By Jason Jeran, Risk Control with Amerisure
As the economy improves and businesses expand, there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles.
This is increasing the frequency of auto accidents and resulting in more insurance claims that are affecting companies like yours. Businesses who partner closely with their agency and insurance carriers to understand fleet risks are better positioned to protect themselves, their employees, and their businesses. The following areas are common key elements in the foundation of a best-in-class Fleet Safety Program.
- MANAGEMENT SUPPORT OF FLEET SAFETY
It is important to establish that accident prevention is a top priority of your company. One way to accomplish this is to develop a written “Fleet Safety Policy” outlining management’s commitment to safety. This policy should be signed by the President or CEO of your company. In addition to the “Safety Policy,” an independent “Safe Driving Policy or Manual” should also be developed and signed by the same individual as the “Safety Policy.” This manual should clarify that all drivers are expected to support the program and abide by the rules and procedures that have been established. These rules should be provided to all drivers in writing with a documented employee acknowledgment to ensure that they are aware of what is expected of them, as well as to be used to defend your fleet safety process in litigation. Your company should also assign the overall responsibility of fleet safety to one individual. Implementing a program where one individual oversees fleet safety will help establish a single contact when a safety concerns arises.
- POLICIES AND PROCEDURES APPLIED TO ALL DRIVERS
Appropriate policies and procedures that are applicable to ALL Drivers is essential! Be sure to identify any and all employees with driving exposures.
Non-Owned/Personal Vehicle Use for Business Policy
Some businesses may not be aware of the full extent of their non-owned vehicle exposure. These policies are designed to protect your business from 3rd party liability and possibly from your own employees. Management should identify everyone who drives on behalf of the business, even those employees that use personal and/or rented vehicles. If an employee is driving for company business and gets into an accident, the company is liable for damage in excess of the employee’s personal auto policy limits.
It is “Best Practice” to have ALL drivers that use their own vehicle for business purposes to increase their limits of insurance to at least be and the policy holder listed as an “Additional Insured” if possible (although some personal lines carriers will comply). However, at a minimum, limits of insurance should be increased on a personal auto policy for drivers who receive a car allowance credit or mileage reimbursement from their employer.
Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) Program
The Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) program should be a foundation of your fleet safety program and the basis for reducing liability claims. Failure to implement a formal MVR review process can have catastrophic potential on your company. This is one of the largest issues in the industry due to lack of formal MVR programs placing at-risk drivers on the road operating “on your behalf.” If you have a good program it can help you and if you don’t it can hang you.
Establishing written MVR criteria standards provide a comparison for MVR’s reviewed for each driver and shows if an employee has an acceptable driving history. MVR’s should be run on all employees who may driver for company business at least at hire and annually. By Running MVRs on your employees, it provides an acceptable disciplinary action if the MVR performance falls outside of acceptable standards. If the employee falls below on MVR performance, they should be removed from driving on behalf of the business, even in a personal vehicle and could also include termination if violations surpass the acceptable standards.
However, best in class fleet safety programs utilize a continuous MVR monitoring service. There are several outside vendors and state sponsored programs that can be used to screen new hire drivers as well as running annual updates of all drivers on company business. Many of these vendors have built in continuous monitoring services that can be very beneficial to a company especially those with larger fleets, large number of drivers and driver in multiple states. These vendors offer the service of providing an alert if there is a change to a driver’s MVR, license status, and DOT medical certifications (if applicable). This helps maintain up to date record information rather than waiting until the next annual reviews are conducted, which allows the company to intervene appropriately.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure that you are putting safe representatives of your organization on the road. This includes your company vehicles, as well as an employee in their own vehicle if they are operating “on your behalf”. If you are found liable for Negligent Entrustment, then your business assets are at risk because it is not an insurable verdict. Your company pays the price for that settlement.
(Negligent Entrustment is the entrusting of a dangerous article (such as a motor vehicle) to one who is reckless or too inexperienced or incompetent to use it safely. It makes the claim value escalate severely wherein the injured parties are seeking punitive damages.)
Appropriate Policies and Procedures in Your Fleet Safety Program:
- MVR Policy
- Vehicle Usage Policy
- Seat Belt Policy
- Distracted Driving Policy (cell phone, texting, electronics, eating, grooming, etc.)
