Fleet safety often receives top-of-mind attention when the company suffers serious losses or insurance premiums come due. For too many fleets, the only safety policy is a memo or e-mail reminding drivers to buckle up.
A fleet safety policy must be more far-reaching and encompassing than merely telling drivers to drive safely. It should include procedures for handling accidents, training, and risk management techniques. It should call for measurable performance tracking. A safety policy should be written, edited, and approved by senior management, and required reading for every fleet driver.
Thorough Preparation Required
Drafting an effective fleet safety policy requires thorough preparation. The policy's purpose must be stated, stakeholders must be identified, terms defined, process and procedure outlined, and approvals garnered. First, it is important all stakeholders are identified and invited into the process. In addition to fleet management and staff, key stakeholders in any fleet safety policy include:
- Drivers. Include those departments, functions, and employees who drive company vehicles.
- Human Resources/Legal. Safety policy should clearly define actions implemented when an employee/driver is in violation. The actions should be reviewed and approved by human resources and the company's legal staff or counsel.
- Risk Management. This department provides key expertise and data.
- Management. If not playing a participatory role, management should be kept "in the loop" as the policy is developed, so smooth and quick approval can be obtained.
Other disciplines specific to a company may be included; however, all functions detailed should be invited to participate.
The next step is to outline a mission statement: why a fleet safety policy is necessary, who should enforce it, what the goals are, and how they will be measured. The fleet manager should be the primary author of this statement.
Outline the Process
Begin with an overall policy statement. Here's an example:
"In order to maintain the safe operation of company-provided vehicles, and the safety of all employees who drive them, and to minimize costs associated with the fleet, XYZ Corporation will implement this policy to cover all employees who drive in the performance of company business."
Keep in mind, the policy will refer primarily to drivers of company-provided vehicles; however, it should also cover drivers of personal vehicles on company business.
A number of overarching issues should be contained in a policy outline, including, but not limited to:
- Motor vehicle reports (MVRs).
- Training for new hires as well as ongoing employee training.
- The accident process.
- Term definitions ("chargeable" accidents, defensive driving, etc.).
- Reward/penalty programs.
The purpose of a safety policy is not simply to admonish drivers to "drive safely." It encompasses how new hires are screened for assignment of a company vehicle, accidents are handled, drivers are penalized and/or rewarded for performance, and consequences of policy violation are determined.
MVRs: Critical Policy Component
Fleet safety policy is part of the overall management of the risk attendant to providing vehicles to employees, as well as having employees drive personal vehicles on company business. Motor vehicle reports are one of the most critical components of this task.
Before hiring a new employee in a position to which a vehicle is assigned, the company should obtain the prospective employee's most recent MVR to assess the risk level. Reading MVRs is relatively simple. Existing violations can be broken out into several categories, each associated with an increasing level of risk:
- Equipment or administrative violations: broken or inoperative lights (headlights, turn signals, brake lights, etc.), damaged windshields, and driving with an expired license, inspection, registration, etc.
- Minor moving violations: failure to signal, improper lane change, illegal turns, etc.
- Significant moving violations: e.g., failing to obey a traffic signal (stop sign, traffic light, etc.), following too closely.
- Serious moving violations: up to and including felonies, such as DUI, DWI, speeding in excess of 20 mph over the posted limit, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, etc.
For new-hire candidates, the impact of any driving violation on the hiring decision would be proportional to both the number and severity.
A fleet safety policy can be designed to assign point values to violations and outline levels of action steps depending upon point totals. Similarly, for existing drivers, the point system is a tried-and-true method of tracking and "scoring" risk.
The policy must provide for MVR acquisition and review for all new hires, at least once per year for all existing drivers, and for special circumstances, such as a chargeable accident.
In addition, other family members, if any, permitted personal use of the company vehicle should be subject to the same risk assessment as employees.
The policy should define the risk level the company will accept for new hires and existing drivers, as well as the consequences or limitations applied to drivers who incur violations. Determinations should be based upon the facts and circumstances; i.e., a driver with an otherwise clean record who incurs a violation can be treated less severely than one with a history of offenses. Suggested actions in working with new hires include:
- Level one violation: unless violations are multiple or there is a history of them, the hire should go forward unhindered.
- Level two or multiple level one violations: a probationary period, during which the driver is required to operate his/her own vehicle under reimbursement. If no further violations are incurred, a company car is provided.
- Level three violations: a longer probationary period under reimbursement, e.g., one year rather than three or six months.
- Level four violations: reimbursement only, or no hire at all. These violations can be felonies and involve significant risk to the company.
A caution: putting a risky driver in his or her own vehicle rather than a company-provided car does not eliminate a company's liability if that employee is involved in a crash. However, the policy will mitigate who is ultimately responsible. The company becomes a "deep pocket" only, and the employee's insurance company will foot some part of the bill in the event of an accident and/or injury.
Existing drivers have a record with the company, and their risk is easier to assess. In addition, actions can be taken in place of, or in addition to, a probationary period:
- Suspension/revocation of personal use.
- Increase in personal use charges.
- Limitation of driver-paid options.
- Suspension/revocation of company car privileges.
MVRs, by policy, should be checked regularly on all existing drivers at least once, preferably more, each year, and the proscribed policy applied. A report should also be pulled when a driver is involved in an accident.
Define Accident Procedures
Defining accidents and accident reporting, including repairs and subrogation recovery, are important elements of an overall safety policy.
Accidents are inevitable and result in costs far greater than the expense of repairs. How they are handled and the driver's role following an accident should be clearly spelled out in the policy document. Drivers must be familiar with the procedure necessary to remove them from the process as quickly as possible and to ensure the company obtains all needed information. The driver must:
- Obtain all pertinent information from all other parties involved, including insurance information, names, addresses, driver's license numbers, vehicle registration, and VIN.
