Ensuring the safety of drivers is one of the most important aspects of managing a fleet. A critical step in doing this is ensuring that safety / risk management programs within a fleet are as comprehensive as possible.
 - Photo via Getty Images. 

Ensuring the safety of drivers is one of the most important aspects of managing a fleet. A critical step in doing this is ensuring that safety / risk management programs within a fleet are as comprehensive as possible.

Photo via Getty Images. 

Ensuring the safety of drivers is one of the most important aspects of managing a fleet.

A critical step in doing this is ensuring that safety / risk management programs within a fleet are as comprehensive as possible.

Doing so can reduce the number of collisions fleet vehicles are involved with, reduce costs by reducing the number of insurance claims, and most importantly boost the safety of drivers within the fleet. 

And, one of the most important steps in rolling out a new safety program — or a change to an existing one — is securing executive buy-in.

“When you implement a safety program, there are going to be repercussions for the results,” said Rich Tillotson, VP business development for Corporate Claims Management. “When you run MVR (motor vehicle record) checks for multiple drivers, or an entire staff, you’re going to find problems, so it’s crucial you get executive buy-in.”

The reason that executive buy-in is such a crucial aspect, he added, is to prevent an executive from being caught off guard when something arises.

Tillotson once worked with a risk manager at a company that had over 1,000 drivers. At Tillotson’s advice, the risk manager ran an MVR scan on every one of his drivers.

As a result, the risk manager found that about 10% of the company’s drivers had issues problematic enough to warrant getting them off the road. Examples of these issues included suspended licenses, revoked licenses, or DUIs.

The risk manager acted quickly and took those drivers off of the road.

While this action was necessary, it also came with some adverse effects, mainly in relation to operations, as now there were field offices without drivers.

These trickling effects are what Tillotson describes as “noise.” And, eventually, this noise reaches an executive level, he noted.

If this “noise” reaches an executive and he or she doesn’t know why field offices are missing drivers all of a sudden, they’ll have a negative reaction.

 While an executive’s schedule may prevent him or her from being part of every step of implementing a new safety program, effort should be made to include that executive during the critical junctures of instituting a safety program.

“Try to get executives into the meetings where safety program talks are happening — at least the last 20 minutes of it,” said Tillotson. “Let them come in explain what is going to happen and what the expected results will be.”

Seeking Input from Drivers

Operations vary from fleet to fleet, and as such the approach that fleets take when it comes to implementing safety programs may also differ.

Tillotson explained the importance of securing executive buy-in when deciding to implement a safety program, but at Dupré Logistics, the approach is somewhat different.

Dupré Logistics, a logistics company based in Lafayette, La., actually has an internal approach where senior management at the company seeks out advice from drivers when deciding to implement a new safety program.

Al LaCombe, VP of safety and risk management at Dupré Logistics, oversees everything involving safety at Dupré. 

His company fleet consists of 960 drivers in various departments operating throughout the country. When it comes time to implement a new safety program or make a change to an existing one, he and his team go out to the drivers operating in the departments he’s looking to make a change to. 

“Why wouldn’t you want to go to the job expert, the person who is doing things day in and day out,” said LaCombe. “We go out there and talk to the guys that have been there for a year, five years, or 20 years and get their input, more times than not, that person will have some of the answers to the inefficiencies we’re looking to eliminate.”

When asked why he takes this approach, LaCombe offers a number of different responses, but they all whittle down to the same sentiment. For him, it’s just common sense to ask the men and women out in the field.

But, it’s also likely due to his roots at Dupré.

LaCombe began at Dupré in 1982 as a fleet driver. From that position, he worked his way up to the current executive title he holds today. So, now as an executive, he has that high level viewpoint, but also acknowledges the contributions that his drivers can provide, since he’s been through what they’re experiencing first hand.

LaCombe admits that his approach isn’t foolproof and he’s not always able to use the input given by his drivers. But, that does not stop him from going out to as many people as he can in order to craft the best program.

When input from certain drivers, or departments, is integrated into the company’s safety program, he identifies the people who provided the input to show the rest of the company that senior management does listen to everyone.

