While some commercial fleets manage employees whose first and No. 1 job is that of a fleet driver, many technicians, service personnel, healthcare professionals, and other employees also drive and operate a vehicle, even though that’s not their primary focus.
A “non-professional-driver” is someone who has a primary job beyond driving their vehicle. These fleet drivers pose a variety of challenges. But all are solvable, and technology can make a big difference.
Top Challenges Fleets Face Managing Non-Professional Drivers
One big challenge commercial fleets that manage non-professional drivers face is overall fleet program compliance.
“We have a lot of issues with overdue preventive maintenance. With a high idle percentage across the fleet, our PM parameters are set to ‘aggressive.’ Still, fleet drivers tend to gravitate to only taking the trucks in when their oil light comes on,” said Emily Garza, corporate vehicle fleet manager for Archrock Services LP.
Commitment to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) compliance is also a significant challenge when the employee’s primary job isn’t driving.
“DOT compliance exists not only at a vehicle and hiring level, but also ongoing at a driver and supervisor/manager of drivers level. This is often just viewed as a necessary headache by many levels in the organization and, unfortunately, isn’t often recognized for the risk to the organization that it presents,” said Jonathan Kamanns, fleet program manager for Carolina Tractor & Equipment.
Garza also noted compliance issues.
“Additionally, we struggle to obtain the needed license pre-requisites on time, thus leading to a percentage of our fleet operating with expired registrations,” she noted.
Bob Adamsky, fleet manager, assets for Area Wide Protective, noted the challenge of ensuring “attention to vehicles and a basic understanding of maintenance.”
Another significant challenge is getting technicians to utilize the maintenance management program via a fleet management company.
“Some of our technicians prefer to have their vehicles fixed outside of the FMC network and pay for said repairs via their company P-card. Some prefer to purchase truck parts at their local Auto Zone and attempt to maintain the company vehicles on their own,” Garza said.
Additionally, a service vehicle is typically larger and heavier than what commercial fleet drivers are used to in personal vehicles.
“Stopping distances, visibility, and turning diameters can all be significantly different from traditional vehicles, which adds difficulty to everyday driving. Also, the miles they drive at work end up being significantly higher than the miles they drive with personal vehicles. This can result in a risk of fatigue on any day,” said Abe Stephenson, fleet & administration manager at DISH.
Organizational goal alignment can also be a significant challenge.
“When the business has goals aligned with the primary job of the employee supporting functions such as fleet, mobility — and procurement has goals for improving driver or vehicle-related variables — it creates an immediate barrier for success when goals aren’t aligned,” Kamanns said.
The need for a fleet professional to design, develop, and deliver strategic fleet and mobility solutions on behalf of the company is another significant gap.
“In many cases, where roles of the employees are not typical driving roles like route deliveries, or commercial truck drivers, the organization positions fleet to sit in the business. But, the primary goals of the responsible individuals in the business are revenue-generating. They aren’t risk management, or sustainability, or tax compliance, commercial motor vehicle compliance, or even supplier management. Missing this toolbox of incredibly important competencies is both costly and negatively impactful to operational success,” Kamanns added.
Additionally, there are a lot of driver-specific behaviors that can impact a vehicle’s lifecycle and maintenance cost.
“Non-professional drivers may not be sensitive to the laws of accumulation and how small changes in driving behavior, or how we take care of vehicles, can add up to significant cost avoidance across an entire fleet,” Stephenson said.
Adamsky also noted challenges related to commercial driver policies covering personal use or whether the vehicles are only to be used for official business purposes.
“It’s also a challenge to hold driver’s responsible when needed,” Adamsky added. “This is especially true with distracted driving and accidents. They need to be truthful of damages.”
Finally, many of these fleets operate out of regional locations, such as in the food truck industry.
“As more of a general manager, I watch out for our warehouse, mechanics, fleet driver, trucks, and everything associated. I also drive trucks for special events and lunches. I cannot drive all of the trucks, so it is a challenge to get drivers to report truck issues so they can be repaired and taken care of in a timely manner,” said Greg Colella, general manager of Ralph’s Snack Bar, Inc.
