There is little question that keeping company vehicle drivers, their passengers, and the public safe is the single most important responsibility a fleet manager has. From vehicle selection to specification to policy, safety should be a primary force in decision making. 

One method used by many companies to help make safety efforts successful is implementing a safe driving incentive program. Using various measurements, drivers whose safety records are exemplary are rewarded.

But if the basis for the program is merely “no accidents = cash,” the overall goal of achieving a safety culture among drivers won’t be met. Here are some tips to remember when you want your safety program to have maximum effectiveness.

Incentives: What Kind?

There are a number of incentives that do work and help promote a safety culture:

● Recognition among peers and others. Most people work hard and do their jobs with little fanfare. Publicly recognizing excellence, on a wide scale, is something most people rarely, but would like to, receive.

● Tangible rewards. These can take many forms. Letters of commendation, plaques, and trophies are usually proudly displayed. Prizes, perhaps chosen from a catalog, are sometimes used, as is permitting a driver to upgrade the model or equipment on their vehicle. Combinations of all of these methods are another way to emphasize the safety message.

● Monetary. “Money talks,” as the saying goes, and monetary incentives can help bolster the effectiveness of the program. Monetary rewards don’t necessarily have to be in the form of a check; drivers can have personal use charges suspended or reduced for a set period, or something along those lines — anything that either provides money for a driver or reduces/prevents his or her money from going out the door. 

Employees — and people in general — are motivated in different ways. Some actually crave recognition above money, others want the money. Still others need both. It is easy to provide both recognition as well as some tangible or monetary reward in a safety incentive program, which helps motivate the broadest set of personalities.


What and How to Measure

A combination of recognition and monetary/tangible rewards are usually the best way to motivate the largest number of drivers. However, what do you measure, and how do you measure it? “Keeping score” is also an important part of safety programs that work. Criteria should be clear, measurable, and fair to all. 

Fairness can sometimes be tricky to achieve. If, for example, drivers are judged, in part or overall, by chargeable accidents, drivers in congested urban areas are exposed to far more instances in which such accidents can occur (more intersections, traffic controls, and traffic) than drivers in wide-open, rural areas. Then again, rural drivers accumulate far more miles than those in urban and suburban areas where customers are closer together. For that reason, don’t make chargeable accidents the only measurement. Consider using accidents-per-thousand-miles driven, rather than just the number of accidents in a designated period.

Be sure to include violations, too. Assign points to various types of violations — the lowest number for administrative violations (expired registration or inspection), a bit higher for equipment (broken tail light, burned out headlight), higher still for moving violations (failure to yield, improper lane change), with the highest number of points for the most serious violations (speeding, reckless driving, following too closely). Drivers who get DUI/DWI violations shouldn’t be driving company-provided vehicles or, at the very least, should be excluded from the  incentive program.

It’s also a good idea to consider including the proper care and maintenance of the vehicle, as well. Drivers who perform preventive maintenance consistently and within policy will be driving safer vehicles than those who don’t. 

Keep the measurement criteria broad; the fewer criteria used, the more likely it is you’ll have a majority of drivers receiving rewards. The idea here is to reward the most exemplary driving behavior. It’s not like a Little League team where everyone gets a trophy just for participating. One of the most often heard criticisms of safety incentive programs is that the company shouldn’t reward drivers just for doing their job without crashing the car the company provides. Having a comprehensive set of safety criteria in your program can go a long way toward meeting that complaint head on. 

Clocking the Program Period

Next, you’ll need to determine how long the reward period will be. Should it be one year? Two? Five? The answer is simple: all of the above, and more. 

Safety incentive programs should be ongoing. Rewards can be given for one year, five, 10, and even for “lifetime achievement” for a driver who is retiring. In a typical year, there will be a fair number of drivers who — no matter how broad and inclusive your measurements are — will qualify for rewards; no accidents, no violations, vehicles well maintained according to policy. As the years pass and the program continues, the numbers will decline (if nothing else, via attrition as drivers leave the company). 

Logically, the rewards should increase in size and value as the five- or 10-year winners are named. 

Matching the right reward for the right achievement is relatively simple. The one-year winners might receive a certificate or plaque with some recognition in the company newsletter or on the company Intranet site. As achievement goes to multiple years, tangible rewards can be given. The key is that a successful program won’t have dozens or hundreds of winners; you are rewarding excellence, not merely compliance. 

So the program — rather than a contest — is an ongoing recognition of safety excellence. Although the rewards are presented based on some pre-determined periods of time, the program itself is ongoing, with rewards increasing in value as the safe driving “cream” rises to the top.

Rewarding Safety

To summarize, an effective safe driving incentive program does exactly that: It provides incentives to drivers to keep safety foremost in their minds as they go about doing the job. 

● Provide more than one type of incentive, to meet the “needs” of all the drivers: recognition among peers and throughout the company, tangible rewards such as prizes, and monetary rewards either in the form of cash or money to be retained by the employee, e.g., reduced or suspended personal use charges. Whatever the form, greater  performance should be met by an increased value of the reward.

● Similarly, use a mix of criteria to be measured. They must be clearly defined and easily gauged. A combination of accident tracking, violations, and even preventive maintenance policy compliance will help keep the number of winners to a small, excellent elite. 

● Though the program should be ongoing, rewards themselves should be based on drivers exhibiting such excellence over established periods of time — one, five, 10 years, and a “lifetime achievement” award for long-term safety performance. 

Don’t just throw checks at drivers who manage not to run the company car into a highway underpass. Choose your criteria, measure it, set the rewards, and most of all, communicate with drivers and management regularly.  Have sales managers announce award winners at scheduled conference calls or branch meetings. Highlight the program on the company website. Remember, the purpose of a fleet safety program is as much to foster a culture of safety throughout the organization as it is to recognize individuals. If done right, it works, and will save money, too.