Beyond the obvious benefits for drivers, fleets that have a best-in-class safety program are ensuring their operations are efficient, productive, and prepared for the future.
A solid fleet safety program is grounded in establishing effective policies, identifying key partnerships who can assist in supporting the policies, internally and externally, and taking advantage of the relevant tools that are available. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways that fleets assess their safety program, and a new set of protocols must now be addressed.
Automotive Fleet spoke with several experts on the topic of fleet safety to get a sense of what makes for a best-in-class fleet safety program, and what other fleets have done to achieve their safety goals.
Safety Policies are Changing
The coronavirus has disrupted fleet in many different ways, particularly with how safety is addressed.
“Specific to safety, policies about pandemics should fit into fleet safety programs in the future,” said Steven Curt, director of client experience for Merchants Fleet. “As we’ve moved forward, we’ve really seen an evolution of what a fleet defines as safety. It’s all about the health and well-being of the drivers and that that has to be taken into consideration on a go-forward basis.”
Aside from the larger economic impacts COVID-19 has had on companies, fleets now need to make sanitization practices an integral part of their program.
Maintaining proper vehicle cleanliness first and foremost is key.
“There’s been a lot of focus with how vehicles need to be cleaned after use. A lot of companies don’t have access to programs where you have someone who comes and cleans vehicles,” said Curt. “So identify what your fleet is doing to ensure that it has a clear policy that is clearly outlined to your drivers with how they need to clean the vehicles when they are done; such as wiping it down with alcohol wipes.”
This could be further complicated, if you have a fleet where vehicle sharing or pool vehicles are regularly utilized.
“Ultimately you want to try to minimize the sharing of vehicles but that’s really driven by the business model in the different industries,” Curt added.
Fleets have had to take social distance practices to great extremes to meet expectations set by their organizations. One such fleet is Essential Utilities, which manages a water utility and gas utility.
Charlie Stevenson, CAFM, vice president of fleet operations for Essential Utilities, spoke to how drivers operating for both the water utility and gas utility had to reduce the number of drivers in a vehicle for jobs being performed.
Previously, an average job would consist of two trucks that would travel with a team of four. This has changed since the pandemic.
“Every person is single in a truck today, because of COVID-19 we can’t have two guys in a truck until we get through this social distance side of things.”
The pandemic is having a huge impact on every industry across the globe, with some verticals and industries being in critical need of support right now, several companies mentioned. Some companies are still trying to adapt new changes to their policies to match up with the level of disruption COVID-19 has caused.
“Some of the people that we’re dealing with are unable to focus on the projects that they had on their plate, because COVID-19 has completely redirected all of their focus,” said Trent Dressen, director of sales for SuperVision.
The needs of each fleet to handle the coronavirus will vary by company, which is why having discussions with key company stakeholders will be key. Also playing a significant role of support in all of this are the technology partners that fleets have gained through their established safety programs.
“Safety continues to be the core part of our platform, no matter what situation we’re in as it relates to the pandemic, giving fleet managers the ability to better understand where their fleet vehicles are, and where they’ve been and potentially what regions they’ve been exposed to it is paramount in terms of being able to mitigate any sort of health and safety risks for our customers,” said Kevin Aries, head of global product success, Verizon Connect.
The Foundation of Policy
However, it’s essential to establish tried-and-true methods so fleets are best prepared to address anything that could alter their programs moving forward, and also be able to adjust on the fly as new issues arise.
A great foundation for any fleet safety program begins with identifying and establishing the safety needs that will best service a given organization; this includes establishing any expectations fleet managers have of their drivers.
“When you look at something like a traditional fleet safety program, it should be clearly communicated to the drivers any expectations as to how they should drive their vehicle and represent their company, because everytime they go out on the road they are representing their company,” said Curt of Merchants Fleet. “Having a solid foundation for fleet safety policy is key, and not just having a policy but having the mechanism in place to manage it and enforce it overall is critical.”
Decisions that are made toward the fleet safety program are ultimately designed to support the intentions of the entire company, not just specifically fleet. This is why decisions about the safety program and any policies should not be made in a silo; get other essential company figures involved in the fleet discussions as early as possible.
“When you look at best-in-class safety, and the companies that really have implemented a top notch safety program, some of the areas that you really have to look at would be coming from the top. Because if the executives don’t make it a priority, then the business won’t either,” said Dressen of SuperVision.
It’s not just the executives that fleets should seek buy-in from when establishing the fundamentals of the program; having drivers and other personnel with close ties to fleet involved in the discussions will ensure an even more successful plan moving forward.
“Employees should be involved in the development and execution of the program to ensure that the goals of the program are fully understood and followed,” said Sherry Calkins, VP of strategic partners for Geotab.
The Support of Telematics
Having the framework of a fleet safety program established will greatly help in decisions being made to identify solutions in the technology space that best suit expectations set in a policy. A great starting point when considering technologies that can help bolster fleet safety are telematics solutions.
“Fleet managers who are blind to how their vehicles are driving are basically at risk for not only the wear and tear of vehicles but accidents and accident liability, and the costs associated with that,” said Aries of Verizon Connect.
Telematics solutions have continued to be a must-have tool for fleets that manage a best-in-class fleet program over the years.
