What is Fleet Safety and Why is It Important?
What is Fleet Safety and Why is It Important?
The road can be a hazardous place.
Even as technology and vehicle safety standards improve, accidents will continue to be an unfortunate reality of operating multi-ton vehicles at high speeds. In 2020 alone, there were 35,766 fatal motor vehicle crashes in the United States, resulting in 1.34 deaths per 100 million miles traveled.
For owner-operators of vehicle fleets—whose professional drivers spend tens of thousands of miles on the go each year—fleet safety is fundamental to fleet management. Your vehicles need to be well-maintained and your drivers properly trained and protected.
But what is fleet safety? What are the must-have elements of a well-rounded program?
Here’s how you can protect your fleet.
What Is Fleet Safety?
Fleet safety is a formalized program of safety training and guidelines fleet owners can use to safeguard their professional drivers, vehicles, cargo, and other motorists on the road.
By setting safety policies and procedures, you can take actionable steps to keep your operation running, protect your business against liability, and, most importantly, maintain a safe work environment for your drivers.
Having a fleet safety program won’t entirely eliminate accidents. But, if it’s properly implemented, it can help save lives and help your fleet operate at full capacity.
Why Does Fleet Safety Matter?
Fleet safety is one of, if not the most, challenging aspects of fleet management. As Automotive Fleet Magazine points out, the annual accident rate for commercial fleets is around 20%, and the average cost of a loss related to accidents hovers around $70,000.
It’s worth noting that the figure above only accounts for the above-the-line expenses like the costs to repair or replace the vehicle and the expenses related to injuries that may occur.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are hidden indirect and direct costs of accidents lurking beneath the surface that are the byproducts of poor fleet safety, including:
- Bad publicity
- Reputational damage
- Administrative burden of dealing with the accident’s fallout
- Increased insurance premiums
- Reduced employee morale
- Legal fees
- Lost employee time
- Recruitment costs to replace a driver
- Lost business
- Court fines
- OSHA fines
- Workers’ compensation injuries not covered by insurance
- Lost productivity
Benefits of Fleet Safety
In addition to safeguarding your reputation and resources, proper fleet management provides three major advantages:
- Improved safety for both your employees and other motorists
- Higher rates of employee satisfaction
- Optimized fleet efficiency
When a safety ethos is imbued into the foundations of your organization, you are better positioned to nip problems in the bud, attract new business and talent, and build a strong reputation within your industry.
What Does a Robust Fleet Safety Program Look Like?
The exact details of each fleet safety system will look different for each company; however, there are key factors that all high-quality fleet safety programs must implement.
#1 A Clearly Written Safety Policy
Your first task is to establish clear policies and procedures centered on safety. Every employee involved in the fleet’s operations—whether it’s the professional drivers, the fleet dispatchers, or management—needs to fully understand and actualize these procedures.
By putting it in writing, you can set clear, consistent expectations around behaviors, rules, guidelines, and proper procedures should an accident occur.
What will that cover? Elements you should address include:
- Vehicle use rules
- Safety responsibility assignments
- Vehicle inspection and maintenance schedules
- Ways to identify high-risk drivers
- Driver safety practices
- Driver training standards and programs
- Policies for purchasing vehicles
- Accident reporting, investigation, and review procedures
- Safety compliance regulations
- Insurance requirements
#2 Management Commitment
Your fleet safety policy will succeed if management commits to realizing each safety standard. As the leaders of the business, it's their responsibility to embrace and model your safety culture.
If they accept their role as advocates, your management team can support the entire organization through orientation materials, check-ins, and clear communication.
Your safety program should assign specific roles and duties to management, such as:
- Establishing KPIs and achievable objectives
- Ensuring compliance
- Providing resources and support to employees
#3 Safe Professional Drivers
Your drivers are the heart and soul of your fleet. Your business success hinges upon the decisions they make while on the road. Therefore, an effective safety program starts with them.
And since they represent your company, you need to build your driving fleet with experienced individuals committed to safety.
Driver turnover is a pervasive and persistent problem within the large vehicle or trucking industry. And the costs can be substantial, averaging $8,234 for each driver. An effective driver recruitment, retention, and safety program can help minimize turnover rates.
To that end, your goal is simple: recruit a safe and reliable team of talented drivers who understand and adopt fleet safety procedures. Hiring safe drivers protects your bottom line, reduces your liability in case of loss, and can boost your reputation.
