OEMs are responding to fleet manager requests to migrate more vehicle safety technology previously only available in upscale models to vehicles typically ordered by fleets.
Increasingly, advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in cars and trucks are being specified by more fleets. However, getting advanced safety technology in some models of work trucks and vans still continues to be difficult, since they are often ordered with the lowest base trim level package.
Despite this, more commercial fleets are spec’ing assets in their 2020-MY fleet buy to be equipped with greater safety equipment. The availability of standard and optional safety packages is having a direct bearing on what models were ordered for 2020-MY by many fleets, which promises to increase in future model-years.
In-vehicle safety technologies have a dramatic impact not only on driver safety, but also on the total cost of ownership of these vehicles because it increases residual values.
Some fleets have made ADAS equipment mandatory for their 2020 fleet buy due to the documented decrease in preventable accidents. This was the case for a major pharmaceutical fleet. “Since we began replacing fleet vehicles with enhanced safety equipment, front and rear automatic emergency braking (AEB) in 2017, we are now seeing a significant decrease in collisions. In 2020, our entire fleet will be equipped with AEB technology,” said one corporate fleet manager who asked to be unnamed.
Another fleet implementing a safety-focused vehicle acquisition strategy is General Mills. “As the industry advances rapidly in the areas of safety and technology, it is critical that the fleet vehicles we offer to employees adjust accordingly. It is important to our company that drivers are provided with safe vehicles, thus we now offer over 11 safety features in our latest vehicle lineup,” said Adam Orth, CAFM, Global Business Solutions – fleet services manager for General Mills Inc.
While fleets are embracing the new vehicle safety technology, they realize there are additional costs to these vehicle safety technologies that go beyond the initial acquisition cost.
One consequence to the proliferation of onboard vehicle safety equipment is the increased diagnostic fees to identify maintenance issues, recalibration charges when repairs involve ADAS components such as windshield replacement, and the escalating costs to repair accident-damaged company vehicles as more sensors and cameras are mounted in bumpers. A minor collision that used to only require a bumper cover replacement can now involve bumper cover and radar replacement, along with pre- and post-system scans and ADAS recalibration. This has caused some fleet managers to take a harder examination of safety option selection during the vehicle specification process.
“Should all vehicle safety technology be ‘required’ from a vehicle specification perspective – regardless of cost? What safety technology should be classified as ‘required’ compared to ‘nice to have?’” said J.J. Keig, corporate fleet manager, The Americas for CBRE. “Remember when ABS was an option? Why did some fleets immediately take advantage of this technology, while other fleets avoided this cost until it became standard equipment? Was it cost or failure to understand the true benefits of the technology or other reasons?”
Safety is one of the top issues facing fleet managers. Concern about the safety for both the driver and the vehicle is a perennial challenge.
Today, when receiving a replacement fleet vehicle, many drivers are being exposed to new onboard safety equipment for the first time. It is important to provide familiarization and training on the proper use of these new technologies, such as collision avoidance systems, rear-view camera systems, lane departure/blind spot monitoring systems, collision warning systems, radar-sensing adaptive cruise control, and active braking systems.
“Many drivers are operating vehicles that are 5-10 years old or older in both private and municipal fleets. When a driver is operating their ‘old’ vehicle today, what resources are available to train the employee of the ‘new’ vehicle he or she will receive tomorrow that may include significant safety technology? How many times have you rented a vehicle, and before you leave the rental parking lot you cannot turn on the wipers or understand ‘what is beeping’ and why?” said Keig of CBRE. “Today, it is necessary to train employee drivers of all technology enhancements on new vehicles assigned to them.”
One way to address this gap in vehicle operations training is to establish a personalized onboarding program for new drivers that in addition to familiarizing them with the new safety-related features and functions of their new company vehicle, also includes a driver skills assessment program to proactively identify high-risk driving habits and implement corrective training. Theoretically, this training should occur at the dealership when a driver takes delivery of their new vehicle, but as many drivers will attest, this often doesn’t occur, and the extent of their new-vehicle orientation is being provided directions to where the vehicle is located on the dealer lot.
Compounding this problem of initial unfamiliarity in vehicle operations is that companies expect employees to be working 100% of the time in the field. Since these employees drive significantly more miles than the average driver, drivers are multitasking while driving because they feel pressure from their immediate management to do more with less and to stay connected.
“Safety technology, such as cross traffic alert, lane keeping alert compared to lane keeping system, pre-collision warning compared to pre-collision with AEB, are all immediate or split-second alerts that may require immediate attention of the operator. If not familiar with the message or need to act, the driver may well make the wrong move or mentally ‘lock up’ potentially negating the warning the vehicle is attempting to convey. This may actually create or compound an accident that did not exist before,” said Keig of CBRE.
Driver safety is a constant concern, especially when the application in the field is a difficult task. “We can provide the tools needed to operate safely; however, drivers do not take the opportunity to apply these tools into their behaviors. A driver can be given a backup camera and still back into an object,” said one fleet manager who asked not to be identified.
Uptick in Preventable Accidents
In 2019, the percentage of preventable accidents was 41%. Fleets that are seeing an increase in preventable accidents, especially in the package delivery or transportation segments, which are prone to extended routes, excess mileage, and greater vehicle use hours resulting in more time on the road.
Another factor is the strong economy, which is boosting business activity, creating more jobs and longer trips, and requiring more vehicles to be on the road, especially among small to mid-size vocational businesses. One consequence to job growth is the increase in the number of newly hired, less experienced drivers. Also, an uptick in employee turnover is contributing to increased risk as newer, less skilled employees are driving company vehicles on unfamiliar routes and focused on complying with tight schedules.
The annual accident rate for commercial fleets is around 20%, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, even higher. One reason for the high frequency of accidents for fleet drivers is because of the number of miles they drive per year. A typical non-fleet driver in the U.S. travels 12,000 to 15,000 miles annually, and each year has a one in 15 chance of being involved in a vehicle collision. Most fleet drivers; however, travel 20,000 to 25,000 miles or more each year, and thus have a greater exposure to crash risks.
The No. 1 factor contributing to accidents continues to be distracted driving. The National Safety Council estimates that 26% of all vehicle crashes (fleet and private drivers) involve the use of cell phones. One reason for increased distraction rates among fleet drivers is that employees use company vehicles as their mobile offices and multitasking while driving, which creates more opportunities for distraction.
In an increasingly connected world that company drivers and their customers live and work, it is becoming more and more challenging for fleet managers to enforce safety policies prohibiting cell phone usage while driving.
“Keeping our drivers safe is Job 1. It is great to see the OEMs adding a la carte safety items to fleet vehicles. The more safety we can program into the vehicle, the better for our drivers. We are also looking at ways to combat distracted driving and are experimenting with in-cab cameras,” said David McCauley, North America Fleet Manager for Service Experts in Plano, Texas.