- Immediately, or as soon as possible, submit a factual description of the accident, including time of day, location, and a diagram illustrating the event.
- Report injuries to the driver or others involved in the crash.
- Obtain the names and contact information of witnesses willing to be contacted.
Most fleets have either an in-house or outsourced process for accident reporting, as well as for obtaining replacement rental vehicles and repairs. The fleet safety policy should include reference to that arrangement.
To assess and mitigate risk, a fleet safety document should also outline accident review and assessment procedures to determine driver chargeability. Accident chargeability can take a number of forms. The most common considers whether the driver did everything possible to avoid the accident, based upon defensive driving criteria. This chargeability category differs from determination of fault; while the driver may not be legally at fault, the accident nonetheless may be determined preventable and thus chargeable.
Many companies include an accident review committee in developing a comprehensive safety policy. The committee meets on a regular basis, usually monthly, and reviews accident reports submitted during the previous period. The review determines preventability/chargeability, and consequences are outlined. Review committee members should include:
- Fleet manager or other fleet department representative.
- Risk manager.
- Driver function representative.
- Human resources.
The inclusion of legal and human resources should be encouraged since the policy may call for actions these disciplines must review and approve.
Similar to MVR review policy, accident review defines levels of consequence covering drivers with multiple chargeable incidents within a proscribed period or a particularly serious chargeable accident (resulting in injury or in which the driver is cited for a traffic violation). At the very least, drivers should be notified in writing of their chargeability, with the consequences of further accidents outlined.
Drivers who have had multiple chargeable accidents or otherwise have violated safety policy to the point at which action must be taken should also be notified of that action. Their supervisors and other members of the review committee should also be notified.
These consequential actions should be clearly outlined in the policy and can take a form similar to MVR violations, up to and including termination for very serious circumstances. Again, the more severe the action, the more important it is that legal, human resources, and the driver's own department be involved in the process. Ultimately, any action should be signed off by the appropriate authority, particularly if it involves the driver's condition of employment, i.e., personal use, company car assignment, etc., or paycheck.
Training Promotes Policy Success
Another important component of a successful fleet safety policy is driver training for both new hires and existing drivers.
Two key elements are critical to effective driver training: repetition and reinforcement. Whether behind the wheel, on paper, or via video or Webcast, driver training makes certain fleet drivers understand not only the "rules of the road," but also company expectations of their behind-the-wheel behavior.
A variety of safety training methods and sources are available. Our purpose here, however, isn't to discuss how training is accomplished, but to determine how it fits into an overall safety policy.
Safe driver training should begin with every new hire, more stringently when new hires have MVR violations. Delivery of training can take many forms:
- Written documents, with testing to determine how much has been understood and retained.
- On-site, behind the wheel activities.
- Webcast or video media.
No matter the delivery method, training should be part of the company's overall training employee regimen. Branch, district, or other hierarchy meetings often occur on a regular schedule. During these meetings, sales and service efforts and other business issues are discussed. Making safety training part of those meetings (at least several times annually) should be part of a fleet safety policy.
In addition, when new hires or existing drivers incur traffic violations, the policy should require they undergo further, more extensive training as soon as possible. Many states allow drivers charged with serious violations to "erase" their records by undergoing a safety class. The safety policy should state that any driver who fits this profile is required to do so. This requirement is the repetition element of the policy.
Drivers know full well they should not speed, tailgate, drive recklessly, drink and drive, etc. "Teaching" good driving behavior isn't the purpose of safety training. It is to maintain awareness of safe driving in drivers' minds as they go about their daily work. This second part of the policy, reinforcement, can be achieved via a company fleet newsletter, electronic or otherwise, and reward/penalty programs. The key is to keep safety foremost in drivers' awareness.
Reward Programs Motivate
An often-heard comment suggests drivers should not be rewarded for simply "doing their jobs," as in driving safely. However, including a reward program in a fleet safety policy is a small investment that can have a significant return.
Employees are motivated in a number of ways, both negative and positive. Negative motivations include a fleet policy's consequences for unsafe driving. The positive motivation of rewards can also help reinforce safety requirements and keep drivers focused on good driving behavior. Suggested rewards include:
- Recognition. Drivers receive citations for driving defined periods without violations or chargeable accidents. The CEO, for example, can send a letter of thanks and congratulations to the driver or, even better, present it to him/her personally, with a photo and/or coverage in the company newsletter or on the company Web site.
- Monetary. Money talks. Providing drivers with monetary rewards as they continue a safe driving "streak" is a sure-fire way to capture attention.
- Merchandise. Gift cards, certificates for goods or services, for example, can provide a strong incentive.
- Fleet vehicles. Drivers are permitted to "trade up" to a higher line vehicle or select from additional options.
No matter the reward, it is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to reinforce the safety message. Fleets developing a fleet safety policy should at least consider it.
Summarizing the Basics
Creating a fleet safety policy should be standard operating procedure in any well-run fleet. The consequences in physical damage costs, potential liability, employee downtime, and related expense are too great to go without this important document.
- Include all stakeholders when the policy is developed.
- Outline the policy's contents and make certain its components are authorized.
- MVR reviews are a must for new hires as well as existing drivers.
- The accident process, from reporting to repair, should be included and kept up-to-date.
- An accident review committee is a necessity. Incidents are reviewed and judged for applicability to the policy.
- Safe driver training, both repetitive and reinforced, should also be included.
- Reward/penalty programs must be considered, defined, and applied without exception.