Every professional driver candidate you consider should undergo an extensive review process that covers:
- Employment history
- Motor vehicle record
- ~Valid license (no suspensions or revocations)
- ~Multiple years of driving experience
- ~No recent at-fault accidents or moving violations
- Social Security number
- Drug and alcohol history, especially as it pertains to driving
- Motor vehicle reports
- Screening interviews
- Negative drug and alcohol tests
- Valid and up-to-date commercial driver’s license (CDL)
In addition, new and existing fleet drivers should attend fleet safety training to really ingrain road safety habits and forgo bad habits, such as harsh braking, distracted driving, and wheel loss control.
#4 Driver Qualifications Files
After you have completed the hiring process, you’re legally required to document and maintain a driver qualification file for every driver in your company. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, this includes:
- Driver’s application for employment
- Inquiry to previous employers (driving record for last 3 years)
- Annual inquiry and review of driving record
- Annual driver’s certification of violations and annual review
- Driver’s road test and certificate, or the equivalent to the road test
- Medical examiner’s certificate
#5 Robust Driver Training
Fleet drivers should also learn proper driver behavior. Every driver under your banner must be properly trained, especially new recruits. Regardless of experience, driver training isn’t a one-off process—it’s an ongoing practice. Both rookies and veterans alike must undergo continued coaching on motor vehicle safety.
For entry-level drivers, starting in 2022, the FMCSA requires that CDL applicants register in the FMCSA's Training Provider Registry and complete training as required by the Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulations.
ELDT training consists of both classroom education and behind-the-wheel experience. Your drivers must complete coursework, pass both a written and practical driving test, and receive their trainer’s endorsement.
In addition to this basic driver training, fleet owners should also focus on the following elements as they pertain to driver safety:
- Driving techniques – Drivers need to master their vehicles. To assist with that, you should provide training that covers various skills and safety maneuvers like:
- ~Defensive driving
- ~Economic driving
- ~First aid
- Unsafe driving habits – Drivers should be monitored and encouraged to reduce unsafe driving practices like:
- ~Hard cornering
- ~Harsh braking
- ~Seatbelt non-compliance
- ~Distracted driving
- Driving laws and regulations – Drivers must abide by the state and federal rules and regulations governing commercial driving. For instance, the DOT Hours-of-Service regulations stipulate maximum driving hours and driving windows, required rest breaks, and on-duty time periods.
- Tools and technologies – An effective fleet safety program requires that you constantly monitor driver performance and behavior. By installing in-cab safety technology like electronic logging devices (ELD) in all of your vehicles, you gain real-time visibility and control over your fleet. Equipped with this data, you can then identify areas of frequent noncompliance and adjust your fleet safety program to address such issues.
#6 Safe Driver Recognition
Consider providing incentives to encourage safe driving behavior. Performance awards like gift cards, bonuses, time-off, or extra vacation time can reinforce your safety procedures.
Creating a transparent system of safety monitoring also provides your management team with opportunities to advise underperforming drivers and outline goals and objectives to meet safe driving standards.
Routine Preventative Maintenance
A well-maintained vehicle is a safe vehicle. Proper maintenance is also one of the most cost-efficient fleet safety solutions.
Wear and tear is inevitable when vehicles accrue tens of thousands of driving miles each year. So, if your goal is to maximize the value of each vehicle in your fleet and prevent as many accidents as possible, routine inspections and preventive vehicle maintenance aren’t just a best practice—they’re essential.
By properly maintaining your vehicles, you can extend their life, increase fleet uptime, and avoid accidents resulting from faulty equipment. Not to mention, if an accident occurs caused by maintenance negligence, you expose your entire business to significant legal liability.
Put simply, a fleet safety program is incomplete without the cornerstone of vehicle maintenance.
AtoB—Supporting Your Fleet
A vehicle company’s success hinges on its fleet safety. It’s key to preserving your vehicles and protecting your drivers. If you want your fleet safety program to be effective, it must be comprehensive, regularly updated, and adopted across your entire organization.
At AtoB, we don’t just save you money with our competitively priced, universally accepted fuel cards. We’re also dedicated to providing the resources and expertise you need to improve all aspects of your fleet management – check out our other fuel card services.
From reducing your expenses to protecting your drivers, we’re there for you when the rubber meets the road.
IIHS. Fatality Facts 2020.
Automotive-Fleet. Commercial Fleet Accident Rate Reaches 20%.
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute. The Costs of Truckload Driver Turnover.
FMCSA. Driver Qualification File.