There are certain responsibilities that make up a fleet manager’s mission: choosing the right vehicles for the job, equipping them properly, building and enforcing a formal fleet policy, and ensuring a fleet’s vehicles are properly maintained and dependable.

But, none of these is more important than safety — providing an environment where safe driving is paramount, along with a policy that ensures it. Most companies have at least some pieces of a safety policy in place, and some have a complete policy. In this two-part article, Automotive Fleet examines what fleet managers must do to build an in-house safety program — and, if the decision is made to outsource the project, key elements to make certain that suppliers do the job right.

At A Glance

There are a number of steps involved in creating an in-house fleet safety program:

  • Create an outline for the program.
  • Obtain proper approvals to go forward with the program.
  • 'Flesh out' the Program.
  • Introduce and
    implement the program.

Create an Outline

As with any major project, the first step is to create an outline or summary of the content. For fleet managers seeking to implement a safety policy, this should include meeting with key stakeholders — legal, sales/service, risk management, human resources, and any other disciplines or leadership in the company whose input will be needed.

It’s important here to distinguish between a safety policy and safety program. Think of the difference this way: a policy is the “what” of safety, while the program is the “how” of carrying out or delivering the elements of the policy. For example, the policy might hold that all drivers must complete a basic safe driving course, including certification, each year. The program will provide a method for delivering, testing, and certifying the training.

Prepare a brief outline, use bullet points to describe the elements of the program:

  • Training: Define how often for all drivers, with the exceptions for either safe drivers or those with multiple violations or chargeable accidents. 
  • Rewards programs: Include tracking of driver records, documentation and delivery of rewards, and the application of policy rewards qualifications. 
  • Motor vehicle records (MVRs): State when, how often, and for whom MVRs will be obtained and reviewed. Include a method for "scoring" MVRs.
  • Accident reviews: Include an accident review committee, which should incorporate, at minimum, fleet and risk management. Include human resources, a representative from the drivers' function, and legal as well. The committee will review each accident to determine chargeability and the application of any penalities for violations. 
  • Communication: Define the program, its responsibilities, and how the program will be communicated to drivers, their managers, and senior managers within the drivers' department. The safety message must be repeated often by the fleet manager as well as drivers' managers. 
  • Telematics: Install device(s), data tracking, and event reporting. 

These (and sometimes other) basic services will be required when the program is implemented. Include justification for formalizing the program, with a particular focus on cost savings) reduced accident ratios and resulting costs.

Obtain Proper Approvals

The next step is the most important. Upon the completion of the outline, the fleet manager will need to obtain the proper approvals to go forward with the program. These approvals, if handled properly, will go a long way toward the acceptance not only of the program, but also of the fleet manager’s authority to enforce it.

The first approval should come from the fleet manager’s immediate supervisor. It may be tempting to go right to the top, but the last person in the organization anyone would want to anger is an immediate supervisor. Make it clear, with justification, that you want the program to be approved at the highest level possible, preferably by a senior executive at the highest “C” level (e.g., CEO or COO).

The immediate supervisor will likely be able to guide the approvals through the ranks to the executive suite. The reason high-level approval is needed is a simple one: there will inevitably be requests for special consideration, particularly as it pertains to MVRs and other violation consequences.

What form should that approval take?

An e-mail or a hard copy memo from the CEO, endorsing the program — and giving the fleet manager full authority to carry it out and/or enforce it throughout the organization, without exception (this will particularly come in handy if the company has executive vehicles).

‘Flesh Out’ the Program

Now that the outline has gone through the approval process, and has been endorsed at the highest level possible, the program needs to be fleshed out, as the fleet manager develops the details of the outline, including how it will be announced and implemented.
One crucial component of a safety program is driver training; fleet managers need to determine what the focus of such training should be. 

Training should focus on situational awareness and defensive driving techniques. Drivers need to know they’ll be expected to do all that is possible to avoid accidents. Training can be behind the wheel — particularly if the fleet includes trucks — online, or via testing in a classroom. The method of delivery isn’t all that important; the consistency of the delivery is.

Another key component of a driver safety program is providing incentives to drivers. Different people are motivated in different ways. Providing rewards to drivers with exemplary driving records can be an effective motivator. There are a number of forms rewards can take, including recognition, monetary gain, upgrades in vehicles, prizes, or combinations of any of them.

The record rewarded should be truly exemplary; five years without any violations or chargeable accidents is a good starting point. Establish levels — five years, 10 years, etc. — with increasing rewards at each level. Whatever the ultimate reward is, recognition should be part of it.

Also needed for a driver safety program are MVRs, which serve as the basic measuring stick for safe driving. These criteria could include: Safe drivers don’t speed, they don’t change lanes without signaling, and they obey traffic controls.