- Drug and Alcohol-Free Workplace Policy
- Accident Reporting and Investigation Policies (Having a standard protocol for accident reporting/investigation in the form policies is very helpful when accidents do occur).
- Current evidence of minimum limits for Non-owned drivers
- Technology Usage, Monitoring and Accountability (i.e. telematics, dash cams, elds, etc.)
- Driver Accountability and Discipline Policy
- Applicable DOT/FMCSA Policies
Policies should be reviewed annually. The review process allows time to consider program effectiveness, any law/regulation changes that could affect fleet policies, and the overall effectiveness of fleet policies on your driver’s performance on the road.
- SCREENING AND SELECTING QUALIFIED DRIVERS
Screening and selecting drivers carefully is important in picking qualified drivers. This can help create a reliable, safe team. Without safe drivers, no organization is likely to have a good long-term safety record. Leadership must establish clear hiring standards and a thorough screening process for anyone who drives on company business. Effective hiring protocols must be overseen by a person of authority and have Management Commitment to be effective. A formal selection process will help ensure that you hire the driver best suited to your company.
The selection process can be broken down into the following areas: 1) Formal Job Description, 2) MVR Review, 3) Formal Interview, 4) Post-offer Physical, 5) Drug Testing, 6) Commercial Driver License verification/FMCSA requirements (when applicable), 7) Driving Test/Formal Observation.
- EFFECTIVE ON-GOING DRIVER TRAINING PROGRAM
Regardless of experience, all new drivers hired by your company should be trained and validated appropriately for the safe operation and type of vehicle being utilized. The degree of training required will vary based on the experience and ability of each driver. The training program sets the tone for driver safety awareness within your company. A basic driver training program should include the following:
- Orientation to the company’s operating procedures and safety rules
- Familiarization with the vehicle they will operate
- Conducting vehicle inspections
- Safety equipment maintained in the vehicle
- Defensive driving techniques
- How to prevent accidents
- Steps to take at the scene of an accident
- Reporting accidents
- Road Observation/Management Ride Along
- Driver courtesy
- Post-Collison Remedial Training
Documentation of driver training is very necessary. Without evidence, an employer may be charged with Negligent Entrustment or negligent conditions of work in the event of a claim. A formal policy and appropriate evidence of completion is the only way to defend against liability. Initial Driver Hiring documents and New Employee Orientation checklists on vehicles, equipment, and accessories is essential. On-going driver training on a variety of pertinent topics, evidenced by formal training records is key in a defense situation (i.e. Safety Meeting Sign-in Records or other Learning Management Systems.)
Additional Effective Program Documentation
A company with an effective program in place should be able to produce evidence of their active participation in the programs and practices. Some examples of things that demonstrate effective management commitment include:
- Programs and polices described, updated annually
- Copies of “Counseled Driver” or other employee disciplinary forms in HR files
- Current employee MVR’s on file and/or a continuous monitoring service
- Telematics and/or Dash Cam Programs
- Driver paid deductibles
- Safety Committee reviews of incident reports
- Up to date driver training documentation
- EFFECTIVE USE OF FLEET TECHNOLOGY
Telematics solutions have continued to be a must-have tool for fleets that manage a best-in-class fleet program over the years. Telematics is a term that is used to refer to vehicle monitoring devices that can provide information to persons that have access to monitor this data. Some common driving behaviors monitored are vehicle location; vehicle speed; going over posted speed limits; excessive speeding, hard braking; sudden/hard turns; going beyond pre-determined boundaries (Geofencing), etc. It can be a very effective tool for monitoring several vehicles locations especially if it involves locating persons to perform service work.
Smart Dash Cams solutions continue to emerge and are gaining traction with fleets managing best-in-class safety programs. These solutions incorporate artificial intelligence, driver analytics and video documentation of events triggered by telematic sensors to allow managers to engage, intervene and coach drivers to effectively reduce unsafe events and collisions. Fleet tools like smart cameras ultimately serve the purpose of being proactive toward fleet safety; managing problems before they can arise.
Other key technologies beyond utilizing the services of telematics. There are countless other technologies available to fleets that can be utilized for their best-in-class fleet program, which includes introducing vehicles that offer advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) technologies. ADAS systems can include tools like emergency braking, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, parking sensors, back up cameras, etc. Having drivers involved in discussions related to selecting vehicles that are equipped with these technologies, and being transparent about vehicle selection and tech usage, can further boost fleet safety programs.
