The hard reality is that many senior managers do not consistently view fleet safety as a top priority. I know many will disagree with me and say fleet safety is, indeed, a top concern, but when you talk with suppliers of fleet safety programs and related services, they point out that the "talk" often does not translate into action.
During my two-decade career in fleet management, I have seen interest in fleet safety ebb and flow. Currently, fleet safety is a hot button issue, as more fleets are experiencing an uptick in preventable accidents. The primary cause of this uptick points to driver distraction that now contributes to the 25-30 percent of all fleet-related accidents, which are deemed preventable.
Overall, the total accident rate for commercial fleets averages 20 percent, with some industries, such as pharmaceutical, even higher. Using a manufacturing analogy, what if fleet-related accidents were viewed as defects? What industry would view a 20-percent defect rate as acceptable? Well, fleets do. In addition, this defect – fleet accidents – is a controllable expense. This represents a huge opportunity to reduce fleet costs and, more importantly, thwart tragedies. Fleet managers have a personal stake in fleet safety. If derelict in their duties, they could potentially be liable for negligent entrustment and/or negligent retention.
Fleet Safety Can Reduce Fleet Costs
Fleet safety is on the radar of a growing number of senior managers. Liability exposure resulting from preventable accidents has made senior management more sensitive to enforcing fleet safety policies. Unfortunately, this sensitivity sometimes arises after the fact, following a lawsuit or fleet-related fatality.
Industry studies show that accidents represent 14 percent of a fleet’s total expenses, although it is probably even higher since these studies do not take into account soft costs such as downtime, lost employee productivity, etc. In today’s fleet management world, few areas remain where such dramatic savings can be achieved as they do in fleet safety management. Since a key part of a fleet manager’s job is to reduce accident repair costs, many find it counter-intuitive that costs can be reduced by incurring expense.
The real cost savings occurs when you train your drivers to drive safely. If a driver training program results in fewer accidents, the payoff is tremendous. It is impossible to reduce all preventable accidents, but simply cutting in half the number of preventable accidents would yield substantial cost savings. With most company drivers averaging 20,000 miles per year, the best way to achieve fleet safety objectives is by modifying driver behavior.
Focus on the Driver, Not the Asset
In my view, the goal of a fleet safety program is not to reduce costs, but to minimize the number of vehicles colliding in the first place. You can utilize an accident management program and squeeze every dollar you can out of a repair, but, in the end, you may not save anything. For example, if you have 100 repairs per year and reduce (or avoid) repair costs by $100 per repair, it would represent a $10,000 savings across the fleet. But, even if you were able to cut $10,000 per year off accident costs over a 10-year period, a single lawsuit can erase all 10 years of cost-cutting efforts.
As the company fleet manager, you need to ask yourself if you are doing enough to ensure the safety of employee drivers.
Second, are you doing enough to train your drivers to operate vehicles in a safe way? In other words, is safety your top concern? My contention is that it should be your No. 1 priority. We should take a stand and say that a 20-percent accident rate is no longer acceptable for our industry. To reduce it, we must focus on the cause (the driver) and not the symptom (the accident).
Learn Best Practices in Fleet Safety
Although the efficacy of a fleet safety program is benchmarked against fixed and variable fleet costs, the more important reason to make fleet safety your No. 1 job priority is because it’s the right thing to do. As good corporate citizens, it is your obligation to ensure the safety of not only employees, but also the public with whom they interact. Your action (or inaction) can be the difference that prevents (or contributes) to a family tragedy.
With this in mind, the Fleet Safety Conference was created by Bobit Business Media in conjunction with the American Automotive Leasing Association (AALA), which uses the conference as the venue to present its annual Fleet Safety Award. Since its inception four years ago, the Fleet Safety Conference has been well received by not only the fleet industry, but also risk management and environmental health and safety professionals. The next Fleet Safety Conference will be held July 13-15, 2015 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel in Schaumburg, Ill.
For more information on the 2015 Fleet Safety Conference, visit the event's website.
I hope to see you this July in Schaumburg.