One of the most important steps in rolling out a new safety program — or a change to an existing one — is securing executive buy-in.
 - Photo via Getty Images. 

One of the most important steps in rolling out a new safety program — or a change to an existing one — is securing executive buy-in.

Photo via Getty Images. 

Beyond Executive Buy-In, Reinforcing Safety

U.S. roads have been getting increasingly dangerous in the past few years.

While the early months of 2018 showed a reduction in vehicle fatalities, from a year-over-year perspective, the last three years have showed a rise in fatalities. 

Surprisingly, these rising death tolls come at a time when vehicle safety technology has improved at a healthy clip.

Also surprising is the fact that, one of the factors to blame for these increasingly hazardous roads is also technology — in the form of devices such as smartphones causing distractions for drivers.

In this environment, it’s become that much more important for fleets to reinforce their safety programs.

Part of a robust safety program comes from reinforcing training, at all levels of the company.

When Dupré Logistics hires a driver, they are given three days of training in a classroom in the company’s corporate office.

Training doesn’t end there, it continues throughout the year as field safety representatives throughout the country provide further training to drivers periodically.

Furthermore, every two years, drivers are required to take defensive driving training. Supervisors also follow this two-year training schedule. 

LaCombe and his staff also hold quarterly safety meetings to further reinforce the importance of safety. These meetings last anywhere from 50 to 55 minutes, during which attendees go over what is going on in the industry and what the company can do to improve its safety and operations.

As a logistics company, Dupré operates 24/7, 365 days out of the year. At any given point, there is a Dupré driver on the road.

One of the most important tasks that the company has is setting up schedules for its drivers that ensure he or she will have a proper amount of rest. Proper rest, LaCombe notes, is a crucial part of keeping drivers safe.

Apart from distracted driving, drowsy driving is another leading cause of collisions on the road, taking the steps to minimize that exposure can go a long way in improving safety and productivity.

Training can also come in very simple forms and produce significant results.

One client that Tillotson worked with had an issue with backing accidents. Out of all accidents that the company suffered, 62% were backing accidents.

The company’s fleet mostly consisted of vans that didn’t have good clearance and provided little visibility behind them.

The solution to their problem ended up being very simple: The entire fleet took a safe backing education module.

The lessons inside the module were also simple: things like putting cones behind the van and walking up to the van from the back versus the front, in order to get a visual of what’s behind the truck before backing up.

“The drivers weren’t inspecting their surroundings,” Tillotson said. “They also had tablets they used to log the results of their appointment so they would sit in the cab for eight to 10 minutes. Their surroundings might have been clear when they first got into their vehicle, but a lot of things can change in eight to 10 minutes. They changed their procedure a little bit and saw sizeable results.”

The module cost $3 per driver, and in the first year backup accidents were cut in half.

Technology and Safety

It’s true that certain technology has played a part in rising vehicle fatality rates.

But, by no means does that mean that there isn’t technology out there that is helping alleviate collisions.

In-vehicle technology like collision detection and automatic brakes are playing a large part in reducing accidents and are becoming more widely available in lower trim level vehicles.

Aftermarket technologies, such as in-cabin cameras are also providing positive benefits to fleet operations. 

One of the most recent technological additions to LaCombe’s fleet have been forward-facing cameras in the cab of his trucks.

Through the use of these cameras, LaCombe has been able to identify problem drivers in order to correct their behaviors, work with them to retrain them in positive driving habits, and avoid termination.

Drivers who the cameras identify as having bad driving habits are called in, shown the video that identified their bad driving habit, and are then given courses to correct that particular behavior.

“Our goal is to keep our existing workforce,” said LaCombe. “There are companies that immediately cut these drivers, but it makes more sense to try to keep your current drivers. If you have a quality driver, spend the time to coach and refocus them instead of hiring a new driver and starting at square one again.”

Another form of technology that can aid fleets is automation — not in the form of autonomous vehicles, but with automatic safety management systems. 

For fleets that outsource their safety management programs to third-party vendors, automated systems can improve operations by minimizing the amount of time that fleet and safety managers need to focus on their programs.  