“While many fleet managers have already established a fleet safety program, many continue to seek additional support with managing speeding and distracted driving. Fortunately, speeding can be easier to manage with telematics technology,” said Calkins of Geotab.
One such fleet to achieve its safety goals with the support of telematics is Safelite AutoGlass. Last year, Erin Gilchrist, director of fleet for Safelite AutoGlass, was named the 2019 Edward J. Bobit Professional Fleet Manager of the Year, which recognizes a proficient fleet manager who has demonstrated special business acumen in developing and executing key management policies. One of the reasons she earned the honor was due to the success her fleet saw with regards to safety.
“I think the driving force behind introducing telematics back then was designed to improve safety through visibility of behind-the-wheel driver behavior,” she said after winning the award last year. However, she also saw other improvements throughout the fleet including a reduction in fuel consumption, an increase in efficiency, which her telematics solution was able to support.
One caveat to implementing telematics solutions is finding the right datasets that best service a fleet’s specific needs, especially since there is more data available now to fleets now than ever before, some of which is available in real-time. The overabundance of resources can be overwhelming to manage, but the key is to break it down into what exactly a given fleet should take action on.
But, despite the great benefits that can be reaped, telematics are not a panacea to improving driver safety altogether.
“Fleet managers have expressed concerns over their drivers’ behavior on the road and as a solution, they suggested the use of telematics software to collect data on driver behaviors,” said Max Yeh, research analyst for SHzoom. “However, crashes remain on the rise even for organizations adopting telematics as a possible solution.”
This is why telematics solutions are just one key component to a best-in-class fleet safety program.
Other Key Technologies
Beyond utilizing the services of telematics, there are countless other technologies available to fleets that can be utilized for their best-in-class fleet program, which includes introducing vehicles that offer advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) technologies. Having drivers involved in discussions related to selecting vehicles that are equipped with these technologies, and being transparent about vehicle selection, can further boost fleet safety programs.
“Some of the other burgeoning safety technologies utilized in the fleet industry are centered around driver safety reports, coaching, dash cams, and predictive analytics,” said Elaine Jiang of SHzoom.
Ryan Driscoll, VP of marketing for GPS Insight, spoke to the continued interest and investment of implementing camera technologies being seen among fleets to bolster fleet safety.
“Lately, we have customers mostly interested in getting more information about how they can implement and enforce a more robust safety program, typically one that includes smart cameras,” said Driscoll.
However, Jiang added that some drivers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the use of dash cams. Part of this may stem from “Big Brother” concerns of drivers, though these could be easily diminished with the realization that these solutions are not only designed to keep an eye on driver behaviors, but also support them in numerous other ways as it relates to being safe in a more proactive manner.
An example of the aforementioned fear was seen through Trio Forest Products, which had utilized telematics tracking tools since 2010 but in late 2019 had added a smart camera solution that would help monitor and coach positive and negative driver behaviors to improve fleet safety.
The introduction of the tool led to a few company drivers close to resigning. However, the company’s manager spoke with drivers about how the solution worked, emphasizing how it would benefit their lives; beyond being a tool for protecting the business, they wanted to do everything possible to ensure drivers make it home safe every night. The manager framed it as “let me introduce you to yourself,” explaining that these, often subconscious, positive and negative driver behaviors go beyond how they drive their work trucks, but also how they drive on their personal time with their families in the car. Getting them to understand the big picture was key. These were a few reasons that solidified the implementation of the system that saw a significant reduction in drivers triggering safety incidents.
Fleet tools like smart cameras ultimately serve the purpose of being proactive toward fleet safety; managing problems before they can arise.
“Proactive coaching to reduce unsafe events and accidents, insurance premium discounts, driver scores that include both positive and negative driver behavior for friendly competition and rewards, and the company’s ability to protect and exonerate drivers from unsafe situations on the road and not-at-fault accidents make this a very interesting addition to any fleet safety program,” added Driscoll.
Aries of Verizon added to the coaching capabilities that can be reaped from implementing video-based solutions.“Video solutions are a great way to help fleet managers really think about how they can have more contextual conversations with their drivers,” said Aries. “So integrated video supplies the visual-based evidence of those harsh driving events and in near-real time sends that contact to the fleet manager. This allows the fleet manager to then sit down with the driver and actually review real footage of what was happening on the road as a team from the front of the vehicle so they can address specific problems.”
Keeping up with MVRs
Another way to have mindsight of being proactive with fleet safety policy is to have a thorough motor vehicle record (MVR) reviewing process. Reviewing MVRs and conducting regular driver performance reviews are par for the course of a proficient fleet manager, but reviewing MVRs on a much more frequent basis, more frequently than annually or even quarterly, is critical.
“Best-in-class fleets have created effective safety programs by monitoring driver’s MVR more frequently, carrying out driver risk assessment, and utilizing telematics,” said Victoria Pasmanik of SHzoom. “Continuous monitoring of MVR assists with potential driver risk assessment technologies that can warn fleet managers of the safety level of the driver.”
Performing MVR reviews much more frequently can help detect problem drivers much more efficiently rather than relying on other tools, or waiting for an accident to happen.
“Continuous license monitoring allows the fleet manager to get the full picture of driver behavior at any given time reducing the amount of risk the company is exposed to,” added Dressen of Supervision.