Bob is your best salesman but he’s trouble behind the wheel. It might be easy to ignore Bob’s lousy driving record after he’s had such a productive month. But avoiding the problem will only increase your liability exposure and odds for a disaster. Effectively managing Bob—and all your fleet drivers—involves using a system to assess driving records and then tailoring education, training, discipline and rewards to appropriate risk levels.
From the top down, long-term, company-wide.
First and foremost, safety education begins by addressing all your employees, regardless of driving record, as part of your company’s “fleet safety culture.” Company-wide initiatives don’t need to be expensive. The Auto Club, National Safety Council, Advanced Driver Training Services and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) offer multiple-use videos, CD-ROMs, online classes and workbooks at reasonable prices. Check with your insurance carrier first—it may offer these materials for free.
Safety programs are only effective with a long-term commitment. “If you don’t keep safety out in front of your drivers, don’t waste your time or money,” says Phil Moser, national sales manager of Advanced Driver Training Services (ADTS). Organizations will see a reduction in crashes after a one-time program, only to see crash rates rise again without reinforcement of the training.
To keep safety on the front burner, try starting or ending a sales meeting with a safety message. Holidays offer specific opportunities such as an email about travel in inclement weather or drunk driving awareness. Make the message important and appropriate for drivers as opposed to a simple safety poster, Moser says. NETS sponsors a drive safely work week every October. The organization offers an electronic tool kit with activities, a screen saver, an e-greeting card and animated flash media messages.
Buy-in from senior management is vital. “If these messages come from the top person, then they’ll become important to the vice president, and the next one down,” Moser says. “It will filter down.”
After establishing some general fleet safety initiatives throughout the company, it’s time to tailor appropriate training to levels of risk outlined in Assessing the Driving Record.
Level One represents the good drivers. Those drivers, about 80 percent of your fleet, do get unlucky from time to time and get a speeding ticket or into a fender-bender. Level One drivers with a violation or accident need to have the fleet safety message reinforced. This can usually be accomplished by having them review the aforementioned video or CD-Rom and take a test on the material.
Statistics show that 20 percent of fleet drivers cause 80 percent of fleet accidents. Drivers in levels Two, Three and Four represent that 20 percent. They’ve had more than one crash or violation in the past 36 months, and it probably isn’t just bad luck. Frequency of violations derives from either a skills deficiency or an attitude problem, or both.
“Everyone says they’re a good driver. But everyone knows someone they wouldn’t let their dog ride around the block with,” says Moser. “Most of the drivers I’ve encountered over the years aren’t bad drivers, they’re good drivers with bad habits. You need to get your drivers thinking ‘what do I have to do to keep out of harm’s way’ as opposed to ‘hey it wasn’t my fault.’”
A review of a CD-Rom is not enough for the driver with multiple violations, says Moser. A Level Two driver should have some form of classroom and/or behind-the-wheel training. The program offered by ADTS involves a half-day in the classroom and a half-day behind the wheel on a closed course. The classroom will deal with the attitude issues, while the behind-the-wheel training will address the skills issues.
Level Three drivers (Moser calls them the “incorrigibles”) require one-to-one training. Let’s say our salesman Bob is an incorrigible. Bob has participated in the company-wide safety initiatives and perhaps taken a class, and yet another speeding ticket just showed up on his record. Here’s a cost-effective plan to get through to Bob:
The first step is to have a supervisor, say, Bob’s sales manager, learn some basic observational assessments to be able to identify the specific problems with Bob’s driving. Most safety organizations have videos and checklists (the Smith System, AAA Decision Driving System, NETS Driver Skill Checklist) to train observers on how to spot these driving behaviors. Your insurance carrier may also have these materials. Thomas Walsh, a former worldwide corporate safety director for UPS and a past chair of NETS, recommends asking your carrier for a video and an observational sheet from the company’s loss prevention services.
The trainer accompanies Bob on his sales route for a day. To save time and money, this might be done in conjunction with a previously scheduled ride-along to assess Bob’ sales skills. Be prepared for some pushback. “Oh, please,” says Bob. “I don’t need someone babysitting me all day.”
Walsh suggests responding to Bob on a personal level. “Tell Bob you want him to get home safely to his wife and kids,” Walsh suggests saying. “In fact I’m so concerned about you, that I’m sending you out to get training to improve your skills. You’ve got to do this if you want to keep working for me.”
The observer discretely notes Bob’s driving problems, yet also praises Bob for positive behavior. Walsh says UPS supervisors are trained to reinforce drivers positively four times for every negative comment. But won’t Bob stay on his best behavior if he knows he’s being watched? Not necessarily, says Moser, who has done many ride-alongs. “They’ll use their turn signal for the first hour, and then they start reverting back to their habits,” he says.
If you really want to hold on to Bob you may at this point consider a professional trainer. Professional one-on-one training is expensive, but because the trainer is on the road with him, Bob won’t be taken out of his territory for a day.
Motivating your drivers
Recognition and rewards are an important part of perpetuating your company’s fleet safety culture and have been proven to be effective motivators. Like training and education programs, reward levels should match appropriate milestones. They don’t have to be expensive. Simply participating in a safety program warrants a certificate. A congratulatory letter from the president or a name added to a plaque is also important reinforcement.