Solving Commercial Fleet Driver-Related Challenges
First and foremost, communication and training are absolute necessities when utilizing non-professional fleet drivers.
“Be sure to perform up-front training at the time of hire, including classroom and/or online, as well as a ‘road course’ evaluation with an experienced coach/driver to go through driving, turning, and parking scenarios with the specific fleet vehicle. Be consistent with uptraining through the year for reminders or seasonal considerations helps both new and existing drivers. Additionally, MVR reporting and scoring systems should be maintained and monitored,” recommended Stephenson of DISH.
The importance of communication in these more service-based industries cannot be overstated.
“Perform face-to-face driver meetings on a consistent schedule. One idea would be quarterly with a new topic related to company vehicles,” recommended Adamsky of Area Wide Protective. “Ensure drivers have quick and easy reporting to managers.”
Like many other fleets, Garza of Archrock Services has notification e-mails sent directly to fleet drivers and exception reporting that is sent to all levels of business unit management and leadership.
Ensure you have the resources for your fleet drivers to succeed.
“We have two mechanic shops for repairs (we run about 80 food trucks). We have someone check things like tires and fluids daily (on each truck),” said Colella of Ralph’s Snack Bar, Inc.
Solving any challenge depends on what the root cause is.
“The challenge could potentially be cultural, hierarchical — referring to which part of the business, internal political, business maturity, or even the experience of the person/people responsible for fleet,” said Kamanns of Carolina Tractor & Equipment.
If you can’t identify the root cause, or if identifying the root cause would take so much time that it’s just best to start somewhere to generate positive momentum toward alignment, Kamanns recommended the following:
- Get OUT into the business. Meet decision-makers, managers, and drivers with the only intention being understanding their business: how it operates and why it’s important.
- Ask questions. Face-to-face, via remote video, through a survey, etc., to as many company-vehicle stakeholders as you can. The goal should be to understand what is, and what is not readily understood about why managing employee drivers isn’t like managing non-driving employees, and to look for people who have experiences and potential passion for driving success in fleet (driver-safety, cost savings, environmental impact, risk avoidance, indirect productivity, customer expectations, service-delivery improvements, marketing & advertising, etc.).
- Build out your internal network of passionate people for driving success in fleet. It can be just a few, or many, but building that network and connecting them will ensure the person/people responsible for commercial fleet operations aren’t the only ones talking about opportunities in better caring for and managing driving employees.
- Develop draft guard-rail goals. Share the guard rail goals with your internal network, with managers, with drivers, with leaders, and take in the input. Ask about their own goals and draw similarities or opportunities from your guard rail goals to their goals. More clearly define your goals, inclusive of those areas and opportunities that are aligned with the purposes of the business. At this point, they’ll begin to see how managing driving employees is not only different from managing non-driving employees, they’ll also appreciate how ensuring focus on employees who have a role that requires driving, can be compliantly, financially, and engagingly important to the company (and their) success.
- Lean on your supplier partners. Even if you’re alone, you’re not alone.
Tech to the Rescue to Fleet Rescue
In most traditional fleets, technology is the go-to solution for monitoring and analyzing information. But for service fleets, is technology the fix?
“The short answer is no. The longer answer is likely a combination of technologies common to fleet and mobility professionals that could provide data transparency and opportunities for action, but only when the right goals are developed, agreed upon by all stakeholders, and aligned as priorities to the organization,” said Kamanns of Carolina Tractor & Equipment.
Like any other tool to help do the job, DISH tries to transfer accountability from the driver to the vehicle whenever possible.
“This includes engine calibrations to help reduce acceleration rates, RPM’s while idling, and top speed limiters and use of collision avoidance technology where the alerts cannot be turned off by the driver. Additionally, company-provided cell phones should have texting or talking disabled while driving,” Stephenson.
Garza of Archrock Services shared that, while there is a lot of great technology and innovation within the scope of the fleet industry, accountability is the key factor.
“Safety, reliability, and overall performance of our core business and its associated equipment (compression services) is the key focus of our technicians. I believe the vehicle fleet is simply seen as a secondary responsibility,” Garza said.
