If you are not actively engaging your drivers to help meet fleet objectives, you are managing the fleet with one hand tied behind your back. Most fleet programs focus on managing the asset versus managing the driver.
This difference between these two management philosophies is best illustrated by an industry anecdote that states: The benefits derived from drivers appreciate as they gain experience, while vehicles do not, they depreciate in value.
The driver is your “on-the-job expert” who is doing the work in the field day-in and day-out. More times than not, they are the people most likely to identify inefficiencies and possible remedies. Fleet managers may be superb asset managers; however, there is much to be gained by improving your driver management skills.
The key to long-term fleet management success is by increasing driver engagement and modifying their driving behavior. To increase overall corporate engagement, all stakeholders – from senior management to local supervisors – must support fleet initiatives and communicate that support to everyone within the organization. But just as critical is getting driver engagement and compliance. This is when fleets have the potential to extract significant cost reductions.
For instance, fuel is a fleet’s No. 1 operating expense. The best way to control fuel expenditures is to modify driving behavior, which is the major variability influencing fuel consumption. On the other hand, there is a limit as to how much fuel savings a fleet can wring from the types of vehicles acquired without impacting the fleet application.
Employee driving behavior has a direct impact on the volume of fuel consumed and emissions emitted by the vehicle. Even small increases in mpg can result in substantial savings when extrapolated across the entire fleet. Modifying driver behavior also helps lower other costs by extending the life of wear items, such as tires and brakes. There is also a direct correlation between driving behavior and the frequency of preventable accidents.
Cost Reduction vs. Cost Avoidance
All too often, fleet managers attempt to control fleet costs on the backend. The best time to control cost is before it occurs and the way to do this is by establishing policies and procedures that inhibit unnecessary spending and protect corporate assets.
Fleet policy institutionalizes the mechanisms to curb money-wasting behaviors, but driver compliance is critical to the success of any fleet initiative. If you don’t have driver buy-in and engagement, any fleet program, no matter how well it is structured, is doomed to failure. For instance, the way employees drive company vehicles can either improve (or decrease) fuel economy, reduce (or increase) emissions, or increase or decrease the frequency of preventable accidents.
Driver engagement is critical for the success of a corporate safety program, which has the potential to make a dramatic impact on your overall spend. Industry studies show that accidents represent 14% of a fleet’s total expenses, although it is probably even higher since these studies do not consider soft costs such as downtime and lost employee productivity, or reduced resale value.
About 40% of all fleet crashes are preventable, which represents a huge opportunity to reduce total accident-related spend. By minimizing preventable accidents, you have the maximum potential to lower accident expenses to 8%. In today’s fleet environment, where all the low hanging fruit has already been picked, there are few areas left where such dramatic cost savings can be achieved.
Dividends from Improving Driver Morale
One of the less discussed aspects of fleet management is the correlation between driver morale and driving behavior, which has a direct bearing on a company’s bottom line and fleet productivity. One impact of low driver morale, especially among truck fleets, is higher driver turnover, which negatively impacts productivity with the need for continual training of replacement drivers.
Employees with high morale will take better care of corporate assets and have higher compliance with fleet policy requirements. They are less likely to abuse a fleet vehicle and more likely to care for it as they would a personal vehicle. Satisfied employees tend to drive less aggressively, which can lead to a decrease in traffic violations, preventable accidents, and reduced corporate liability exposure.
Below are actions you can take to help increase driver morale:
Spec more ergonomic vehicles: This has a direct bearing on productivity, employee satisfaction, and frequency of workers’ comp claims. Optimized ergonomics can increase accident avoidance. Poor ergonomics increases driver discomfort, which increases fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents.
Better communication between fleet and drivers: Drivers welcome communication from the fleet department so long as it is short and pertinent to their job. Build into every message a feed-back mechanism to allow engagement by drivers.
Cross-collaboration with other stakeholder departments: When developing or re-evaluating fleet policy, it is important to solicit the participation of all affected departments, such as sales, HR, procurement/sourcing, and financial/tax, along with all vehicle user groups. By involving them in the decision-making process, it will increase the likelihood of buy-in and support of fleet policies.
Make Your Drivers Your Allies
A well-communicated fleet policy is a crucial component of a company’s overall cost-control strategy. At a macro-level, by defining driver eligibility and vehicle characteristics, you are, in effect, determining the size of your fleet and, by default, your overall fleet budget.
It has been repeatedly shown that the best managed fleets are those that operate under a well-defined fleet policy adhered to by drivers and consistently enforced by management. The overwhelming majority of drivers want to do what’s right for the company. You can help them by posting information about cost-saving techniques, such as maintenance and fuel savings practices, on the driver website. If you are a strategic fleet manager (versus a tactical one), your priority will be to make your drivers your allies.
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