By Mike Antich
Last week, I attended a superb Fleet Safety Summit produced byFleet Response, a fleet management company headquartered in Cleveland. I applaud Fleet Response for puttinga spotlight on fleet safety and the safety-conscious fleet managers who tooktime out of their busy schedules to attend the two-day event. As one of the symposiumpresenters, I expressed my perspective on fleet safety, which is that somefleet managers do not consistently view safety as a top priority. I know manywill disagree with me and say fleet safety is indeed a top concern, but whenyou talk with suppliers of fleet safety programs and services, they point outthat the “talk” often does not translate into action.
Do You Walk the Talk?
In two decades of chronicling the history of fleet management, Ihave seen interest in fleet safety ebb and flow. Currently, fleet safety is ahot issue. In fact, in an annual survey I conduct of fleet managers, they ratedfleet safety as their No. 2 concern, right behind the cost of fuel. Why the renewedinterest in fleet safety? More and more fleet managers are reporting an uptickin preventable accidents. The primary cause is driver distraction, which accountsfor 25-30 percent of all auto accidents. Driver distraction is increasingbecause drivers are multitasking while driving. The workload of companydrivers, as with all of us, has increased tremendously. Drivers use “windshieldtime” for cell phone calls, texting, reviewing documents prior to meetings, eatingwhile driving to the next appointment, etc. Although cell phone use is the primarycause of driver distraction, texting is becoming a growing (and more dangerous)factor.
Drivers engaged in mobile texting spend 400 percent more timetaking their eyes off the road and are 70 percent more likely to swerve out oftheir lane. If you’re traveling 65 mph, taking your eyes off the road for threeseconds while texting is the equivalent of driving the length of a footballfield. Texting represents a major liability exposure for fleets. One fleetreceived a legal judgment to pay $4.1 million for an accident caused by adriver using a personal digital assistant (PDA). It is not uncommon to seedrivers resting a BlackBerry on a steering wheel while using their thumbs totype a text message. Texting is more dangerous than using a cell phone. Atleast a driver talking on a cell phone is watching the road ahead. Someonetexting has his or her eyes off the road staring at their hands pecking amessage on a miniature keypad.
As fleet managers, we need to ask ourselves if we are doing enoughto ensure the safety of our drivers. Second, are we doing enough as fleet managersto train our drivers to operate vehicles in a safe way? In other words, issafety your top concern? My contention is that it should be your No. 1 priority.Fleet managers have a personal stake in fleet safety. If they are derelict intheir duties, they potentially could be liable for negligent entrustment and/ornegligent retention of unsafe drivers.
In addition, fleet managers are feeling pressure from other corporatedepartments to increase fleet driver safety. For instance, corporate riskmanagement is becoming more influential in the types of vehicles added to fleetselectors. Some corporate risk management departments dictate that only modelswith NHTSA 5-Star ratings can be added to a fleet selector. Another departmentwith a growing influence on fleet safety is the Environment, Health &Safety (EHS) Department. It is responsible for employee safety issues elsewherein the company, such as the factory floor and workstation ergonomics; why notfleet vehicles? EHS Departments are extending their reach into fleet becausecompany drivers are one of the largest sources of Workers’ Comp claims. Forinstance, driver-related ergonomics issues that result in Workers’ Comp claims areon the rise at truck fleets. These include injuries from pushing, pulling,lifting, and bending often caused by upfitting specifications that did not takeinto account driver ergonomics. Under OSHA regulations, an employer mustprovide a workplace free from recognized hazards and company vehicles areconsidered a workplace. In addition, good ergonomics contributes to accidentavoidance. Think about it, poor ergonomics reduces driver comfort, whichincreases fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents.
Fleet Safety Can Reduce Fleet Costs
Fleet safety is on the “radar” of senior management. Liabilityexposure resulting from preventable accidents has made senior management moresensitive to enforcing fleet safety policies. Unfortunately, this sensitivitysometimes arises after the fact following a lawsuit or a fleet-relatedfatality.
The annual accident rate for commercial fleets is around 20percent, with some industries, such as pharmaceuticals, even higher. I’ve alwaysaccepted this statistic as a natural byproduct of our industry until it was putinto perspective by Eric Strom, maintenance & safety product manager for GECapital Solutions Fleet Services. Chenier used a manufacturing analogy saying anyfleet-related accident should be viewed as a defect. What industry would view a20-percent or more defect rate as acceptable? Fleets do. In addition, thisdefect – fleet accidents – is a controllable expense. Of the 20 percent ofvehicles involved in an accident, about 40 percent were preventable accidentsresulting from driver negligence. If 40 percent of your accidents are preventable,this represents a huge opportunity to reduce fleet costs. Industry studies showthat accidents represent 14 percent of a fleet’s total expenses, although it isprobably even higher since these studies do not take into account soft costs suchas downtime, lost employee productivity, etc. Hypothetically, if fleets could eliminateall preventable accidents, the expense rate would drop to about 8 percent. Itis impossible to reduce all preventable accidents, but simply cutting in halfthe number of preventable accidents would yield substantial cost savings. Intoday’s fleet management world, there are few areas where such dramatic costreductions can be achieved.
Although fleet safety can reduce fixed fleet costs, the more importantreason to make fleet safety your No. 1 job priority is because it’s the rightthing to do. As good corporate citizens, it is our obligation to ensure thesafety of not only our employees, but also the public with whom they interact. Youractions (or inaction) can be the difference that prevents (or contributes) to afamily tragedy.
Let me know what you think.