The program can assign a point system to measure the severity of any violations that appears on a record. It need not be overly extensive; a scale of one through three will work well. Three-point violations would include speeding, failure to obey a traffic signal (a light or stop sign), and tailgating. Failure to signal a turn or an illegal lane change might be at the two-point level, and equipment or administrative violations, such as expired tags, driver’s license, or inspection stickers, and burned-out bulbs, could be one point. That said, some violations, such as DUI or DWI, reckless driving, or speeding more than 25 mph over the limit, should initiate immediate consequences — they are not even subject to the point system. Finally, some system of capturing points, “scorekeeping,” and communicating results to drivers will be required.

Communication related to the program, as well as the safety policy, is also crucial — it can make the difference between a successful initiative and one that languishes.
Drivers, as has been previously noted, know how to drive. But, when distracted by the pressures of doing the job, driving safely can often take a back seat to getting to a customer on time.

Communicating the safety message regularly keeps it at the forefront. It is the repetition of the safety message — rather than training drivers to do, or not do, what they already know — that ensures success. Safety should be a part of any meetings — in person or via webinar conference call — drivers have. A safety newsletter can be provided weekly or monthly to all. Safe driving can be prominently featured on the company intranet. With the electronic tools fleet managers have today, getting the message out — and repeating it — is not difficult.

Finally, telematics should play a part in a safety program despite being a relatively new technology related to driver safety. Among the various data telematics can provide are “events,” such as rapid acceleration, speeding, harsh braking, and more. Tracking these events can reinforce the after-the-fact results seen on an MVR, for example. They can provide invaluable warning signs related to unsafe driving that enable fleet managers to be proactive in keeping drivers safe.

Preparing the outlined program for introduction and implementation takes time (if done right), but is worthwhile in keeping drivers safe, avoiding corporate liability, and reducing costs.

Implement the Program

The program has been outlined, approvals have been obtained, and the specifics of the content and delivery are now in place. The final step will be introduction and implementation.

Again, electronic communication gives fleet managers today tools that weren’t even on the radar screen as recently as 20 years ago. Up until then, the only ways fleet managers had to communicate the message were via fax, telephone, and actual hard copy.
A formal announcement of the program can be made through several venues, including the corporate intranet site, a fleet website (if there is one), e-mail, and/or social media.

The announcement, to be most effective, should be led by the approval and endorsement communication obtained from the C-level executive. Keep it upbeat and positive; note that the company and fleet management are most concerned with keeping drivers safe, and, in light of this concern, are introducing the fleet safety program. Lay out the details in each of the programs’ elements, how the programs will be implemented and tracked, and what the drivers’ and their managers’ responsibilities will be.

Any fleet management company will tell you that, as much or more than anything else, a well-structured and smooth implementation will help ensure the success of any program. After announcing the program, the implementation begins.

Subsequent to the initial announcement of the program, the form and content of the ongoing communication must be developed. One page is usually sufficient. Content can include a safety-related maintenance tip (e.g., how to measure remaining tread on a tire), a defensive driving tip, and even perhaps a quiz (which doesn’t necessarily have to do with safety). Don’t forget the recognition of any award-winning drivers. And, consider social media for further communication, including Facebook and Twitter.

In addition, make sure to choose a telematics provider, and arrange for installation of any hardware. Work with that provider to develop reporting of events, and a process for distributing reports to the field.

Regarding the actual training of drivers, determine what form the training should take, and how and where it will be provided. For truck fleets, behind-the-wheel training is important — proper backing and use of mirrors, judging length and height when parking, and other truck-related issues. Push for any field meetings to include safety training; this can be accomplished via webcast, online, or even through a written test. For drivers who have high MVR point totals, additional formal training should be mandatory. The focus should be on defensive driving techniques and accident avoidance.

Also, keep in mind that different states have different processes for obtaining MVRs. Set up a process for doing so; learn the fees, and sign up on state DMV websites, where necessary, since payment can be made online in many cases. Some states have their own point systems for tracking violations, but they won’t be consistent, which is why an internal point system is needed. MVRs should be accessed at least twice a year, and more often is better. For drivers with MVRs that show two- or three-point violations, pull their MVRs more frequently than the normal schedule. The same goes for telematics reports that show unusual frequency of documented events.

Developing, obtaining approval for, and implementing an in-house fleet safety program should be a natural progression once a fleet safety policy has been put in place. It can be a challenging project, but the rewards can be substantial, both in cost savings and in the comfort of knowing that drivers, passengers, and the public will be safer for it.

Editor's note: For more information on this topic, attend the Fleet Safety Conference on July 13-15 in Schaumburg, Ill. For more info, visit the conference website here.