Wheelz Up, a Washington-D.C.-based auto parts delivery service, holds a safety meeting with some of its fleet drivers. Photo courtesy of Wheelz Up.

Wheelz Up, a Washington-D.C.-based auto parts delivery service, holds a safety meeting with some of its fleet drivers. Photo courtesy of Wheelz Up.

To Kevin Weil, keeping your fleet drivers safe doesn’t just happen. It’s about being proactive, whether that means educating your drivers through safety meetings, conducting hands-on training or using in-vehicle monitoring systems such as telematics.

“If you depend on luck to keep your drivers safe, at some point your fleet drivers will have a severe accident,” says Weil, operations manager of Northland Mechanical Contractors, which runs a fleet of 25 service vehicles in Minnesota’s Twin Cities market.

In fact, on average 20% of a fleet is involved in a crash annually, according to PHH Arval, a provider of fleet management and maintenance services.

From in-cabin video cameras to telematics systems that track speed, hard breaking and vehicle location, fleets can purchase a variety of technology products to help encourage driver safety. But while these products demonstrate a return on investment, they nonetheless come at a hefty price — leaving many small fleets thinking twice about making such a large investment.

These enterprise technology initiatives aren’t the only options for promoting fleet safety. In this article, we will highlight several ways to encourage driver safety on a more modest budget.

First Steps

Safety starts with making sure drivers understand your company’s safety culture.

“Safety first is a big thing,” says Stuart Aust, owner of Bug Doctor, a New Jersey-based pest control company with 30-plus fleet vehicles. “As part of our safety culture, drivers must pull over when making a cellphone call, texting or emailing. We won’t penalize them for taking a break.”

As a starting point, the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) has several safety resources available for fleets on its website (www.trafficsafety.org). Jack Hanley, executive director of NETS, recommends that a fleet begin with NETS’ “Comprehensive Guide to Road Safety.” Produced by a committee of members from the NETS board of directors, this free downloadable guide highlights safety definitions, road safety best practices and road safety management requirements.

The guide is designed to help employers at various stages of road safety program development, according to NETS. The guide is applicable to drivers of light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles who drive vehicles on company business more than 5,000 miles per year.

Here are a few highlights from the safety guide:

  • Management must implement fatigue management procedures with adequate rest breaks, such as avoiding night driving, long driving hours and rotating work shifts.
  • Drivers are not allowed to use a mobile phone/pager/two-way radio while driving a vehicle. This includes hands-free devices. 
  • Management must create a high-risk driver intervention process, including criteria for identifying and notifying high-risk drivers and a scheduled coaching session with the driver’s supervisor after the high-risk driver identification.

“The ‘Comprehensive Guide to Fleet Safety’ helps employers learn what they need to pay attention to,” says Hanley. “The guide is a step-by-step recipe for putting a fleet safety program in place.”

Additionally, NETS offers more road safety tips during its annual Drive Safely Work Week, which highlights a different facet of fleet safety each October.

For example, the 2013 NETS campaign “Gear Up for Safe Driving” focused on how being at your physical and mental best can help make you a better driver. Tips included choosing to snack to help preserve energy and avoid sudden “crashes,” getting 7.5 to 8 hours of recommended sleep per night, taking a break from driving every two hours or 100 miles and adding a 10-minute walk every day to help improve the likelihood of a good night’s sleep.

Driver Training

Fleet Safety Benchmark Stats

From NETS' "Strength in Numbers" Program:

• 96% of companies identify high-risk drivers through: disciplinary action (81%), remote driver training (63%), classroom training (47%), behind-the-wheel driver training (69%), collision reviews (50%), special coaching sessions (53%) and commentary/observational drives (53%).
• Monitoring devices: 48% of companies use monitoring devices while 52% don’t.
• Average direct cost of an on-the-job crash, according to NHTSA 2003: $16,471 (bent metal), $76,313 (non-fatal injury) and $504,408 (fatality).
• Mobile phone policy: 60% allow hands free, 34% ban any type and 6% ban only texting.

A focus on driver safety should start even before the hiring process. John Kaminski, manager of field operations for the Canine Company, a Wilton, Conn.-based pet products and obedience training company, refuses to hire a job candidate with a poor driving record. During the interview process, the company performs a background check on each driver’s history.

Even if a driver is properly trained when hired, the training doesn’t stop there. Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA of San Mateo County, Calif. not only teaches its animal control drivers the basics such as backing up the trucks but also includes ride-alongs with field training officers as part of its training program.

“Having drivers keeping a lookout for animals while paying attention to traffic — and citizens who may be flagging them down — can be viewed as distracted driving,” says Jeff Christner, captain of animal rescue and control. “The field officer trainers help teach drivers how to drive overly defensive.”

Each of Aust’s technicians must complete a ride-along with a service manager at least four times a year. As part of a quarterly overall evaluation, technicians are graded on their driving, including how much they distance themselves from other vehicles and how well they maintain the proper speed limit, according to Aust.

“As soon as we see a pattern of accidents and risky driving, we talk to the driver,” says Aust. “If the driver doesn’t show improvement, he or she will be written up or suspended. This can be a poor reflection on our company; we take these driving issues seriously.”

Safety Meetings

To address safety issues on a regular basis, some fleets hold regular safety meetings for all employees.

