It's something like Big Brother watching you, but without LCD screens mounted to dashboards and certainly not as creepy. Instead the newest fleet safety management systems are designed to jack up responsible driving habits while putting the brakes on accident rates and liability exposures via an automated Web-based approach that monitors driving behavior.
Billing itself as the only complete Web-based auto-pilot system, DriverCare was introduced by the CEI Group--a fleet risk and safety management firm based in Trevose, Pa.--in 2003, to make it a whole lot easier for risk managers to identify at-risk drivers and monitor their behavior by simply logging onto the company's DriverCare administrative Web site, and seeing real-time reports. And, perhaps, more like your little brother, if you have an accident or otherwise violate your company's safe-driving policy, DriverCare tells on you by automatically dashing off e-mails to you and your bosses, doling out pre-determined remedial actions. Nope, there's no way to bribe the system not to tell. But the drivers don't seem to mind.
Possible objections from the civil liberties lobby notwithstanding, Mark Vangsgard, vice president and treasurer of Ecolab, a cleaning and sanitizing services company based in St. Paul., Minn., and one of DriverCare's first customers, admits that initially his employees were a bit skeptical of this monitoring system and the Big Brother implications.
"But they eventually realized this is a good thing for the company and a good thing for them," Vangsgard says. It certainly has been a good thing for the company.
With 6,500 autos, vans and pick-up trucks in the U.S., Ecolab signed on with DriverCare in the fall of 2003, and has already seen some impressive results. According to John Spies, director of corporate risk management, from the end of 2003 to June 2005, the total accident rate per million miles (a standard fleet measurement) dropped 11 percent. Ecolab's preventable accident rate per million miles is down by 15 percent, and its accident cost per vehicle has plunged more than 25 percent. Ecolab's claim rate has tumbled, too, by 10 percent for the first six months of 2005 compared with the same period in 2004. Spies says Ecolab drivers not only have had fewer accidents, but have had fewer "big" accidents.
What DriverCare offers is an all-encompassing Web-based system that combines the elements that are considered the key predictors of driver risk: Motor Vehicle Reports, accident reports, driver monitoring and safety policy violations.
To complete the package, DriverCare adds into the automated system whatever risk programs a company already uses, such as "1-800-HowsMyDriving"--that familiar yellow bumper decal you frequently see on delivery trucks and tractor-trailers, which also delivers driving reports. Companies might also add other stop-gap measures. Ecolab requires each driver to go on two driver-safety "drive alongs" with his or her boss each year. By bundling these various sources of driver behavior information with an automated service that spits out e-mails to drivers and their bosses when a negative report hits the database, DriverCare eliminates the need for fleet managers to wade through paperwork to conduct an efficient manual risk analysis. The system does it for you.
For example, one of the most critical aspects of the system is the ease of securing drivers' motor vehicle records. For companies with multistate fleets, keeping track of the reports in multiple states can be a logistical nightmare. Each state has its own violation coding system and access requirements. A 10-mile-over-the-limit speeding ticket in one state might stick you with three points on your license, but slam you with six points in another state.
DriverCare claims to have already streamlined that process. "Each motor vehicle agency has its own system of coding (violations), so there are more than 22,000 violation codes and descriptions," says CEI Group's Art Liggio, director of risk and insurance services. Calling its database a "Rosetta Stone," Liggio says DriverCare has "converted the data into a generic system so every driver is judged on the same standards," boiled down to 375 violations. The different kinds of accidents have also been generically coded and assigned certain point values.
Thus far DriverCare has signed up more than 25 safety-service customers, covering more than 100,000 fleet drivers. But they aren't the only Web-based game in town. Another Web-based service, AlertDriving.com, offers a laundry list of eight or nine different products, such as downloadable motor vehicle reports, but puts more of an emphasis on driver-training programs. Rob Martin, vice president of operations of the Toronto-based company, says his customers have reduced their costs, such as lost time and auto repairs, by as much as 70 percent.
But the monitoring aspect of these Web-based systems is clearly a key variable. As Pete Van Dyne, technical director for transportation for the business market at Liberty Mutual's office in Brookfield, Wis., points out, it's one thing to monitor drivers and gather data on their driving habits. It's quite another to use that information to provide feedback to the managers and drivers, and offer training. "Management has to look at the crashes and understand what's causing them," he says.
DriverCare's Liggio believes the monitoring is effective partly due to the so-called "Hawthorne Effect," a theory that says employees perform better when management observes them because they perceive they're "important" or that management is concerned about their well-being.
At Ecolab, no driver can doubt that the employer cares. The company has been giving each driver a photo-sized Plexiglas picture frame, designed to carry a family picture, inscribed with the phrase, "I want you home safely at night," to stick on the dashboard. "When you've just left a customer, with all the day-to-day hassles, you can be distracted," explains Vangsgard. "This is a visual reminder to think of safety." Does that sound hokey? Sure. But it just might remind someone to buckle his seatbelt.
SUSAN GUREVITZ is a writer living in Pennsylvania.
November 1, 2005
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