According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the average cost to an employer for an on-the-job vehicle crash is $16,500; if the accident results in an injury, the cost spikes to $74,000. If there’s a fatality, expect a financial hit of $500,000 or more.

And, those figures don’t fully account for insurance premium hikes, legal fees, loss of business (from bad PR), and other potential fallout.

“Employers have a very clear legal and moral obligation to protect the public from any inappropriate actions by its employees,” said Art Liggio, president of Newark, Del.-based Driving Dynamics. “Driving on company business is one of the most visible activities in this regard. When employers cannot demonstrate that they have taken reasonable, consistent steps to properly train their employees to drive safely; juries and public opinion will make sure that these companies are severely punished for their negligence.”

How can fleet executives reduce the risk and frequency of company vehicle incidents to improve driver safety and protect their organization’s reputation — and bottom line? Follow these 10 best practices:

Begin with the New-Hire Application Process
Phil Moser, vice president, Advanced Driver Training Services (ADTS) in Trooper, Pa., advised companies to state clearly, in the employment application, that an applicant’s motor vehicle record (MVR) will be pulled. 

“The message should be clear: If you have a history of poor driving or violations or crashes or any combination of those, you will not be considered for employment,” Moser said. “A bad driver might as well not even apply. Problem solved. Start setting that tone right from the beginning.”

Require Driver Training for New Hires
“Before new employees get behind the wheel, they should know what the company’s safety policy is and be familiar with the vehicle with some level of behind-the-wheel training and online training, as well,” said Brian Kinniry, manager, risk & safety services for The CEI Group, based in Trevose, Pa. 

This ensures that, from the beginning, new employees know how high a priority your company places on driver safety, helping eliminate bad driving habits before they take root.

Craft & Clearly Communicate Corporate Driver Safety Policy
For sample verbiage and tips for writing an effective safety policy, refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) report “Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes” at: www.osha.gov/Publications/motor_vehicle_guide.pdf

Capture and Track Data
“Both crash and [traffic] violation data are proven, key predictors of future losses to identify ‘at-risk’ drivers who may be candidates for remedial training,” said Liggio of Driving Dynamics. He recommended that fleet executives segment this data into categories (such as new hires, tenured employees, location, job role, and vehicle type) to help prioritize, with their training provider’s input, the most effective avenues to take to accomplish driving performance objectives.

Use Multiple Training Formats
Driver training can be administered through a wide range of formats, including behind-the-wheel, online, in-classroom, one-on-one coaching, and via communications tools (such as print or eNewsletters, publications, and online videos). Since not all drivers learn the same way, the multiple training approaches help ensure the material, in one way or another, connects with an individual’s learning style.

The key thing to remember, however, is to keep the message consistent through all modes of training.

“The modalities should be in harmony and reinforce each other in terms of content, techniques used, and a shared language of safety,” Liggio said. “Too often, fleets use a hodgepodge of training services. And, while each one may have its own merits, they unfortunately compete with each other in terms of instructional design, methodologies, and messaging — ultimately confusing the learner.”

Pull MVRs on an Ongoing Basis
“If you don’t do anything else, run MVRs,” said Moser of ADTS. “I suggest at least twice per year. If you find a driver who has a history, you have to take action immediately. That’s low-hanging fruit for reducing the potential for crashes. When you get those issues fixed right away, you’re not required to repair or replace vehicles as much.”[PAGEBREAK]

Address Behavioral & Attitudinal Risks
If a driver has repeated speeding violations, look for the root causes.
“Sometimes it’s not a specific driving issue — it might be helping them to plan out their day,” said Kinniry of CEI. “Talk about time management. Why are they speeding?”

Also, consider factors that can impact a driver’s emotional state.

“Especially now, with the way the economy has been and with drivers losing their jobs or under threat of losing their employment, people are being asked to do more,” Moser said. “Their territories are stretched out even further, or they have to take on more clients. I think that has something to do with people being stressed out and losing focus. Now, they’re focused on those issues and not their driving.”

Moser recommended a comprehensive driver safety initiative that includes training to help employees become more aware of how their behaviors, emotions, and attitudes can affect their driving — and offer strategies on how they can solve those issues.

Ensure Timely Post-Incident Training
“If it’s a speeding violation, accident, or whatever it is, timeliness of the training is important,” Kinniry said. “Training should be assigned within 24-48 hours once a fleet is made aware of an event. It needs to be swift to address that driver’s behavior — to help prevent them from getting into another accident.”

Involve Management in the Training Process
Kinniry of CEI advised that managers also be trained to make sure they understand some of the techniques their employees are being taught and learn about some of the behavioral challenges their drivers might be facing.

“Managers need training on how to coach their employees, how to speak to them and give them feedback about driving safety,” Kinniry said. “If the manager is speaking and teaching safety, the employee will probably listen to [him or her] better than a professional trainer.”

Offer Access to Lessons to Employee’s Family
“If the driver takes a distracted driving module, for example, that driver should be allowed to share that with a spouse, child, or whoever that may be,” Kinniry said. “It’s a nice gesture and communicates that the company looks out for the employee’s best interest.” 

The Bottom Line
As an accident investigator with a Philadelphia area police department for 11 years before joining ADTS, Moser saw first-hand the impact on families from tragic, fatal car crashes. “I shudder when I hear executives say, ‘Well, crashes are going to happen; it’s just a part of business.’ You don’t want to hear that. That’s a really bad attitude. Organizations that are successful have a culture of safety.” FF

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