Jeb Lopez of Wheelz Up, a Washington, D.C.-based auto parts delivery service, gathers his managers together for a safety meeting every Thursday morning. Then the drivers are contacted on Friday for a one-on-one review, which could consist of an accolade or a warning — depending on an employee’s recent driving record.

“We believe in constant and progressive improvements on a weekly basis,” says Lopez. “We contact drivers on Fridays for a review, accolade or reprimand.”

Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air covers the topic of vehicle safety at least four times a year in its weekly safety meetings. According to owner Mary Jean Anderson, the meetings feature videos on driving, which include tips, statistics and even graphic scare tactics.

In addition to companywide safety meetings, Northland Mechanical Contractors sends out a weekly safety discussion email to all employees. The “Toolbox Safety Talk” includes a weekly safety topic as well as a five-question quiz on the material.

“To encourage employees to take the quiz, we give out gift cards to two random employees who got 100% on the quiz,” says Weil.

Vehicle Inspections

Another element to fleet safety is regularly checking the vehicles.

At least once a quarter, Northland’s warehouse manager conducts random vehicle inspections to make sure that everything is up to standard and operating correctly. This includes inspections of the fluids, lights, steering and brake response, according to Weil.

To catch potential problems before they become a hazard, the warehouse manager fills out a short report summarizing any vehicle items that need to be addressed.

“We focus on mechanical safety, but we also consider housekeeping of the vehicles as a safety item,” says Weil. “This includes cleaning out bottles and debris to avoid things getting stuck under the pedals. Tools also need to be secure in case of hard braking.”

How Am I Driving?

To help promote safety for others on the road, Aust puts “How Am I Driving” bumper stickers with a 1-800 number on each of his fleet vehicles. Bug Doctor takes any complaint — received from the number — seriously.

A copy of the call goes into the driver’s file after talking to the driver to get his or her side of the story. The company then watches for any patterns reported by other drivers on the road.

“We want to do our part of stressing safety for the person as well as safety for others on the road,” says Aust.

At about $1.25 per vehicle per month, a safety hotline (or driver monitoring) program is a low cost option to spot drivers who may be struggling to drive safely.

Paul Farrell, senior technical consultant at Nationwide Insurance, sees this program as an opportunity to lead to coaching and refresher training for the affected driver. It can help point out the need to identify problem drivers before it shows up on a motor vehicle record (MVR).

“An analysis of motor vehicle records is a must-do, but it isn’t the end of the process,” says Farrell. “That’s why many fleets use safety hotlines to cover some of those gaps. It picks up forward-looking behavior instead of waiting for a crash.”

Bug Doctor has a 1-800 "How Am I Driving" number on each of its fleet vehicles to help promote safe driving. Photo courtesy of Bug Doctor.

Bug Doctor has a 1-800 "How Am I Driving" number on each of its fleet vehicles to help promote safe driving. Photo courtesy of Bug Doctor.

Incentive Programs

Safety training and education can help get a safety program off the ground, but employers also need to provide drivers with feedback on a regular basis — whether that’s rewarding good driving behavior or giving warnings for patterns of dangerous driving.

Farrell recommends employers implement performance coaching, driver communication plans, goal alignment initiatives and use of feedback mechanisms.

To motivate drivers, some fleets offer bonus/reward programs as an incentive. Farrell cautions fleets on using this type of motivation as a shortcut effort if company safety practices are still incomplete.

“Without all of the relevant safety fundamentals in place as a foundation, incentives can only motivate a temporary movement in the right direction — the results won’t be long-lasting,” says Farrell. “The use of incentives may be a productive part of a well-rounded and well-executed driver safety program.”

Last year, Wheelz Up implemented a $25 rewards program for drivers each quarter. With help from its telematics system, Wheelz Up uses an A+ rating reporting system to base the employee’s driving behavior. Other criteria includes no tardiness, no complaints from clients, perfect attendance and adherence to company policies, such as not talking on the phone during deliveries, no smoking and keeping the vans clean.

“Out of 60 drivers, there are around 20 drivers who are in good standing and receive the $25 AMEX gift cards each quarter,” says Lopez. “The rewards program works and drivers like the extra incentive; it makes them feel closer to our company culture.”

Anderson Plumbing, Heating & Air rewards its employees with catered meals or gift cards. “Each quarter, if we have no accidents, we buy breakfast or give a gift certificate to a local restaurant or to the movies,” says Anderson.

Safety Collaboration

If employees are looking to talk to other fleet companies — with an interest in road safety and reducing collisions— they should consider “Strength in Numbers” fleet safety benchmark program from NETS.

Consisting of small and large fleets (from 68 vehicles to 44,500 vehicles), benchmark members share top-of-mind safety issues, according to Hanley. For an annual fee of $1,490, members can interact with road safety companies, create custom reports based on benchmark data files as well as use the NETS reports to support their fleet’s safety recommendations.

Terry King — safety manager at Acushnet Company, a manufacturer of golf products — found the benchmark program while surfing the Internet for fleet safety information.

“One of the biggest advantages is being able to see the various safety policies different companies have in place,” says King, a member of the benchmark program for four years. “You get a good view of what fleets are doing with a specific issue.”

About the author
Amy Hercher

Amy Hercher

Former Senior Editor

Amy is a former senior editor with Bobit Business Media's AutoGroup.

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