Thanks to a combination of advanced materials, technologies, and shifts in cultural attitudes, the roads are safer than ever.

However, these safety technologies and attitudes can only go so far. They have to be matched by driver behavior. This is doubly so for fleet drivers, who spend the majority of their time on the road, benefiting the entire business.

“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,” said Randy Shadley, CAFM, account manager and fleet safety specialist for Corporate Claims Management (CCM). “You want to make sure that if your employer is in the news, it’s because of something good that happened, not because an unqualified driver put it there.”

While there are many ways a fleet can build a safety program, here are 10 that can form its core:

No. 1: Get Management Buy-In

Since a safety program may mean making fundamental changes to the way drivers are managed, it is imperative to get management buy-in from the start, according to Shadley. “Ideally, the safety policy will show that it has the full support of your senior management — having a key executive distribute the policy to your employees shows that it is to be taken seriously, and it gives you the authority you’ll need to enforce it,” he said. “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.”

Brian Kinniry, manager of risk & safety solutions of the CEI Group, echoed 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 said. “That’s something that can only be articulated by the most senior officer. And, unless field management reinforces that message and actively evaluates their employees’ driving behavior, it will be difficult to change their behavior for the better.”

Allison Lanzilotta, vice president of business development for Fleet Response, recommended the first step that should be taken to create a safety culture is forming a corporate fleet safety committee.

“This committee’s strategy should be to review the existing fleet safety policy and determine if all elements are common practice, uniformly enforced by management, and uniformly followed by drivers,” she said. “A safety committee should be comprised of representatives from human resources, fleet management, risk management, sales management, accident coordinators, and other necessary parties.”

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No. 2: Set Driver Standards

At the same time the safety policy is developed, accepted, and distributed by senior management, drivers must become involved.

“It is imperative that your drivers know how important safety is to your company,” Lanzilotta commented. “If they 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.”

There are ways to make their stake in the safety policy tangible, said Shadley of CCM. This includes implementing driver agreements and setting driver standards.

“Key driver expectations from your safety policy should be included in driver agreements. Have drivers acknowledge their understanding of those expectations in writing or digitally and keep that agreement on file where it can be easily retrieved when needed,” Shadley recommended.

Standards that are disseminated to drivers should be used to lay out the criteria for an acceptable driving record, and the consequences of not living up to the policy, including, but not limited to counseling, training, and termination of driving privileges.

The need for these standards is crucial for both keeping drivers safe and protecting the company as a whole. “Long-established legal doctrines and case histories have set precedence that holds employers responsible for the actions of those who drive on its behalf, and the courts have also determined that simply holding a valid state-issued drivers’ license is not a sufficient defense for a company accused of using ‘unqualified’ or ‘dangerous’ drivers. In other words, business drivers and their employers are held to a higher standard than the general public,” Shadley said.

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No. 3: Screen Drivers

While existing drivers should be made aware of new or revised safety policies, new drivers should have an added level of scrutiny.

“A driver’s history of motor vehicle violations is an important indicator of his or her risk to the fleet,” Kinniry of CEI explained. “We recommend all fleets review MVR reports for every potential new hire, and that they continue to review them at least once a year for all fleet drivers. We’ve seen a growing number of fleets collect MVRs twice a year, which gives them more opportunities to change driver behavior and better manage fleet risk.”

Kinniry cautioned fleet managers to follow the proper procedure when ordering MVRs. “Fleets need to be sure their providers obtain signed authorizations from drivers. Signatures are required by federal law and we’ve seen fleets that assumed their MVR providers were securing drivers’ signatures when, in fact, they weren’t. Fleets expose themselves to the possibility of a lawsuit by a driver if they don’t get his or her signature,” Kinniry warned.

In addition, Shadley noted, employers must follow the requirements of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) before taking any “negative employment action” if the MVR was obtained through a paid, commercial source.