Award levels should increase as drivers reach significant milestones without violations or crashes. Rapid Rooter, a sewer and drain cleaning business in South Florida, presents a marble steering wheel trophy to drivers with clean records at the end of the year. Straight cash rewards are popular. Paul McKenna, owner of a medical equipment company, offers $500 to drivers who stay accident free for the life of the vehicle with the company (usually two years). The ancillary benefit is a cleaner vehicle with a higher resale value.
To further enforce the importance of safety, driving performance can be part of an annual review and thus factor into their raise.
Some companies offer a better vehicle trim package or even a vehicle upgrade. These tangible rewards create excitement and competition among other drivers. An upgrade in equipment can be a problem if that person leaves the company. You might get stuck with an upgraded vehicle without having a new driver who has officially earned it.
For maximal return on investment, studies have shown that the most effective reward is a trophy incentive system, Walsh says. These systems, such as programs instituted by Maritz Inc., reward months of safe driving with points that can be redeemed from a catalogue of prizes. The points dispersal reminds drivers about safety monthly. The reward (a television, stereo, golf clubs, etc.) is presented at a company-wide meeting by senior management. UPS uses a similar system, Walsh says.
Changing driving behavior
Walsh summarizes levels of disciplinary action as “Warning, suspension, discharge.”
Progressive discipline should only need to be applied to a few drivers, the 20 percent that cause the majority of your fleet accidents. Progressive discipline should be viewed as a tool to get people’s attention to change their behavior, Walsh says. Every action should be documented, and drivers should be informed of levels of discipline as they accumulate points on their records. Remember that some form of training should accompany all of these actions.
The first action is a warning, either written or verbal. The next step, for drivers that reach Level Two, is probation. Drivers should stay on probation until their records are clean. While on probation, drivers may face losing the company car for personal use.
Level Three drivers could lose the company car altogether until their MVRs are clean. Those drivers must then use their personal vehicles and be reimbursed for mileage. Moser cautions that this does nothing to minimize an employer’s liability exposure: A company can be sued for the wrongful acts of the employee as long as the employee was acting in the scope of employment, no matter who owns the vehicle. Employers might request in this case that the employee purchase an umbrella insurance policy on top of the driver’s personal auto coverage for added liability protection. The extra expense sometimes makes that driver quit, Moser says.
Deduction of wages is another recourse. Companies often use those fines to pay for driver training. This policy must be carefully worded in the employee handbook or driver’s agreement so that by signing the document the employee gives permission for a wage deduction. Even with an upfront disclosure of this policy as a condition of employment, be careful—in some states this practice is illegal, and in many states permissible deductions are very limited and specifically defined.
Suspension of driving is the next step. Suspension becomes a problem not only for the driver who’s taken off his route, but also for the company that must temporarily replace him. Some companies, such as Rapid-Rooter, have another employee act as a driver/trainer. “The trainer will be the chauffer, and the technician that was pulled off the road does the selling until his license is straightened out,” says Stu Stein, the company’s dispatcher. It can be a temporary, albeit expensive solution.
Under the Zurich system presented in the previous article, any combination of violations or accidents that equals 25 points or more (Level Four) is cause to suspend driving privileges and consider termination.
Termination is your final recourse. There are some people who simply don’t want to change their behavior, and those people may have to leave to protect your company. You as an employer are held liable for your employees’ wrongful acts conducted within the scope of employment. If you knowingly allow employees with problem records to drive company cars, you only increase your liability exposure. The ultimate “what-if” scenario, a crash involving serious injury or death and a subsequent lawsuit, may never happen. But if it does, “One crash could shut you down,” Moser says. “How much are you willing to gamble?”
Liability issues often seem like a far-off theory. Yet your action or inaction involving those Level Four drivers will also tangibly affect your day-to-day bottom line.
“We don’t have a set threshold that puts drivers over the line; we play it by ear,” says Dan Quinlan, president of a carpet and upholstery cleaning company. “There have been a few instances in which we should’ve let a driver go for too many accidents. It has cost us money.” Quinlan was dropped by his insurance carrier and put into the New Jersey assigned risk pool. Quinlan says he is now more stringent about hiring drivers and is developing an assessment system.
“The more proactive you are with training and education, the more favorably you’ll be reviewed by an underwriter,” says Dan Kummer, Director of Auto Insurance at PCI. “It will result in lower premiums. By investing 10 dollars you could get a return of $15 or $20.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates the average cost of a fleet accident to be $16,471, including vehicle damage, insurance and health benefit costs. One in five fleet drivers experiences a crash yearly, according to the National Association of Fleet Administrators. Reducing these numbers and odds can be achieved. A return on investment is measurable.
Statistics also show that a sustained safety program—one that includes a system to assess fleet risk coupled with appropriate education, training, rewards and disciplinary action—will result in a reduction of fleet crashes by as much as 50 percent.
Compare the cost of a fleet safety program with the savings of time, resources, money and perhaps lives. Your safety efforts do make a big difference.
• Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS)
• Advanced Driver
Training Services (ADTS)
• The Smith System
• Maritz, Inc.