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How to Effectively Manage Motor Vehicle Fleet Safety

Jul 18, 2019

Throughout the U.S., more than eight million automobiles and trucks are part of vehicleMotor vehicle fleetfleets, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Ensuring the safety of drivers of those vehicles and all other drivers they encounter on the road requires proper training on vehicle operation and an understanding of the consequences of unsafe use.

Transportation incidents consistently rank among the most common causes of workplace fatalities, further emphasizing the need for safety professionals and fleet managers to take a proactive approach to driving safety.

ANSI/ASSP Z15.1-2017, Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations, provides fleet managers, safety professionals and employers with guidance on how to develop a fleet safety program that effectively addresses the risks that drivers face on the road and ensures that vehicles are safe to use. 

“Our profession is about managing risk,” says Terry Ketchum, Z15 Committee Chair. “This standard provides the tools, guidance and information to help make your organization’s program safer and more reliable.” 

While a safe and effective program is made up of many elements, the standard identifies five key areas of focus. 

1. Gain Management Commitment 

Like all things related to safety, getting buy-in from the C-suite is key to developing a safe and effective motor vehicle fleet. Senior leaders must set expectations and ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities. 

“The executive’s role is to ensure there is sufficient staff and financial resources to successfully manage the program,” says Ketchum. “Management sets the tone for the program, defines the vision, mission and strategies and provides employees the tools they need to be successful.” 

Z15.1 includes additional requirements for management, leadership and administration including the development of a written motor vehicle safety program, organizational safety rules, regulatory compliance management and management program audits. 

2. Monitor the Operational Environment 

While management sets the tone for the program, the operational environment is where the driving takes place. Z15.1 addresses driving behaviors such as impaired driving, distracted driving and other high-risk driving behaviors, as well as journey management and fatigue management.

The standard’s guidance indicates that an organization should establish policies regarding what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior for drivers when they are behind the wheel, as well as effectively managing the risks they face on the road. 

Among these high-risk driving behaviors, combatting distracted driving is a particular focus of the standard. With so many distractions present in the operational environment, safety professionals and fleet managers must ensure that their workers do not become distracted on the road and take their mind off of the driving task. 

“When you’re driving, you should be focused on getting from point A to point B in the safest way you can,” adds Ketchum. “This is an opportunity for fleet managers to stress to their drivers to focus on the task at hand, which is driving.” 

Ketchum encourages fleet managers to conduct “ride alongs,” wherein the manager accompanies an employee on a trip to observe their driving behavior and document any unsafe habits they observe over the course of the trip. The manager can then discuss these observations and corrective actions with the driver. 

Along with managing driver behavior, another crucial element is managing the journey. The standard encourages fleet managers to assess the hazards and risks associated with a particular route prior to the journey. This assessment should account for factors such as traffic conditions, weather conditions and road construction to select a route that presents the fewest possible hazards and risks to the driver. 

3. Vet and Train Drivers

Ensuring that drivers behave properly and safely on the road requires that they understand the vehicles they are responsible for and have the characteristics and safe driving record that an organization is looking for in its drivers. 

When considering candidates for driver positions, an organization should consider the position’s educational and physical requirements, and examine the individual’s driving history. This should include the number and severity of a candidate’s moving violations, their criminal record and any history of impaired driving. 

“You need to conduct a background check, including a state motor vehicle check to assess a driver’s driving history,” says Ketchum. “A motor vehicle record check should be performed on a periodic basis to evaluate a driver’s performance, using that information to institute positive, proactive interventions to improve a driver’s behavior.” 

Once you’ve done the appropriate checks to bring a new driver into your fleet or move an existing employee to a driving position, the organization must provide train the driver to properly operate the vehicle.

“Training is critical to assessing a new driver, as is continual education for existing drivers, and as needed, remedial training and behind the wheel when appropriate,” adds Ketchum. “It’s important to note that hands-on training is the most effective driver training and refresher training normally includes a combination of behind-the-wheel as well as some computer-based training.” 

Z15.1 states that an organization should establish a driver training program to address specific topics including defensive driving, safety regulations, vehicle inspection and post-incident procedures. Furthermore, an organization should perform periodic assessments of driver performance through methods such as in-vehicle monitoring systems, direct observations and public feedback. 

4. Establish Procedures for Vehicle Acquisition and Maintenance

To perform any job safely and effectively, workers must have the right tools. For vehicle fleets, this mean providing vehicles and vehicle features that allow drivers to perform the driving task in as safe a manner as possible.

“When acquiring vehicles, whether they’re new, used or transferred, you need to focus on a number of things, particularly the suitability of the vehicle for its intended use,” says Ketchum. 

To determine the suitability of a vehicle for a particular purpose, the company should examine factors such as cargo capacity and load position, vehicle safety features and ergonomic considerations for drivers such as ease of access and ability to work in the vehicle. 

As with any vehicle, proper maintenance is necessary to ensure that the vehicle stays in proper working order. The standard specifies that an organization establish formal, scheduled maintenance for vehicles to inspect for any defects, which must then be repaired by qualified technicians. 

“Vehicle maintenance is paramount to ensuring a driver’s safety,” says Ketchum. “You need to make sure your employees are safe, provide them the best tools out on the road and keep those vehicles on the road through regular maintenance.” 

5. Set Expectations for Incident Reporting 

The goal of any motor vehicle fleet is to not have transportation incidents, but when they do occur, drivers must report them in a timely manner for two key reasons: 1) to protect a driver’s safety and health and 2) so the employer can determine how and why the incident occurred. 

“An important piece of any safety program is knowing when an incident has occurred so you can prevent them from happening in the future,” he adds. “Reporting needs to be timely so that drivers get the care they need, and you can implement processes to document the incident, repair or replace the vehicle and assess the root cause of the incident.”

Although the elements of an incident review will vary depending on the organization, Z15.1 advises that any review document the following details:

  • Monetary value of the incident
  • Severity of the crash
  • Bodily injury 
  • Damage to property

Having this information allows an organization to analyze the circumstances surrounding the incident, examine the cause and institute corrective actions to prevent similar incidents in the future.

For further guidance on each of these elements, ANSI/ASSP Z15.1 features appendixes that provide sample policies for distracted driving and incident reporting, as well as risk assessment checklists and a sample safety ride-along record. 

Listen to The Case for Safety podcast featuring Z15.1 Committee Chair Terry Ketchum for more tips on improving motor vehicle fleet safety.

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