Fleet managers focus, rightly, on controlling costs. Managing depreciation, variable costs, negotiating with suppliers - every nickel saved is a full nickel on the bottom line.
There is, however, no issue more important to a fleet manager than safety. The safety of the vehicles managed, the drivers who drive them, their families, customers, passengers, and ultimately the public at large are the most important responsibility a fleet manager has. Developing the kind of fleet safety culture in the company that accomplishes this goal begins with a formal fleet policy document. Here are the essentials for writing and implementing such a policy.
Endorsement is the First Step
The first step, and possibly the most important one, in writing and implementing a fleet safety policy is to seek and obtain endorsement at the highest executive level possible. As with any other policy, the key to success is that it be applied and enforced consistently throughout the organization; doing this is difficult unless the policy is specifically endorsed by management.
Present an outline of the policy explaining why the company needs it and what it will contain to company leaders - as high up in the organization as possible, including the CEO, CFO, or president. Try to get beyond a verbal endorsement. Get a statement in writing, in which the CEO or other executive indicates that he or she has tasked the fleet manager to develop and implement a fleet safety policy and will report to the CEO on a regular basis as to its enforcement.
Decide on Fleet Policy Content
The content of the policy should cover a number of key areas:
● Introduction, including general policy statement.
● Basic driver policy, including cell phones and seat belts.
● Driver education and training.
● Accident reporting, classification, and consequences.
● Violation classification, points, and consequences.
● Safety reward program (if applicable).
● Driver sign-off.
The introductory statement is simply a statement of purpose and can say something such as:
"XYZ Corporation has instituted this policy to ensure that drivers of company-provided vehicles are provided the safest vehicles possible, and that those drivers operate them in the safest manner possible to protect employees, their families, company assets, and the public in general."
Let's move on to driver education and training. It is wrong to believe states teach drivers to drive safely when they issue licenses. Rather, they're taught to drive legally, by observing traffic laws and administrative regulations.
New employees who qualify for company-provided vehicles should undergo basic safe driving education and subsequent training before they are handed car keys. Such education and training should then continue, at least each year, for all existing drivers. Training should involve teaching drivers to drive defensively, to avoid accidents, and how to react when the "other driver" creates a dangerous situation.
Determine Incident Classification
A major item in the policy should surround collisions - how they're reported, classified, and what the consequences are for drivers involved. Collisions can be determined by fault (if the driver caused it to occur) or preventability (if the driver did all that was reasonably possible to avoid it). The policy should establish a system for the classification of accidents to determine whether or not an accident can be chargeable to the driver (and subsequent consequences applied).
The policy should further establish a panel - an accident review committee that meets regularly to review and classify accident reports and communicate decisions to the drivers and their supervisors.
Finally, the policy should clearly outline consequences for chargeable accidents, usually involving a driver having more than one chargeable collision in a specified time period. Consequences can range from letters of reprimand, to suspension of driving privileges, to termination.
The policy should also classify traffic citations according to the seriousness of the violation and outline the consequences (an expired registration, for example, should not be classified as serious as a speeding ticket). One way of tracking this is to use a point system (similar to systems many states use), where points are charged depending upon the seriousness of the offense. As with accidents, consequences up to and including termination are generally used.
As many of the consequences mentioned directly affect an employee's ability to do his or her job, or affect the job itself, it is important to have legal and human resources staff review the policy before implementation.
Include Basic Safety Rules
Basic fleet safety policy must include:
● Seat belts, to be worn by all drivers and passengers at all times when driving or riding in a company-provided vehicle.
● Cell phones and other devices. Because state laws vary dramatically, from no restrictions to outright banning of cell phone use while driving, the best and safest policy is to prohibit the use of any cell phones or similar devices while a vehicle is moving. Drivers should pull off the road to make calls or check data.
● Child seats. If personal use is permitted, drivers should be required to use child safety seats in accordance with any applicable state laws.
● MVRs (motor vehicle reports). All new-hires must sign off permission for the company to obtain their state MVR, as well as reports for all family members who might be permitted personal use. MVRs should be reviewed at least annually.
Inspect Vehicles Periodically
Though it may seem more of a maintenance issue, vehicle inspections are very much a part of fleet safety policy. All drivers should be required to complete a vehicle inspection at least twice each year, and more often if possible.
Inspections should include:
● Cosmetics, including finish, dents, dings, scratches, and interior condition, including carpeting and headliner.
● Systems, such as brakes, electrical, gauges and digital readouts, and fuel.
● Lights, such as headlights, taillights, brake lights, and turn signals.
All of these factors are pertinent to the proper maintenance of the vehicles; however, they are equally important in a safety policy. Much like the overall policy should be endorsed by senior management, all inspection reports should be signed by the driver as well as his or her supervisor.
Rewards and Sign-off
Drivers needn't be rewarded for not having accidents, or not speeding. However, it is a good idea to develop a safe driver award program for exemplary safety records over a period of time.
The policy should outline the time frame(s) the safe driving record covers, e.g., five years, 10 years, lifetime, etc. When drivers complete a time period without chargeable accidents or any violations, rewards at various levels and of varying types can be provided, such as:
● Letter of commendation from the CEO or other senior manager.
● Story/picture in the company in-house publication or on the company intranet site.
● Monetary rewards.
● Upgraded vehicle selection or equipment.
Rewards create competition, and most employees are motivated by this and recognition, not to mention the prizes. Keep the criteria strict. The average fleet accident rate is around 20 percent or less; thus one year accident-free would require rewarding the majority of drivers.
New-hires should be provided a copy of the entire fleet policy, including the safety policy, be required to read it and to sign a statement that he or she has read it, understands it, and agrees to abide by it.
A fleet safety policy is part and parcel of an overall fleet policy, but should be emphasized separately. It is a critical starting point in creating a culture of safety among drivers, their supervisors, and managers.