No. 4: Monitor Drivers

Driver MVRs are one way to monitor behavior, but there are other ways to keep an eye on fleet drivers and make sure they are adhering to the safety policy.

“Other valuable tools for driver monitoring include ‘1-800 How’s My Driving?’-type programs, and the ever-increasing use of GPS/telematics,” Shadley of CCM observed. “An important point to remember is that any time you discover a driver with a possible issue, you must take appropriate action. 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. Some attorneys sum up this concept as ‘You must not only know good; you must also do good.’ ”

By collecting this data, fleet managers will be able to identify their 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 of Fleet Response noted. “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.”

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No. 5: Analyze Accidents

While a strong, well-supported safety policy is imperative to avoid accidents, the reality is incidents will still happen. Learning from and correcting the actions that led to them will help avoid or minimize their severity in the future.

“To gauge the risk any driver poses for a fleet, it’s necessary to keep a record of as many different kinds of data points as possible. The basics include MVR violations and accident history, but can also include such items as general safety policy infractions, traffic camera violations, 800-number telephone complaints, and high-g events like hard braking and jack-rabbit acceleration. All of these can be factored into a risk score for every fleet driver that can be used to identify high-risk drivers and tell all drivers how safely they’ve been driving,” Kinniry of CEI said.

Shadley of CCM noted 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 said.

No. 6: Punish the Bad; Reward the Good

Kinniry of CEI advised that visible consequences for bad driving behavior need to be delivered as soon as possible, and good driving needs to be formally recognized.

“If drivers don’t experience consequences for bad driving behavior, they’re not going to take safety seriously, no matter how much they hear about it in the workplace,” he said. “And, it’s important that they experience those consequences as soon as possible after the offending behavior. The most effective programs have a defined remedial action plan that delivers increasingly serious consequences, and follow through on it consistently for all drivers. 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 Complete Access to Driving History

While there need to be consequences for bad behavior and rewards for good driving, drivers must also know where they stand at all times by having complete access to their driving history data and risk rating.

“It’s not enough for fleet and safety managers to know who’s a high-risk driver. The driver needs to know it, and know that their managers know it, too. And, it’s not just high-risk drivers we’re talking about, but all drivers. 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. 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,” Kinniry said.

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No. 8: Train, Train, and Train Some More

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 said. “Proactive training is another way to remind all fleet drivers that safety is an important objective and that management cares about them and their families.”

Lanzilotta of Fleet Response said training is one of the most effective ways to get the safety message to drivers. “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 said.

Kinniry added that annual driver testing on the safety policy is another way to reinforce the message and update drivers on any changes to the policy. “A test means they can’t just sign off that they’ve read it if they really haven’t,” he said. “The hard part may be the logistics of managing the test and collecting scores.”

Shadley of CCM noted that training can send a message. “Requiring drivers to take training can be an effective way to help demonstrate that the organization takes safety seriously, by taking action when potential problems have been identified,” he said.

No. 9: Take a Ride-Along

MVRs, telematics, and GPS reports can only go so far in evaluating a driver’s fitness. Kinniry of CEI recommended 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 observed. “Giving managers a form to evaluate each driver ensures that he or she will discuss the aspects of driving safety that you or your safety manager wants to stress. Before a ride-along, managers should review each driver’s history and risk score and focus on discussing this history with them.”

No. 10: Report the Results

Coming full circle, it is important to report the results of the safety program to management and other fleet stakeholders.

“Here is where you can show your management the value of what you’ve accomplished, by showing the positive results from your program,” Shadley of CCM noted. “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. It may be helpful to compare your program’s metrics to others’ programs. Benchmarking metrics are available from a number of sources, including industry associations such as NAFA Fleet Management Association, Network for Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), and others, as well as government sources, such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).”

Kinniry of CEI also recommended that organizations should 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. It also creates advocates throughout the organization and shows that the policy is taken seriously by senior management,” Kinniry said. FF

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