By CHARLIE HALFEN, a former fleet safety manager with United Parcel Service and current president of CNH Safety LLC
Corporate fleet managers and risk managers are increasingly paying attention to fleet safety as employees in their company cars continue to injure themselves and others, and cause greater than ever damage to their company bottom line, corporate reputation and worker welfare and productivity.
The numbers tell part of the tale. Whether a workers' compensation claim or third-party injury, the average claim cost in the United States has risen to $100,000.
An increasing proportion of total crashes are being attributed to cellphone related crashes, which cost some $43 billion per year. Liability never sleeps either, even when an employee is using a company vehicle for personal use, companies are at risk.
Consider that one company settled for $500,000 after it was determined that an employee during off hours in a company car had killed a motorcyclist while distracted. Every risk manager with a corporate and/or commercial fleet knows just how this can impact their company, and more are looking at methods to address the problem.
The cellphone and texting focus has just made this more conspicuous, and a further call to action.
The National Fleet Management Association reported in a recent poll that 63 percent of its companies have a written policy prohibiting the use of phones and other wireless communication devices while driving. Of companies that ban the practice, 32.7 percent bar any electronic device, while 67.3 percent say employees may use hands-free but not hand-held devices, according to the latest data.
Media attention to the problem has stoked the call for tighter legislation here and abroad and the drumbeat is getting louder. The United Kingdom has passed very strict and some feel overly severe laws holding corporations accountable for safe driving behavior and records.
Health and safety legislation includes The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, and other civil penalties are putting corporations and those who manage them at risk. Consider that those who fail to meet their responsibilities can receive fines and jail time.
It is estimated that one in four fleet crashes in the United States in some way involves cell phone or other electronic devices. This spike has really gotten the attention of fleet and risk managers and gone right up to the C-suite. But what of the other 75 percent of the crashes, those that can't necessarily be attributed to distracted driving? Are the other fleet crashes just statistical inevitabilities?
The answer is clearly no and it is important that companies not get completely distracted by the current focus on distracted driving as it specifically relates to electronic devices. To do so would be to miss the real opportunity to lower accident incidence. The single most important contributor to safe driving and to significantly bringing down the number and severity of car crashes is skills training, specifically hazard recognition/avoidance training. This includes driving attention, visual search strategies, speed relative to conditions, and emergency maneuvers. Companies need to refocus on skills and hazard recognition and implement comprehensive training and monitoring programs.
ESSENTIAL SKILLS TRAINING
Drivers in fact almost never receive proper training. The reality is that they go to driving school, usually as teenagers, to learn the rules of the road and never receive proper skills training. Driving is a physical skill, like baseball, golf or even playing the violin. Nobody is very good the first time and like other skills, if it is not learned properly, bad habits develop. Through experience, drivers do improve over time but never become truly safe without guidance, hence the striking statistics.
If every fleet driver learned how to clear an intersection, for instance, there is no question that the number of accidents would drop. This is not just intuitive, it is a fact. United Parcel Service of America Inc. has been in the vanguard of driving safety for decades and has demonstrated its efficacy and a wide range of other skills and habits. This, taken with a myriad of other specific hazard recognition/avoidance skills (what to do when oncoming traffic crosses center line, over correcting, adjusting speed to curves, responding to loss of traction and many others) could make a profound impact on the number of crashes.
The use of new technologies such as telematics, which identifies what a driver of a corporate car or commercial vehicle might be doing wrong, is useful. While the implementation of in-vehicle driving telematics devices can result in the reduction of risky driving behaviors, and data from these devices can be used to help coach employees in safe driving, this does little to address the skills and hazard recognition issue which is, according the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the core problem in driving safety.
If this information is not supported by and married to comprehensive skills training, it will do little to address the core problem. Instead, it could turn into an academic exercise at best and at worst a punitive one which might change some behaviors but won't truly address the problem.
A THOROUGH APPROACH
When considering the big picture, fleet and risk managers need to take a comprehensive approach with fundamentals, integrating road safety within current safety and health policies as well as:
-- Driver behavior measurement.
-- Insurance cost containment and loss intervention.
-- Operator license regulatory compliance audits, specifically concerning CSA 2010.
-- Safety culture surveys.
-- Risk assessment for vehicles.
-- Individual risk such as sleep disorder screening.
-- And most importantly in-vehicle driver training, supported by thorough video and online training.
So how does a company even begin to address this?
Whether managing a fleet of vehicles or directing a group of company cars, it is essential to have an auto safety process in place in order to reduce risk, both for employee wellbeing and the bottom line.
The first step in making a difference is self-evaluation. What is the company safety process and what grade would it get? Take an outside look at your company. Is employee and auto safety integrated throughout all levels? A candid snapshot will lead to quicker results.
Like UPS, any great auto safety process will include: management commitment; driver involvement (including an employee-backed incentive program), and constructive driver training with unwavering disciplinary action.
Risk management can start the ball rolling. For management to be truly committed they must not only see the physical and emotional toll that auto crashes take on employees and their families, but they must also see the financial losses in their own operations due to poor driving. Charging back the cost of a crash to the responsible location will garner immediate management attention.
This can be easily done by reviewing crash history and totaling all costs from start to finish associated with specific types of crashes, such as intersections, head-ons or hit-other-in-rear crashes. The same can be done with injuries, as well. Once those dollar amounts are known, any location that incurs an injury or crash should be charged that amount on the day incurred.
Since almost all crashes are preventable, there would be no need to investigate the crash before the charge. On the other hand, operations management, along with safety professionals, would immediately want to start an investigation in order to prevent future crashes. Training tools would be developed and drivers would be held accountable to always follow the safest driving methods.
Driver involvement is also key. Employees are a company's best asset. UPS takes great pride in the fact that they will have over 5,000 drivers on road this year with over 25 years of safe driving. No one ever wants to be involved in a crash so give employees instruction in the very basics of safe driving. Being proactive and training safe driving methods will save lives and reduce your costs. With your limited face-to-face time with drivers, safety discussions, prevention activities and driver training should concentrate on the cause of crashes and those types that have the most likelihood of injury or death.
The most common crashes are backing and hitting stationary objects and the most serious injury producing collisions are intersections, head-on collisions, hit-other-in-rear crashes, pedestrians and cyclists. Companies who want to make the greatest gains in crash reduction should focus limited resources in these areas.
Driving is a hard and dangerous job so good driving should be rewarded. UPS gave out it's first five-year safe driving award in 1927 and rewarding safe driving has always been a part of its culture. Every year an employee drives without a collision, no matter how slight, they receive public recognition along with a gift to express the company's thanks for their effort. This recognition continues to reinforce the importance of safety at all levels.
On-road driver training has always been a staple at UPS. Whether it's new hire, recurring or post-crash, all drivers are taught the same methods. The safest driving method requires extensive eye movement and the recognition of potential hazards in advance which makes drivers think, plan and react as necessary. With proper tools, even an inexperienced trainer can develop a safe driver using hazard recognition training.
Most adults think that they're safe drivers and it's always the other drivers that are dangerous. Their definition of a "safe driver" comes from the fact that they seldom have a crash: wrong. Safe drivers don't have any crashes. Auto crashes cannot be tolerated in any organization. If unsafe drivers have been properly trained in hazard recognition and they continue to demonstrate unsafe methods, action must be taken to get them off of the road.
April 1, 2011
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