Automotive Fleet editor, Mike Antich (l) and Mike Joyce (r), AALA executive director, presented Dina Kushaliyeva (center left) with the fleet safety award. Kushaliyeva accepted the award with Abigail Bogle (center right), who Kushaliyeva described as an integral part of her fleet safety team.  - Photo by Eric Gandarilla. 

Automotive Fleet editor, Mike Antich (l) and Mike Joyce (r), AALA executive director, presented Dina Kushaliyeva (center left) with the fleet safety award. Kushaliyeva accepted the award with Abigail Bogle (center right), who Kushaliyeva described as an integral part of her fleet safety team. 

Photo by Eric Gandarilla. 

In a room filled with more than 200 safety professionals, Dina Kushaliyeva walked to the stage to accept her award.

She was accepting the Fleet Safety Award, which is sponsored by American Automotive Leasing Association (AALA), at the 2019 Fleet Safety Conference in recognition of her work improving Direct Energy’s fleet safety program.

Kushaliyeva, who serves as the company’s sr. manager HSES for North America, walked onto the stage with another member of her team, Abigail Bogle. Bogle, Kushaliyeva mentioned, was integral in rolling out Direct Energy’s improved safety program.

The four-person safety team at Direct Energy is responsible for ensuring the safety of a fleet and drivers that operate throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In order to optimize their workflow and reduce accident rates, Kushaliyeva and the team implemented a new safety program that automated many of the processes that they previously had done manually. 

“It was administrative paperwork that was a burden,” said Kushaliyeva. “It was killing all the operations, as people would dread having to go through MVRs for hundreds of drivers. It would take forever looking through these records, counting and calculating how many points they actually have.”

So, through a year-long process, the team researched and piloted its new safety program. There were two main components an online driver scorecard system that provided a robust automation and telematics devices that would be installed on every fleet vehicle. 

A New Fleet Safety Program

Kushaliyeva has been with Direct Energy for 13 years but began overseeing fleet safety for Direct Energy in 2015, teaming up with the fleet manager for North America at Direct Energy, Jennifer Stoff.

Direct Energy’s fleet size will fluctuate periodically depending on whether the company recently acquired a company or divested a prior acquisition.

Not too long ago, the company’s fleet totaled 2,500, but after a recent divesture now totals 900. That number is expected to grow, if historical trends are an indicator, Kushaliyeva noted.

Previously, Direct Energy’s fleet lacked a unified safety program. 

Accident rates were higher than the company wanted and fleet drivers were more often at fault for accidents.

So, in 2015, Kushaliyeva and her team began researching and building their safety platform.

One of the biggest hurdles that Kushaliyeva and her team had to overcome when developing their new safety program was coming up with a single algorithm that would calculate all her driver’s performance based on the same criteria yet still be fair for everyone.

This proved difficult because her drivers operate out of almost every state in the U.S., and also in Canada, so everyone has their regional specifics.

The first cog in this new platform would be a fleet management company with a system that could automate process that were previously done manually. They found a company with a scorecard system that met those needs exactly.

In 2016, this scorecard system was fully integrated into Direct Energy’s operations. With this integration, phase one of the new safety program was complete.

Next up was phase two.

Direct Energy had previously used a telematics system, but that system did not meet the needs of the company. The new telematics system needed to provide real-life in-cab coaching and also be able to integrate with the new scorecard system.

The new telematics system that Kushaliyeva ultimately chose met both of those requirements.

“Unlike many others out there that will give you a light indicator or beeping noise of some sort — that most folks will actually disregard — our telematics device talks to the driver and reminds the driver to make the right decision,” said Kushaliyeva. “If you get behind the wheel of any one of the fleet vehicles we have without having a seat belt on, the system will continuously say ‘no seat’ and there’s no way to turn it off unless you put on a seat belt.”

Every Direct Energy vehicle is now equipped with this telematics device. Apart from the in-cab coaching, it also provides functions such as GPS vehicle tracking, engine and battery health, and collision detection and notification.

Thanks to the integration capability of the telematics device with the scorecard system, the Direct Energy team has a single sign-in for the complete telematics / scorecard system.

In terms of the technology in the vehicles themselves, when a vehicle is purchased for the company, the fleet manager ensures it has good safety ratings and comes it equipped with blind-spot detection and backup cameras at minimum.

Results of the New Safety Program

Direct Energy’s fleet, which will fluctuate in size depending on acquisitions or divestitures, is mainly comprised of vans. There are currently 900 vehicles in Direct Energy’s fleet; not too long ago it was 2,500 vehicles.   - Photo courtesy of Dina Kushaliyeva. 

