-on-one training," Bibbo added. The company is also looking at training managers and directors on how to perform drive-along assessments and plans to offer online training modules to all drivers based on accident trends and general observed on-the-road problems.

At R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Dave Rush, lead safety manager, Trade Marketing division, said the company works with high-risk drivers to review their scores. Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., with a fleet of 2,300 vehicles, R.J. Reynolds determines risk based on MVR results and company vehicle collision repairs over a rolling 36-month period. Once supervisors identify a high-risk driver, a manager contacts the driver to inform him or her of the risk score, and the employee is able to view the risk assessment and data.

"The manager discusses with the employee the behavior that led to the high-risk rating, and together they identify a plan to aid the employee to reduce risk and a timeline for expected results," Rush said. In addition to monthly driving behavior discussions with high-risk drivers, managers also communicate the drivers' status to sales leadership.

Ecolab's drivers are categorized into four risk levels, calculated over a 24-month period. Risk Level 0 means no citations or infractions; Level 1 drivers require online remedial training; Level 2 drivers must take online training and participate in a ride-along with a supervisor; and Level 3 drivers are assigned more specific coaching and must attend an eight-hour class that combines classroom time and behind-the-wheel training.

RailCrew Xpress, a Lenexa, Kan.-based rail crew transport company, operates a fleet of 713 vehicles and oversees a total of 1,479 drivers. Working with its collision management company, RailCrew Xpress monitors tickets and accidents and identifies changes in driver risk level. If a driver's risk level changes, the company sends the driver a letter requesting additional information. The letter informs the driver that the company is aware of a recent ticket or accident, according to Kelley Merrick, director, Corporate Claims. The company also investigates the ticket or accident to determine whether the driver has had a recent at-fault accident or ticket. Finally, it determines the appropriate action. According to Merrick, the company uses education, communication, and persistence when handling high-risk drivers.

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In addition to working with the driver, many fleets cooperate with other departments to handle high-risk drivers. NuStar Energy works with managers and Human Resources in ensuring safety and dealing with at-risk drivers. "Management is responsible for ensuring drivers understand our policies and concern regarding safety. HR handles sensitive job-related issues," Davis said.

Ridgefield, Conn.-based Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., which operates 3,000 vehicles, found company-wide interaction to be effective. One component of its safety program is the fleet safety committee, which includes team members from all sectors of the company. The team meets bimonthly to review and update policies and procedures. The team also provides recommendations to management and HR on ways to best correct the driving habits of high-risk drivers.

RailCrew Xpress holds bimonthly conference calls to review recent accidents and employee injuries. "Regional managers, safety managers, and claims discuss opportunities for accident reduction, injury prevention, and solutions that have been successful in the past. New ideas are also discussed and implemented," Merrick said.

When driving constitutes a large portion of an employee's workday, risky behavior may become a condition that precludes hire. At Ecolab, a large portion of risk assessment is performed before the potential employee is hired, and a pre-hire candidate that reaches risk Level 3 is not eligible for hire.[PAGEBREAK]

Implement Ongoing and Specialized Training

Fleet and safety professionals can use online, behind-the-wheel, and classroom training sessions not only for high-risk drivers, but also to ensure a safety culture among all drivers. For example, Boehringer Ingelheim's safety policy requires every driver to take up to six modules of online driver safety training annually, regardless of accident history.

"We stress the importance of using the vehicle in a safe and compliant manner and make safety training modules a mandatory component of a [driver's] ongoing learning plan," said Lee Miller, manager, Fleet Services.

In addition to safe and defensive driving strategies, ensuring each driver is familiar with his assigned vehicle is a large portion of safety training for Mosaic. With 75 percent of its fleet consisting of 12-passenger vans and a driver base unfamiliar with driving and maneuvering the larger vehicles, Mosaic was seeing driver collisions due to driver inexperience with fleet vehicles. In October 2010, the organization modified its driver training program to train all new employees on driving 12-passenger vans. This program consists of formal classroom or individual training and on-the-road training, including a road test, Hoffman said. She expects the program to be fully rolled out to the organization's approximately 50 agencies by the end of June.

Tips to Handle Safety Challenges

Spouse/domestic partner use of company-provided vehicles presents liability risks that fleets must address. Boehringer Ingelheim performs annual MVR checks for spouses or partners who use fleet vehicles. Novo Nordisk's Bibbo said the company's policy for spousal/domestic partner use of company vehicles is stricter than it is for employees. The spouse goes through the same risk-evaluation process, but "at 10 points, spouses/domestic partners have their driving privileges permanently revoked for a Novo Nordisk company vehicle," Bibbo said.

Fleet and safety professionals mentioned electronic device distraction and situational awareness as challenges in maintaining driver safety. Drivers at Mosaic, however, face a specific challenge - passengers. "Since we drive people in our vans, there's a lot of distracted driving," Hoffman said. "In addition to the urge to use cell phones and [other technologies], there are also a lot of people in the vehicle who are distracting our drivers."

RailCrew Xpress is currently installing cameras in its vans, and a contracted company reviews the video and scores hazardous behaviors. Regional managers then determine appropriate actions to take with high-risk drivers - actions that include re-training, coaching, verbal warnings, and in worst-case scenarios, termination.

"The challenges are the perception that 'big brother is watching' and 'corporate is out to get us,' " Merrick said. "We have responded with education about how the cameras can protect our drivers and the company."

Management support is an important factor in implementing and enforcing successful driver safety policies.

"Leadership support and backing is required to be successful," said Rush of R.J. Reynolds.

Davis of NuStar Energy agreed. "If you don't have executive management's support, your program will struggle," she said.

Bibbo added, "Upper management has to be willing to treat everyone equally regardless of how good a salesperson [someone is]. If drivers break the rules, they need to be dealt with consistently."

Fleets See Positive Results

Many fleets have set goals for their safety programs and have seen positive results due to new policies.

For the first three years, R.J. Reynolds saw a 3-percent decrease in accidents by pulling MVRs and using computer-based training. The fourth year, the company further reduced accidents by 5 percent by adding vehicle damages to risk scores, instituting monthly manager coaching, and reporting results to leadership, according to Rush. As a consequence, vehicle repair costs have also decreased.

Bibbo said with Novo Nordisk's new safety program, the company hopes to decrease at-fault accidents by 5 percent each year over the next three years. "Even without full implementation in 2010, just knowing that this was coming has made our drivers more careful, and our accident rate for 2010 is down by more than 3 percent," she said.

Davis reported that NuStar Energy reduced average incident rate by 22.6 percent in the program's first year. Over the past two years since implementation, the company has lowered its accident costs by 42 percent.

During the first five years of safety policy implementation, Ecolab reported total accidents per million miles dropped by 13 percent, and preventable accidents per million miles fell 15 percent. The declines occurred even though the number of vehicles and total miles driven increased, according to the company.

As important as cost-reduction is to an organization, employee safety is of paramount concern. "Even if there are road blocks, safety is so important that anything that can be done should be," Bibbo said. "You are helping at-risk drivers help themselves."

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