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Safety has become a top-of-mind concern for today’s fleets. While there is an array of safety technologies being outfitted in today’s vehicles to avoid or mitigate the effects of vehicle crashes, the need for a comprehensive fleet safety program is still paramount to keep drivers, their vehicles, and the public out of harm’s way. Part 1 of this article will discuss the essentials of establishing a fleet safety program. Part 2 will present two fleet safety case studies.

Starting with the Essentials

Fleets need to lay the foundations of a fleet safety program with a clear, single message.

“Clearly communicate that safety is a core company value and let employees know that no job is so important that it should be done at personal risk,” said Art Liggio, president of Driving Dynamics. “Inform drivers that the executives, managers, and supervisors actively support and participate in achieving the organization’s safety efforts.”

At A Glance

In order to succeed, fleet safety programs need to include:

  •  A strong written safety program.
  • Support from senior management and buy in from employees.
  • Clear consequences and rewards.
  • Constant training opportunities and reinforcement.

Terry Horrocks, manager, Fleet Risk & Safety for Element, said that the establishment of a “culture of safety” is the most essential component for a successful fleet safety program.

“This single component really defines the potential success of the entire program,” he said. “Management must establish driver expectations according to best practices and drivers must understand and adapt their behavior to the expected norms. This is best accomplished through active engagement by both sides, things like rewards.”

There are several key elements needed for an effective fleet safety program, including: a strong written fleet safety policy, support and compliance from senior management, a dedicated and responsible individual that can implement and enforce policy, and disallowing exceptions, according to Bob Martines, president and CEO of CCM Services. But that’s just the beginning.

“CCM advocates five essential components for a best-in-class safety program as follows: senior management sponsorship, communications, risk assessment, remediation, and recognition,” Martines said.

Fundamental to success is having strong leadership and communicating the message to the drivers, according to Rich Radi, director, Driver Excellence, for ARI.

“Senior management must view driver safety as an investment in their employees and as an enduring value, not just the program du jour,” he said. “They must dedicate structure and resources to the program and make sure they train everyone in the organization, especially middle management, on the importance of driver safety to their organization. ”

The program itself should be comprehensive and detailed.

“The policy should be a consensus of many departmental figures such as risk/HR/legal/fleet and user groups. Some important elements can include eligible drivers of a company vehicle, restrictions on driving while impaired or compliance of company expectations,” said Bob Krueger, director of safety for LeasePlan USA. “From a safety perspective, some of the key programs that can be included are MVR/risk ratings, driver training (through multiple methods), 1-800 How’s My Driving, and the utilization of telematics.”

Most important is to keep in mind that safety programs don’t occur in a vacuum, but are part of a larger continuum.

“There are many different programs, all working in tandem, that are essential to a successful fleet safety program,” observed Diana Holland, executive director of Marketing & Service Sales for Merchants Fleet Management. “Programs that are proactive in nature tend to be most successful. Such programs include: driver risk assessment and scoring, MVR administration, violations management, and telematics, to name a few.” 

MVR checks are among the key foundation elements for establishing a successful fleet safety program, which should be run at least twice per year, according to Ted Lewin, senior manager of Risk Management Services for Wheels Inc.

“There is also a growing trend to have the fleet office coordinate with Human Resources during the hiring process to make sure the same risk scoring for a driving position is in place,” said Lewin.

Risk scoring is another key element, added Lewin.

“Metrics include collisions; both preventable and non-preventable, camera violations, open recalls, compliance with maintenance intervals, telematics, unreported vehicle damage and observed driver behavior,” he said.

Phil Moser, vice president of Advanced Driver Training Services (ADTS), noted that having a fleet safety program isn’t a one-and-done exercise. “The policy needs to be a living document,” he said.

Getting Support

Support for the fleet safety program needs to be both from the top down and the bottom up.

For Ken Latzko, senior director of Sales & Marketing for CEI, visible support from the very top is crucial to creating a successful fleet safety program.

“[Senior management] has to be committed to making the necessary investments of time and money, and they have to make it clear to all fleet drivers that safety is one of the organization’s top priorities, for the benefit of both the drivers and their loved ones and for the success of the organization itself,” he said. “The most effective way to get senior management to buy into improving a fleet safety program is to make a business case.”

It’s also important to show senior management that a safety program will not affect the company operationally.

“You must demonstrate that safety and service can coexist and ultimately must coexist if you want a healthy, happy, low-turnover workforce,” said Jerry Veres, CDS, safety program coordinator for Fleet Response. “Safety is not about working slower, it is about working smarter.”

While senior management have to be convinced, it may not be the uphill battle it once was. “I have seen less resistance over the past few years as some of the major stories regarding liability have gained traction in the industry,” said Lewin of Wheels Inc. “HR, risk, and legal departments need to be involved in the discussion at it’s early stages, which is a significant aid in getting senior management by in.”

Senior management support is the key element to getting employee buy in, according to Krueger of LeasePlan USA.

“Buy in begins at the leadership level and cascades down on how the policy will help everyone get home safely at the end of the day,” he said. “Employees will need to know that there are rules, and, if they are broken, there will be consequences.”

A serious top-down commitment to safety will make employees active supporters of a fleet safety program.

“Drivers want to feel important and that their opinion matters, therefore you cannot force a program on them without expecting push back,” said Martines of CCM. “However, if a driver understands and believes that the company has the driver’s best interest in mind and that they care about the driver and his/her family being safe or protected by the company, there is less resistance.”

This goes back to clearly communicating the safety message at every point in establishing the program.