This was what happened with Bret Watson, corporate fleet manager for Sprint. His fleet consists of roughly 4,000 drivers operating a fleet of approximately 3,200 cars, SUVs, and light- to medium-duty trucks, according to a Fleet Response case study.

Before turning over his safety management program to a third-party vendor, he and his small team manually ran MVR scans for every one of those drivers.

It was such a big undertaking that it was done only once a year.

It became such a big task that he eventually decided that he was going to seek a vendor to manage this responsibility. After a request for proposal, Sprint landed on Fleet Response for the job.

Automation began immediately. Sprint had a point system for certain violations on an MVR. Something serious like a DUI is worth a lot of points while a speeding ticket is worth only a few points. In between, various other violations are worth a varying range of points.

When a driver reaches a certain point threshold, her or she is dismissed.

That point system, along with the MVRs of all of Sprint drivers, were put into a database, where they’re stored. Any changes to the driver’s MVRs are automatically logged.

Records that warrant the attention of Watson are automatically sent to him and also to a point of contact in human resources.

The once a year scan of all driver records has also been improved upon thanks to automation.

Now, instead of running MVR scans on all of its drivers once a year, the Fleet Response system constantly scans driver records and automatically alerts Sprint whenever a change to a driver’s MVR is recorded in their state’s DMV.

This constant monitoring of driver records allows Sprint to address these issues throughout the year, as opposed to just one time. 

Not all states allow this continual MVR monitoring. In those states, MVR scans are run twice a year at minimum.

By not having to run the scans himself with his team, and also have only the flagged records sent to him.

Jerry Veres, certified director of safety for Fleet Response noted that the system has allowed Watson to focus less day-to-day work of monitoring safety and focus his attention on other tasks.

U.S. roads have been getting increasingly dangerous in the past few years. While the early months of 2018 showed a reduction in vehicle fatalities, from a year-over-year perspective, the last three years have showed a rise in fatalities. 
 - Photo via Getty Images. 

U.S. roads have been getting increasingly dangerous in the past few years. While the early months of 2018 showed a reduction in vehicle fatalities, from a year-over-year perspective, the last three years have showed a rise in fatalities. 

Photo via Getty Images. 

Common Issues Safety Programs Target

One of the most common issues that arise when developing or updating a safety program is the issue of co-dependent drivers.

Drivers who are on take-home programs get to take their vehicles back home, and that opens up the possibility of someone else who isn’t the fleet driver operating the vehicle.

A safety policy should explicitly state who can drive the vehicle inside and outside of normal business hours, noted Tillotson.

One approach is to simply bar anyone who isn’t the employee from driving the fleet vehicle.

Some companies choose to allow family members to operate fleet vehicles. In this event, these companies should run an MVR on every person who is going to potentially operate the vehicle, Tillotson noted. 

To that matter, Tillotson also encourages fleets to run recurring MVR scans on all its drivers. Running scans upon hiring a driver is a good practice, but that shouldn’t be the last time one is run.

Within a fleet, approximately 80% of drivers will have good driving habits and have nothing on their MVR that would necessitate any action from their company.

And, there will likely be 20% of drivers with driving records that do warrant some sort of action, noted Tillotson. Running MVRs helps identify this 20%.

Once a company decides to run MVRs and identifies an issue with a driver, it is absolutely critical that the company takes action.

“The biggest deal in a safety program is that once you get your information, you better have a plan as to what to do with the information,” said Tillotson. “It’s worse if you know of an issue and don’t act on it, then if you didn’t know.”

Should a collision occur and it turns out that the driver had an issue that an MVR would have identified, there’s multiple ways that case can go.

While negligence isn’t a defense in court, not knowing that a driver had a suspended license because a company didn’t run an MVR is “one level of bad,” Tillotson noted. But, knowing that the driver had a suspended license because an MVR identified that issue and not doing anything about it is a whole other level of bad, he added.

“What’s important is that fleets understand there is a progression in exposure,” said Tillotson. “If a guy has a speeding ticket on his license, give him a speeding-specific module. You’ve now mitigated exposure by a very large extent.”

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