All too often, safety is relegated to numbers, policy, or just another statistic to manage. Fleet managers track accidents per million miles, the "true" cost of accidents, loss ratios, and manage repairs. 

At a Glance

Some ways fleet managers can help create a safety culture within their fleet organizations include:

  • Create a formal fleet safety policy.
  • Institute driver training and education.
  • Consider creating a rewards and recognition program and determine how to deal with policy violations.
  • Ensure senior management endorsement and participation.


Is this the best way to ensure safe driving and ultimately keep costs under control? These activities are certainly part of managing risk, but at best, are an incomplete approach. Cultivating a safety culture among drivers, managers, and throughout the company is a key element in both managing the costs of accidents and keeping drivers and passengers safe.

Taking the First Steps

The first step toward a culture of safety begins with policy. A formal fleet safety policy is a must; it serves as a blueprint for a safety culture. 

Beyond merely outlining what the consequences are for unsafe driving and policy violations, the policy should begin with a clear statement of purpose. Drivers, particularly new hires, need to know they will not only be held responsible for their operation of a company vehicle, but that the company's foremost concern is for their personal safety, that of their families, colleagues, and customers. 

There are a number of definitions of "safety culture." One of the more succinct is "the way safety is perceived, valued, and prioritized in an organization." Creating and nurturing a fleet safety culture always begins with the company - how it communicates the safety message, when, and how often. 

It also requires that drivers (and other stakeholders in the operation of the fleet) "buy in" to that message and make it a normal part of the working day. It is important that new hires read and understand the policy, sign off on it, and make it their own. Manufacturers do this all the time; they emphasize safety on the assembly line or in the factory everywhere.  There is no reason why a fleet cannot similarly stress the importance of safety behind the wheel. 

Instituting Training

An important part of ensuring that safety permeates an organization's culture is via training. Safety training can take a number of forms: behind-the-wheel, classroom, and by video or DVD. What is important about training isn't so much the content itself - most drivers know the rules of the road. The most important part training plays in the process is repetition, confirming the message of safety that begins for each driver upon hire. 

Training shouldn't be an afterthought - or 15 minutes added on to the agenda at the national sales meeting. A safety culture requires that safe driving be an integral part of every meeting in which drivers participate. Drivers must be consistently reminded to do all of those actions that, if asked, they already know they should do, but in the bustle of a typical working day, don't. 

Repeating training sessions can easily become boring; a little creativity helps.  Don't simply ask the obvious questions or present the obvious situations. Focus on defensive driving situations rather than rote repetition of rules and regulations. Try contests, time responses, or break the group up into teams to make some of the sessions competitive. Bring in speakers, such as state and local law enforcement. These agencies are usually happy to have an officer come in and discuss safe driving, or the consequences he or she sees when it is lacking. 

The more often group meetings (and conference calls) include safety training/discussion, the more likely it is that drivers will be thinking about what they've heard when they're out doing the job. 


Special Fleet Safety Series Sponsored By Volvo Cars North America[PAGEBREAK]

Using Penalty/Reward Programs

One aspect of an organization's safety culture is ensuring drivers see that the company takes safety seriously. One of the ways this can be accomplished is by instituting a safe driver reward program. 

Different employees are motivated in different ways - some by money alone, some by recognition, some by fear of consequences. Reward programs can provide financial rewards as well as recognition. Certainly, the company need not reward employees for simply not totaling a vehicle or not getting speeding tickets. Rewards should be limited to employees with exemplary driving records, such as a significant time period with no accidents or violations. These can be at five years, 10 years, etc. This feat is indeed exemplary, particularly when drivers are accumulating 24,000 miles per year or more, and several hours every working day behind the wheel. 

Straight financial rewards (money), prizes, or special fleet privileges (upgraded vehicle, additional equipment, some period of time during which the company will pay personal use charges) are some of the ways drivers can be rewarded.

Then there is recognition, which should be part of any reward program. A feature and photo of the driver in the company newsletter or on the website, written letter of achievement from the CEO or president, or something more creative, such as a trip to the corporate headquarters and lunch with the CEO, can go a long way toward showing drivers that safety is taken seriously. 

The opposite side of this coin is the consequences drivers should suffer when fleet safety policy is violated. Tracking accidents and determining chargeability, as well as regular review of drivers' MVRs for violations, should be followed by clear and consistently applied consequences.

Rewarding long-term safe driving and penalizing unsafe driving can go a long way toward getting the message across that safety is taken very seriously. 

Teaching True Costs

Sometimes drivers take company vehicles for granted - not only the vehicles themselves, but the costs associated with them. If drivers don't fully understand the true consequences and costs that unsafe driving can cause, they may not develop the safety mindset. 

One of the most effective ways to get this message across is using a "gross up" method. Let's say a vehicle is involved in an accident. The full cost (assuming no subrogation) will include repairs, a replacement rental vehicle, and downtime. Assume these costs add up to $10,000. If we assume also that the company has a 5-percent net after-tax profit margin, a full $200,000 of product or service must be sold before those costs are recovered. Even more effective, tell drivers the next $200,000 of product or service they sell or provide will not bring profit to the company. 

The point is, drivers may assume a number of things - that the company has physical damage insurance coverage (when it doesn't), that these costs are assumed as a cost of doing business (they aren't), or that costs begin and end with the repair to the vehicle (they don't). A full understanding of the consequences and costs of accidents should also be a part of developing a safety culture.

Getting Senior Management Endorsement

More important than the suggestions noted previously is the full endorsement and participation of senior management in the company. This begins with policy. 

When safety policy is implemented, it should come with a statement by the CEO or other senior manager that they have approved the policy, and that they have tasked the fleet manager to track and report back to him or her how the policy is being followed (and violated). 

While this could well be perceived as managing by fear, it is also the first step in showing drivers - and their managers/supervisors - that safety is not just the concern of the fleet department. And, senior management involvement shouldn't begin and end with this endorsement. 

Participation in, for example, reward programs will put a positive stamp on safety policy. The aforementioned rewards - letters, citations, meeting the CEO - bring competitiveness to a safety culture, and help spread the notion that safety permeates the organization right up to the top. The CEO can provide a statement (issued on paper or via video, for example) to be shown at an annual sales meeting, or other national company function, even mentioned at a shareholders' meeting. 

Saving Money - and Lives

Drivers need to know and understand that safety is an integral part of their jobs, that the company views it as a serious and important part of operations, and that everyone, from the CEO on down, thinks so. A safety culture goes beyond just policy or procedure. Safety happens when drivers know that their safety, that of their customers and even their families, is on the minds of everyone they deal with. When drivers drive safely in the same way they perform any other part of the job, it will save money, prevent injury, and even save lives.


Special Fleet Safety Series Sponsored By Volvo Cars North America