“Clearly define what you are trying to accomplish and why, employees who clearly understand the program are much more likely to get on board,” said Horrocks of Element. Let employees know that, while the dollars and cents matter, there are bigger concerns when it comes to fleet safety for example assuring that everyone goes home safe at the end of the day may have a greater impact than the obvious financial considerations.

Veres added that employee buy in can be cultivated by involving drivers during the creation of the safety program.

“Your employees will feel empowered by helping create this safety program and will be inclined to follow something that they help construct,” he said.

Mixing in Training

Training is the next step to creating and sustaining a success fleet safety program.

“No driver ever believes they are not a good driver, therefore, they need to be educated on how to improve their driving skills,” said Martines of CCM.

Driver training takes many forms and fleet managers need to assess their drivers in
order to see what works best for their overall fleet operations.

“Every three years, fleet drivers should receive a refresher course of driver training,” said Moser of ADTS. “In-classroom training, online modules, and e-blasts should be issued intermittently throughout that time.”

Bill Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs for the American Automobile Association (AAA), noted that this blend of training will help to ensure that drivers hear the safety message loud and clear.

“Each driver responds differently to the training that is available to them and the fleet manager, fleet management company, or safety coordinator can accommodate for their learning needs,” Van Tassel said. “Not all drivers are equal.”

Incentivizing Good Driving Behaviors

Fleet safety programs should have consequences for violations ranging from coaching to revocation of driving privileges up to and including termination.

Moser of ADTS notes that “fleet managers should develop a comprehensive safety policy with a point system” as means to measure and recognize good driver performance.

Recognition can take many forms from simply being highilighted in company publications for superior driving performance to financial and other rewards.

“Anything that is valued by the fleet drivers as a whole would work as a good reward for practicing safe driving behaviors,” said Van Tassel of AAA. “Financial incentives can be very effective, so can time off. One of the keys is for all drivers to see certain drivers being rewarded for safe actions.”

Integrating Safety Technology

Apart from the driver training provided to fleet drivers, fleet managers can also add safety technologies or integrate vehicles into their fleets that already come equipped with safety technology.

But, with the introduction of safety technologies also comes the over-reliance on it.

“Safety technologies need to be used in conjunction with good driving practices, not take the place of good driving practices,” cautioned Moser of ADTS.

While technology should only be a tool that fleet drivers use to drive more safely, other technology, namely telematics, is giving fleet managers the kind of insight into driver behavior.

“There has been amazing progress in the ability to actively monitor and measure driver behavior through telematics and sophisticated analytics engines that can help predict which drivers are most likely to be in a crash,” noted Radi of ARI. “Of course mobile technology and the complexity of vehicle user interfaces have significantly contributed to driver distractions.”

Veres of Fleet Response noted that while safety technology, such as seatbelts, has made vehicles much safer, the over-reliance on technology has removed driver accountability from the equation.

But more crucial has been a change in overall driver attitudes to a “Me First” perspective.

“Drivers perceive their drive time as an opportunity to multitask (e.g., call, text, answer e-mails). They put other people’s property and/or lives at risk so they can selfishly multitask while operating their vehicle,” he said. “This is a key element in any safety program: the ability to communicate to your fleet of professional drivers that they are surrounded by ‘Me First’ drivers all day long. The average driver drives for themselves — the professional driver drives for themselves and everyone else around them.”

Measuring Success

While fleet safety programs have to be implemented largely with an appeal to the bottom line, success should be measured in human terms, according to Martines of CCM.

“The first and foremost measurement of success is less injuries/fatalities followed by reduced accident/incident rates followed by less hard costs and liability pay outs,” he said.

Latzko of CEI noted that there are a number of specific metrics to be used to consider success.

“If a fleet safety program is working, it means the company is saving money. Direct costs can add up to millions of dollars a year,” he said. “In addition, there are even greater hidden or ‘soft’ costs, such as higher insurance expenses, lost productivity, and administrative and legal expenses. But dollars saved aren’t the only metric. Success can also be measured in terms of the number of prevented accidents, the reduction in the fleet’s accident rate, and the decline in number of work days lost to injuries. These all translate into dollars, but they are significant measurements in and of themselves.”

Sustaining the Program

Often a program — such as a fleet safety program — is implemented with great fanfare, but, after the initial launch, soon fades into a program in name only.
To sustain a fleet safety program, fleets need to continue to “beat the drum,” according to Latzko of CEI.

“First, they have to continue to deliver the goods, which are the driver risk assessments and timely consequences for bad driving. Second, they have to maintain a steady of flow of communications, which takes a variety of forms: driver feedback, field manager engagement with their drivers, e-mails, customized videos, and periodic proactive training,” he said. “They have to keep their safety policies up to date and widely communicate any changes. Drivers should be required to read and sign off on the policy once every year, which is easier when they create an online safety policy module, complete with a short test drivers have to pass to sign off. Finally, senior management should define and announce long-term safety goals and communicate every year on progress toward meeting those goals.”

Martines of CCM noted that sustaining a fleet safety program can be a challenge that is linked to a particular mindset by senior management that has to be overcome.

“The toughest part of acceptance is many senior managers at many types of companies think safety is like turning on a light switch, that is, they expect immediate results within a few days of start-up,” he said. “Education of the entire process and a clear definition of expectations are necessary to get the program off to a good start. Progress must be monitored consistently and when the expected results begin to become evident, the good news must be spread like wildfire. As results improve, more people want to join in and be part of a success story.”

Editor's note: This article is part of a two-part package dealing with fleet safety programs. Read the related article that addresses how two fleets approach driver safety here.