- DRIVER ACCOUNTABILITY AND DISIPLINE
Driver accountability must consist of documented discussions/actions when drivers are counseled and/or disciplined for fleet safety violations. Documentation is also crucial for any new hire training along with any road tests. Any accident’s or near misses should be reviewed with management and your safety committee. Any findings or steps taken to mitigate future accidents should be communicated to all drivers within your company.
A progressive disciplinary system should be established and utilized for any violations against the fleet safety program, issues uncovered via telematics, preventable collisions, and DOT violations. Following a formal disciplinary schedule creates consistency and reduces the chance of favoritism by supervisors.
In addition, best-in-class fleet safety programs have an annual performance review component tied directly to fleet safety and pay/bonus potential. Fleet Managers and Driver Supervisors should be evaluated on the safe performance and safety improvement efforts for their respective departments at least on an annual basis. What gets tracked is what gets done, so ensure performance metrics get established that meet your safety goals.
- MANAGING ACCIDENT
Why is an accident investigation so important? So that you can protect your company with this documentation. Managing accidents when they occur can help mitigate accident costs. It also helps to understand the exposures and can reduce the potential for future losses. An effective accident investigation should have all the necessary elements to provide an accurate picture of the accident circumstances and allow Management and the Insurer to respond accordingly. The primary focus is determining the Root Cause(s) and the necessary corrective actions to prevent reoccurrence. Investigation reports should include the following:
- You need to have a written description of the accident with this provided by the driver involved, follow up activities by supervisor, accident scene photos, and other information.
- Include the findings from any police reports that are generated. The driver should contact the police to report the accident especially if it is a serious accident or it appears the other party is at fault. Some police departments may not show up if there are no injuries involved.
- Identify any Unsafe Acts that involved the company employee- Driving too fast; Following too closely; Distracted Driving; Improper turning; Improper backing; Unsecure loads; etc.
- Identify Unsafe Conditions– Weather conditions; Road conditions; Vehicle conditions; Alcohol/Drugs; Driver Fatigue
- Corrective actions may involve individual driver counseling/training; fleet safety program revisions; vehicle inspection/maintenance revisions; avoiding certain traffic routes; improve driver selection/screening; etc.
Being able to determine whether the accident is preventable or unpreventable is important since this may change driver acceptability or place them on probation. This would also be used to determine if an employee pays part of the insurance deductible if this is part of the fleet safety program. Having written MVR criteria will also apply when there is an accident or change with driving record.
- FLEET MAINTENANCE AND INSPECTION
Your formal fleet management program is going to vary based on the size and complexity of your fleet. Proper maintenance will increase the useful life of the vehicle, keep fuel costs low, as well as keep employees and the public safe.
A formal fleet maintenance and inspection program is a simple and economical way of reducing maintenance failures that may result in accidents. A best-in-class program consists of daily documented checks by drivers and inspections/service by certified mechanics on a predictive basis or by a set vehicle specific preventative maintenance schedule. A proper maintenance program can help reduce costly unexpected breakdowns and can assist in avoiding accidents due to faulty equipment. There should be a system in place for the company to initiate, track, execute, and document all vehicle maintenance activities.
It is crucial to retain accurate maintenance records. If there is even a hint that the cause of an accident was maintenance-related (i.e. brake condition, bad tires, condition of lights, etc.), an attorney can request the following as part of discovery:
- Pre/Post Trip Vehicle Inspections
- State and Local DOT Inspection Reports
- Past Maintenance Logs for the vehicle
- Repair work performed on the vehicle
A best-in-class fleet safety program is grounded with visible management commitment of fleet safety, establishing effective policies for all driving exposures, vetting and selecting quality drivers, conducting and documenting effective driver training, taking advantage of the relevant fleet technology tools available to prevent collisions and monitor driving behavior, proactively engaging and intervening with at-risk drivers, holding drivers and supervisor accountable for fleet safety violations, managing accidents when they do occur to learn causes and implement corrective action to prevent similar reoccurrences, and having well managed formal fleet maintenance and inspection program. Successfully implementing these eight elements will provide a solid foundation for a best-in-class fleet safety program, but as with any organizational process – the program is only as good as the leadership managing its effectiveness.
Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.