However, as Kamanns noted, there will be times that technology can help.
“GPS helps in many areas, driver safety with daily scorecard is one example,” said Adamsky of Area Wide Protective. “Automated exemption reports sent directly to the field or locations can also be helpful.”
And as with any fleet-related decision, you must know what’s important to your fleet.
“There is technology that shows driver speeds and locations. I investigated that before. But our drivers are independent operators (besides some of our gourmet trucks), so fuel consumption savings are not as important to us as much as driving safely,” said Colella of Ralph’s Snack Bar, Inc.
A goal in most supporting functions, especially where the function isn’t a core responsibility of the end-user (like fleet), is to begin to connect the ‘what’s in it for me’ or WIFM for each stakeholder, shared Kamanns.
“When addressing the driving employees that have a core job function other than driving, the WIFM may be more difficult to identify and define. Once it’s defined, however, then it much easier to align the technologies that will drive improving those challenges,” Kamanns said.
Best Practices in Training Non-Professional Fleet Drivers
Training is the main key to a safe service fleet operation. But exactly what focus this training has can depend on the operation.
“Drivers should be taught guidelines for parking and checking surroundings when entering back into the vehicle, as well as understand longer following distances in heavier vehicles, how aggressive driving compromises safety, fuel usage, and the company brand image,” said Stephenson of DISH.
Additionally, fleet drivers must know company policy requirements.
“Ensure your drivers understand policies prohibiting smoking and talking/texting on mobile phones while driving in addition to requiring seat belt use and accident reporting policies. They should always lock doors when parked and be careful in driveways regarding the company vehicle and other drivers that may be exiting the driveway, not expecting a vehicle to be there. And watch out for those gas station bollards!” Stephenson added.
Vehicles that are not properly maintained can become a risk to not only the driver but other individuals sharing the roadways.
“In-servicing of new vehicles is a very important aspect as well. Making sure our technicians know how to operate each equipment component on their service trucks leads to less risk exposure,” said Garza of Archrock Services LP. “I also think a thorough revision and review of a company’s vehicle policy should be completed annually. Everyone needs to be up to speed on changes or newly implemented internal programs that affect vehicle operations.”
Fleet managers must be able to identify safety gaps specific to their company.
“For example, Company ‘A’ may have an incredible safety culture, and employees who happen to drive as a responsibility of their job, carry that culture with them in everything they do. It’s likely that some other training would be more initially beneficial considering the opportunities for fleet and mobility maturity and development. A second example, Company ‘B’ embraces their ‘technician-first’ culture and intentionally rallies to deflect all initiatives and responsibilities that aren’t core to the technician role. Training to manage these challenges could be safety, compliance, vehicle care for resale, preventive vs. reactive maintenance, downtime impacts of poor asset management, etc.,” said Kamanns of Carolina Tractor & Equipment.
Consider using vendors for a training session. “Drivers can talk to someone outside the company. Goodyear as an example and let employees ask questions,” said Adamsky of Area Wide Protective.
There is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to managing any fleet.
“In a fleet where driving isn’t the core responsibility of the role, but it IS a responsibility of the role, a fleet professional can spend their entire journey sitting on the business case cycle and not making much progress at all. This is where strategically-focused and business growth-minded fleet and mobility professionals get in on the ground floor of stakeholder management, relationship building, and goal alignment; not foundational fleet or mobility management,” said Kamanns of Carolina Tractor & Equipment.
Driver and public safety must be and should always be first.
“Tell drivers it is okay not to drive a vehicle that might have a problem,” said Bob Adamsky, fleet manager, assets for Area Wide Protective.
Sometimes, it’s just going to take a little time. “Every truck is a bit different, and operators learn how their truck drives/operates. The longer an operator is on a particular truck, the more they learn about that truck,” said Colella of Ralph’s Snack Bar, Inc.
And don’t forget to give your drivers this advice from Stephenson of DISH: “Take pride in your ride. A vehicle reflects the company as well as the people that take care of it.”