Managing the Financial Side of Commercial Fleets

How to Improve Your Fleet Safety Program

November 2016, by Andy Lundin - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Establishing an effective safety program is key to ensuring the well-being of a fleet’s drivers and its vehicles, not excluding other benefits that help make for a successful fleet.

Some of the essential elements for a safety program include creating a well-established policy, solidifying the types of training that will be in the program, and monitoring the fleet’s drivers in a number of different ways, including consistently monitoring driver MVRs and reviewing telematics data. While there is not one element that truly defines a fleet safety program, the more attention that someone managing a fleet safety program puts into each element can go a long way into what he or she will get out of the program.

Staying on top of some of the more important elements can help fleets find ways to further improve their program. 

Solidifying the Policy

For every safety program, there is a policy put into place that lays the groundwork for what that program is destined to shape into. Nikith Rajendran, director of fleet operations at SolarCity, mentioned that establishing a clear policy as to what is expected fleet driver behavior is the first foundation for an effective fleet safety program.

At a Glance

Effective ways to approach fleet safety programs include:

  • Having complete policy buy-in from stakeholders.
  • Strong communication during the safety training process.
  • Having methodology to sort through data gathered from various technologies.
  • Analyzing driver accidents on a year-over-year basis.

Rajendran was recently named the winner of the 2016 Fleet Safety Award during the Fleet Safety Conference, which is produced by Fleet Financials’ publisher, Bobit Business Media, and his fleet recently rolled out an enhanced driver policy to around 9,000 drivers, which was recognized at the ceremony.

However, the foundations of the policy are just as essential as the policies themselves, according to Jeff Fender, VP of sales and marketing for Fleet Response. Giving the company stakeholders an opportunity of offer input into the creation of the safety policy will help ensure fairness and consistencies throughout the fleet’s hierarchy.

“We have seen that, when creating and implementing a fleet safety policy, having something written down that people are going to use as a rule book that everyone has agreed upon,” Fender said. “Making sure everyone gets signed off on what a fleet policy looks like relative to requirements, but maybe more importantly, if there are any repercussions for not following the policy and then making sure that’s consistent regardless of the position of the driver.”

Fender said that everybody in the company should follow the guidelines that are set by the policy, which may include company executives that are driving company cars.

The policy should also never stay static. 

“The fleet policy needs to be kept up to date so it addresses every new safety challenge, and it should be required reading by every fleet driver once a year. Today, fleets need to be certain that they clearly and thoroughly address distracted driving, particularly the use of both hand-held and hands-free mobile communications,” said Brian Kinniry, CEI senior director of strategic services.

Training For Safety

Rajendran said that training was another essential element to his fleet safety program.

His fleet’s training program focuses on what the company policy is, what it expects from drivers, and safe driving practices.

“It’s basically making sure that the drivers are aware of all of the costs and benefits of fleet safety. So, we start off by telling them why we want them to pay attention to driving safely and then coach them on how they should be driving, and then, finally, cover the other aspects of policy like maintenance policy, vehicle use policy, etc.,” Rajendran said.

His fleet breaks down training in three ways: onboard training that focuses on the fundamental steps to becoming a SolarCity Driver; an annual refresher training course; and a retraining course, which is assigned to a driver after an incident or consistent poor driving behavior.

Robert Martines, president and CEO for Corporate Claims Management, Inc., said behind the wheel training for onboarding new hires and remediating high-risk drivers was an effective means of training, but also mentioned online web based training that focuses on drivers deficiencies, such as excessive speeding, backing/parking, etc.

Fender also elaborated on web-based driver training as an essential teaching tool.

 “Some of the most common training are the web-based driver training modules, and there are many to choose from out there in the marketplace. In some cases, as many as 50 to 60 different training modules that cover specific topics,” he said.

In addition, there are web-based driver evaluation programs that, once completed by a driver, will assign training modules that are specific to each driver’s weaknesses.

Fender also stressed the importance of repetitively educating drivers on the safety program’s training methodology as well as maintaining strong communication between management and its drivers.

“When you look at an efficient, effective safety program, it needs to be a layered effect, you need to have a repetitive message, and it needs to come from multiple sources,” he said. “So at the end of the day you’re truly trying to change driving behavior.”

Consistently letting drivers know the problem areas the company is having with its fleet and voicing those concerns helps the message the company is trying to relay become more meaningful, according to Fender

“Everybody knows not to text and drive, but a lot of people still do it because of that ‘it won’t happen to me’ factor. If a fleet driver hears of a situation where a co-worker was involved in an accident due to driver distraction, the message may hit a little closer to home,” he said. 