Direct Energy’s fleet, which will fluctuate in size depending on acquisitions or divestitures, is mainly comprised of vans. There are currently 900 vehicles in Direct Energy’s fleet; not too long ago it was 2,500 vehicles.  

Photo courtesy of Dina Kushaliyeva. 

Since implementing the new safety program, Direct Energy drivers have generated fewer citations.

Drivers are also more alert, in large part due to the in-cab coaching provided by the telematics device.

Overall driver accountability has also improved, thanks to the automation of the new program, drivers are more immediately held accountable for their actions.

Collisions have declined, the company registered 4.58 accidents per million miles in 2017 and 3.89 accidents per million miles in 2018. In 70% of the collisions that do occur, the company’s fleet drivers are not at fault.

“A reason why I think we were very successful in implementing this program was because we combined fleet and safety into one process, compared to many other companies where they treat safety separately versus fleet,” said Kushaliyeva. “Today HSE and fleet are working as one team, the system we have allows us to have everything from drivers’ performance and accidents to vehicle data, to maintenance status all at our fingertips in one place.”

A Clear Safety Policy

Kushaliyeva said that an effective safety policy must be clear and transparent.

Drivers must know what the company expects of them and what they should expect from the company.

But, most importantly a safety policy must be clearly communicated, as a great safety policy doesn’t do anyone any good if nobody knows about it.

Therefore, every single new hire’s onboarding process includes Direct Energy’s safety policy in the form of an online interactive module.

The module will let a hire know exactly what’s expected of them and layout all essential and relevant safety program information.

Transparency with drivers is key, Kushaliyeva said.

Fleet Safety Program Leads to Subrogation Improvement

Direct Energy is self-insured. This means that in instances where an accident happens, they must collect money from at-fault parties on their own, without an insurance company that will do it on their behalf.

Before implementing its new safety program, Direct Energy had a fleet of about 2,500 vehicles. The average annual amount it was able to subrogate, or collect, in accidents where its drivers weren’t at fault was about $20,000 for damages incurred.

Kushaliyeva said this wasn’t a lot for a fleet of that size.

Post new safety program, the company subrogates 102% of money owed for damages.

“One-hundred percent subrogation would mean collecting money to pay for the area the vehicle was damaged, so bumpers, tires, grills, all that — 102% subrogation is collecting all that money and money to cover the downtime of the vehicle as well,” said Kushaliyeva.

She credits this to two main factors. Drivers are educated to what is expected of them. If they’re in an incident they must report the incident so the company can immediately start managing the incident. As soon as an accident occurs, everyone gets involved, including Direct Energy’s fleet management company, which has a subrogation claims specialist that works closely with them.

Kushaliyeva and her team also look at every claim on a monthly basis. No claim will stay open for more than ninety days.

Direct Energy’s Hiring Process

Direct Energy runs an MVR on every prospective fleet driver through its scorecard system.

Once an MVR is run, the system will produce a score that tells the company whether the driver is a high, medium, or low risk driver.

A driver in the low or medium risk category has a high likelihood of being hired. Although, medium-risk drivers will be hired contingent on the completion of additional driver training.

High-risk drivers, or those very close to registering as high-risk will not be hired.

“Not that many folks will do that, there are many companies in the residential services industry that will simply hire anyone with a driver’s license,” said Kushaliyeva.

Once hired, drivers are measured on a 100-point risk scale. Reaching the maximum will result in termination but there are steps along that path that drivers can take to prevent that.

“It was a huge decision that this company had to make to continue with our stringent pre-qualification and scorecard process,” said Kushaliyeva. “It meant that we didn’t have access to as big of a pool of potential candidates. But we determined that not being as stringent was unacceptable, because of the risk it presented to our people and those on public roads. We weren’t going to have drivers behind the wheel that would not be treating themselves and others in a safe way.”

Remedial training is available if drivers happen to have a citation or if they happen to have an accident. They can choose to take video training that comes with certain credits that they can use to improve their score.

An average ticket will cost a driver four to eight points, and each training module typically yields two credits against those docked points. So, while there is a way to reduce risk points, the best strategy is to avoid citations or accidents altogether.

Points against a driver expire in three years, so as long as a driver does not have constant accidents or citations, he or she will lose points against them after three years.

However, it is still incentivized to not have any accidents, as there is a multiplying effect in place.

“If you have more than one accident within a year, for every second action within a year your points are going to start doubling against you,” said Kushaliyeva. “Your risk is elevated. And, that’s the beauty of the online system, it calculates all of that for us. I don’t have to remember what happened; all of this data is uploaded automatically.”

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