The fleet industry is operating squarely in a “safety zone” today. While this is good news for fleet drivers, the public, and companies’ bottom lines, even with the best intentions, a safety program can fail to live up to its noble intentions.

While the following list isn’t comprehensive, it does highlight some of the biggest pitfalls (in no particular order) that fleets can encounter when setting up a safety program, and it offers tips on how to avoid them.

1 Not Having Senior Management Buy In

Even with the best, most well-thought out plan, without senior management standing behind a safety program, it probably won’t succeed.

“It’s important to make sure that when you are seeking senior management support you are fully prepared with facts and figures as to why developing a fleet safety program will benefit your company,” said Ed Iannuzzi, manager – Driver Services for ARI. “Your plan should include a detailed description of the entire program, including goals, benefits, cost savings, budgetary considerations, and the assurance that the program will not compromise business operations. In addition, a comparison of what similar businesses are doing could help the cause. Anything short of these items could compromise your ability to launch a successful fleet safety program.” 

There’s good reason why getting management buy-in is a must.

“Company culture is driven from the top,” said Brian Kinniry, CEI manager of risk and safety services. “For a company to create a strong safety culture, all employees need to know that senior management views fleet safety as a key element in the way the organization conducts its entire business, and that it has a major impact on how well it performs.”

2 Not Engaging Key Stakeholders

While senior-management support is crucial for a safety program’s success, it is equally crucial to get other key stakeholders’ support, including HR, risk, finance, and even legal.

But, even more fundamentally, fleet managers need to know how the safety program will affect the rest of the organization, noted Jeff Fender, VP of sales and marketing for Fleet Response. “Try to avoid this pitfall by looking at how the program is going to affect everyone involved and who’s going to touch it, and what affect it will have on their primary job function,” he said.

Eric Strom, marketing product manager, maintenance & safety service for GE Capital Fleet Services, advocated engaging the driver. “By getting the individual drivers engaged, you have a much better chance to have changes in behavior,” he said. “Allow drivers full visibility of their accident claim history, their MVR results, and let them understand why they’re at a certain risk level and why they’re being recognized or why they’re receiving remedial training. Be an open book.”

3 Treating Fleet Safety as ‘One and Done’

Ask any safety manager, and they’ll agree that safety is an ongoing, never-ending activity.

“The development of a fleet safety program should never be considered a static, ‘one and done’ kind of exercise,” Iannuzzi said. “Programs that are not periodically reviewed and revisited quickly become stale. Remember, you want to always keep fleet safety in the forefront. Realistic goals should also be established and measured, and must be reportable.”

And, going hand-in-glove with the “one-and-done” approach is expecting an immediate ROI.  
 
“A lot of people say, we’re going to implement a fleet safety program, we’re going to do these three steps, and they expect results in the first two months. And, you might, but if you don’t do things on a consistent/regular basis the numbers will creep back up,” Fender observed.

4 Not Having an Updated, Consistent Driver Policy

Not having a fleet driver policy that’s regularly updated or inconsistent, can be another recipe for compliance disaster.

“The policy should be developed with the ability to adapt, because you don’t want to have to rewrite your fleet policy every year,” said Ted Lewin, senior manager risk management services for Wheels. “This is a very free-flowing marketplace and new techniques and technologies come out. You have to have your policy written in a way that allows you to implement some things without having to rewrite your policy all the time.”

That being said, Tony Vinciguerra, VP & GM for PHH Arval’s Center for Transportation Safety, warned about a policy that is “unclear and too nebulous. A dispersed fleet, in particular, needs to have a very specific policy. One that’s set up for a supervisor to use their ‘discretion’ will cause too many variations across the fleet and a lot of problems,” he said. “You also have to watch out for a policy that’s too narrow in scope. It needs to cover the casual driver, personal vehicles, and who’s covered by the policy, such as a spouse or children.”

There’s a further pitfall to avoid, according to Kinniry. “In addition to the policy itself being consistent, it needs to be consistently enforced, and in a timely manner. Always treating drivers the same way for the same violations helps protect the fleet sponsor from liability. Holding drivers accountable as soon as possible after their policy violations is vital to changing driver behavior,” he said. 

Randy Shadley, CAFM, account manager and fleet safety specialist for Corporate Claims Management (CCM), noted the serious consequences of inconsistency. “If one driver receives a more serious disciplinary action than another who had similar issues, the employer can easily find itself facing a claim of discrimination and/or, in some cases, wrongful termination,” he said.

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5 Not Having Clearly Defined Goals

The purpose and results of the safety policy should be clearly defined.
“You have to set what your goals and expectations are for the program. Have you clearly identified a problem that requires a program to in fact measure and monitor such activities,” said Dan Shive, VP risk management services for LeasePlan USA. “What’s important within the fleet policy is what’s being measured, why it’s being measured, what effect or results you’re looking for, as well as telling people what you’re not measuring and what you’re not looking at. It’s kind of tell ‘em what you’re gonna do and what you’re not gonna do.”

6 Not Communicating with Drivers

It may seem obvious, but communication is one of the most important keys to success for any endeavor. This is particularly the case for a fleet safety program.

“[If] you have a clear communication plan, this will avoid any backlash from drivers and their supervisors,” Iannuzzi said.

7 MVRs are the Only Element of the Fleet Safety Policy

A driver’s motor vehicle record (MVR) may be the cornerstone of most fleet safety policies, but it can’t be the only item, according to Strom of GE Capital Fleet Services.

“Running MVRs alone is not the full solution for a fleet safety program,” he said. “Some fleets feel that if they check the box and run an MVR they are going to be good. The MVRs have to be matched up with a company policy that outlines the consequences of those MVR violations and make sure there is fair and consistent enforcement policy regardless of the employee’s position and then make sure in addition to the MVR results other elements are integrated so a risk assessment can be done of each driver.”

8 Having a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Policy

Not every fleet faces the same safety issues. A fleet operating in a primarily rural area may have to focus on training drivers about avoiding deer collisions, while a primarily urban fleet may need to focus on how to drive safely in stop-and-go traffic. So, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in today’s fleet world.

“This is a relatively new thing — that you have a strategy around safety — because it used to be and still exists today, ‘we’ll run an MVR on everybody and then we’ll give everybody a training module and we’re fine and everybody’s happy.’ Well, our clients demand more than that now, and we’re definitely taking a strategy for safety, and that strategy means we’re going to look at incidents, accidents, violations, even tracking unreported vehicle damages when a vehicle is remarketed along with other risk identifiers, and come up with strategic training that is incident based,” Lewin of Wheels said.

9 The Safety Policy is a Means to Penalize Drivers

The goal of a safety program is to help the driver stay safe.

“A big pitfall would be treating the fleet safety program as a penalization process for bad behavior, bad driving behavior, when, in fact, it should be treated as a service or as a function to keep the driver safe,” Fender of Fleet Response said.

Strom noted that a recognition and remediation program can be a powerful way to strengthen the safety program and create compliance. “I think there should be a recognition program in place and, at the same time, make sure you have remedial actions,” he said. “Make sure you’re pulling MVRs more frequently on high-risk drivers, you’re assigning safety training, make sure you engage your driver’s direct manager, make sure they’re informed. It’s much more than MVRs.”

However, CCM’s Shadley noted it is imperative that action be taken with drivers who violate the safety policy. “Do not fail to take action when you know, or should have known, that a driver has a problem. If an MVR shows multiple moving violations and you have not addressed it, you have met the very definition of ‘negligent entrustment.’”

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