Using Technology

Perhaps one of the more evident aspects to improving a fleet safety program is one that is continuing to evolve on a regular basis: technology.

There are many options that companies can use to create an effective safety program. When evaluating a program, budget, driver demographics, and driver turnover should all be considered.

Technologies that can be used to review driver performance include telematics data and MVR monitoring.

Reflecting the reliance for technology, Rajendran’s fleet utilizes technology as a key means of monitoring the driver behaviors.

“Okay, you’ve given a policy, you’ve trained them, and now you do monitoring to see how bad or good their behavior is and to identify the areas to focus on. So we observe this in two separate ways. One is MVR monitoring. We continuously monitor the motor vehicle records from the DMV and pick up any alerts from those monitoring websites and run MVRs based on those alerts, and check to see if the drivers still qualify for driving.” he said. The other element to how Rajendran’s fleet monitors its drivers is the app-based monitoring service that works similar to telematics.

“We use the results of monitoring to identify the top 20% riskiest drivers and then try to retrain them and influence their behavior by positive reinforcement by saying, ‘Okay if you improve your behavior by so and so, then we’ll reward you with this and this,’ ” he said. “We’re still doing the pilots of this but eventually our plan is to roll it out for entire company.”

 As for taking all the data when tracking driver behavior, Martines said that finding a way to efficiently analyze the information will help to pinpoint useful information from the abundance of data that gets collected when utilizing various technologies.

“Improved analytics will become more important moving forward.  With so much available data to manage, it is important to determine what safety methods are having a positive effect on the overall improvement of the driver’s safety record,” said Martines.

Fender Echoed Martines’ thoughts on the matter.

“The challenge will be to use all of the information available and then take meaningful steps to change driver behavior,” Fender said.

Fender stressed again the necessity of having the entire company understand and agree on the importance of its fleet safety program.

“There are many really good programs out there that companies are taking advantage of  but if the drivers don’t see it as something that is important to the organization it may not be effective,” he said.

Jim Van Buren, Corporate Claims Management’s director of safety, noted  that new vehicle safety technologies that are becoming increasingly standard for vehicles, such as blind spot warning, lane departure warning, backup cameras, and pedestrian detection should be considered when leasing new vehicles.

However, he stressed that fleets should not become dependent on any one technology including new vehicle safety technologies.

“It should be noted that these technologies should not be a substitute for good driving behavior, but rather an enhancement to it,” Van Buren said.

Kinniry echoed Van Buren’s sentiments.

“There’s convincing data that some onboard crash prevention systems can prevent accidents or reduce their severity. In particular, forward crash prevention systems with automatic emergency braking are proving to be effective,” he said. “But according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, at best they prevent or mitigate 40% of rear-end collisions caused by the driver, meaning that they’re not a panacea. Even with onboard crash prevention systems, accidents are still going occur, and fleets will continue to need behavior-based safety programs to minimize their accident risk.”

Gamifying Safety

Gamification is another area that can bring visibility to a fleet safety program. Publicizing drivers, branches, districts, etc. that experiance the safest driving behavior over a period of time is a good way to engage the entire company, said Fender.

Van Buren of Corporate Claims Management agreed with this sentiment, and suggested that monetary rewards are the most prevalent when it comes to gamification awards, which could be in the form of a bonus or gift certificates. He also said that peer-to-peer recognition at an annual event can be a great method of delivering the reward.

 Rajendran echoed the importance of establishing an award system. SolarCity is currently developing a gamification process that ranks different branches of the company based on the fleet safety scorecard.

“We have over 90 offices across the country, and we are trying to develop a fleet safety score to rank the offices. We’ll have the fleet safety scores and the scoring methodology public, and then use this fleet safety score for the overall office ranking, which is released monthly. There is always friendly competition among offices to be at the top.  Once fleet safety score is included, we expect to see further improvements in fleet safety because of the desire to top the office ranking,” he said. 

Analyzing the Program’s Effectiveness

Van Buren of Corporate Claims Management said that there are several ways that fleets can break down the effectiveness of their safety programing. This includes analyzing year-over-year reductions in accidents, as well as looking at the reductions in severe accidents and high profile violations

 Fender agreed that fleets can measure the safety program’s effectiveness by measuring accidents reported. He suggested looking at the total number of accidents reported in a period as well as measuring the number of preventable accidents.

“Unfortunately accidents will happen, but if you can reduce the number of preventable accidents you will reduce your largest exposure,” he said. “Companies should  continue review and and analize the effectiveness of the program. Benchmarking with-in the organization is a great way to help evaluate the program and make changes where needed.”

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