Thanks to a combination of advanced materials, technologies and shifts in attitudes, the roads are safer than ever. However, these factors can only go so far.
“A well-managed safety program helps control expenses, prevents lost productivity from vehicle downtime and bodily injuries — or worse — and reduces or even prevents substantial settlements and penalties from negligent entrustment and vicarious liability,” says Randy Shadley, account manager and fleet safety specialist for Corporate Claims Management (CCM).
While there are many ways a fleet can build a safety program, here are 10 steps to building a safer fleet will form the core:
No. 1: Management Must Buy In to Policies
Since a safety program may mean making fundamental changes to the way drivers are managed, it is imperative to have management buy-in from the start, according to Shadley. “The policy should make drivers aware that, because safety is important to the company, their continued employment depends on maintaining an acceptable record and meeting all program requirements,” he says.
Brian Kinniry, manager of risk and safety solutions for the collision management company CEI Group, echoes Shadley, emphasizing the active involvement of top management.
“Everyone throughout the organization needs to know that safety is a strategically important objective from the very top and why,” Kinniry says. “That’s something that can only be articulated by the most senior officer.”
Allison Lanzilotta, VP of business development for Fleet Response, an accident and claims management company, says the first step should be forming a safety committee. This committee should review existing policies, determine if all elements are common practice, uniformly enforced by management and followed by drivers. She recommends the committee include various departments, such as human resources, sales and risk management.
No. 2: Set Driver Standards
At the same time the safety policy is developed, drivers must become involved. “If [drivers] see safety as a regular part of corporate communications and goals, they are more likely to be knowledgeable about and adhere to the fleet safety policy,” Lanzilotta says.
Shadley recommends implementing driver agreements and setting driver standards. “Key driver expectations from your safety policy should be included in driver agreements,” he says, adding that a file of each agreement should be kept.
The standards used should lay out the criteria for an acceptable driving record, as well as the consequences of not living up to the policy.
Shadley reminds fleet owners that legal precedence exists and holds employers responsible for the actions of their drivers — and having a valid driver’s license is not a sufficient defense. “In other words, business drivers and their employers are held to a higher standard than the general public,” he says.
No. 3: Screen Drivers
Kinniry recommends that fleets review MVR reports for every potential hire, and then review hired drivers’ reports at least once a year. He says he has even seen a growing number of fleets collect MVRs twice a year, giving them more opportunities to change driver behavior and better manage risk.
Fleets must follow proper procedures when ordering MVRs because authorizations must be obtained from drivers. “We’ve seen fleets that assumed their MVR providers were securing drivers’ signatures when, in fact, they weren’t,” says Kinniry, adding that this can be cause for a lawsuit.
In addition, Shadley notes that employers must follow the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act before taking any “negative employment action” if the MVR was obtained through a paid, commercial source.
No. 4: Monitor Drivers
Other methods are available to keep an eye on fleet drivers, such as tools like the “1-800 How’s My Driving?” program and GPS/telematics software that monitors driver behavior.
“An important point to remember is that any time you discover a driver with a possible issue, you must take appropriate action,” Shadley says. “It is no better, and is sometimes even worse, to have cause for suspicion and do nothing than it is to not even check in the first place.”
By collecting this data, fleet managers will be able to identify problem drivers and take swift, corrective action. “Partner with your accident management provider and/or vendors to produce data to identify your problem drivers and overall fleet safety issues — for instance, your top preventable accident reasons,” Lanzilotta says. “By doing this, you will be able to target this group of drivers and create a more comprehensive safety program that will address their driving habits as well as other fleet safety issues.”
No. 5: Analyze Accidents
While a strong, well-supported safety policy is imperative to avoid accidents, the reality is that incidents will still happen. Learning from and correcting the actions that led to an accident will help avoid or minimize their severity in the future.
Kinniry says that between MVR violations, accident history, general policy infractions and driver behavior such as hard braking and jack-rabbit starts, these data points create a comprehensive risk score for each driver.
Shadley notes that accident analysis can have positive consequences for a fleet safety program. “Once you have the fundamentals in place, accident analysis [allows] you to begin taking proactive steps to truly improve your program, not just reacting to individual instances,” he says.
No. 6: Punish the Bad; Reward the Good
Kinniry advises that visible consequences for bad driving behavior need to be delivered as soon as possible, and good driving needs to be formally recognized.
“The most effective programs have a defined remedial action plan that delivers increasingly serious consequences and follow through on it consistently for all drivers,” Kinniry says. “On the other hand, giving public recognition to good drivers not only reinforces their good behavior, but demonstrates management’s commitment to safety.”
No. 7: Give Drivers Access
Whether a high-risk driver or not, drivers need to have complete access to their individual driving history data and risk rating.
“They need to know just how well they’re driving, how close they may be to triggering remedial action and what they need to do to lower their risk scores,” Kinniry says. “If drivers don’t have access to their history and risk score, your fleet safety program will not be as effective as you want it to be.”
No. 8: Train, Train, Train
Whether a driver needs serious remedial help or just a quick safety refresher, the solution is the same: training.
“Required remedial training is a consequence that helps drivers take your safety program seriously,” Kinniry says.
Training is one of the most effective ways to get the safety message to drivers, according to Lanzilotta. “While providing targeted training to high-frequency or high-risk drivers is an effective way to address driver-specific issues, fleets can use general safety training for their entire fleet or for specific regions, divisions, etc., based on accident reasons and trends,” she says.
Kinniry adds that annual driver testing on the safety policy is another way to reinforce the message and to update drivers on any changes to the policy. “The hard part may be the logistics of managing the test and collecting scores,” he says.
No. 9: Take a Ride-Along
Kinniry recommends field managers ride along with their drivers at least once a year. “This practice guarantees that field managers will be involved in pushing the safety message,” he says, also suggesting that the manager review the driver’s history and risk score before the ride-along.
As well, Kinniry says that an evaluation form should be used so the manager can effectively give the driver feedback and keep a record of the ride-along.
No. 10: Report the Results
Coming full circle, it is important to report the results of the safety program. “If you can prove a reduction in your incident rate and you know your average incident cost, you can project the money your efforts have saved,” Shadley says. “It may be helpful to compare your program’s metrics to others’ programs.”
Benchmarking metrics are available from a number of sources, including associations such as NAFA Fleet Management Association and Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), as well as government sources such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Kinniry also recommends that organizations involve stakeholders in a formal process of reviewing and updating the fleet’s safety policy. “Getting representatives of human resources, sales, procurement, safety, legal and rank-and-file employees involved assures that the policy will take all viewpoints into account,” he says. “It also creates advocates throughout the organization and shows that the policy is taken seriously by senior management.”