Safety Management: Protecting Fleets Not Regulated by DOT

dreamstime_xxl_8775888Many utility contractors have fleets of vehicles (cars, SUVs and small trucks) that are not required to meet DOT regulations. However, they do have cars and small trucks that are driven for work and personal use. In addition, an employee’s spouse, significant other or family member may be permitted to drive such vehicles as well.

Statistics show more workers are fatally injured by vehicle accidents than any other type of incident. Being proactive and creating a comprehensive fleet management program is the best way to ensure that your company vehicles do not add to these statistics. Companies that do not take action to address this important safety issue are exposed to serious problems and liability.

Categorize the Fleet

To prepare a fleet program, start by identifying all the vehicles that the company owns or leases; don’t forget to include the vehicles that are driven by the owner’s wife or family members if they are registered to the company. Also include any vehicles that are driven by employees for company business even when they are owned by the employee.
Separate the list of vehicles into categories such as cars, SUVs, pick-up trucks, small trucks, vehicles that are used for towing, as well as trailers. Make a list of the license plate numbers, registration expiration dates, inspection dates and other appropriate information.

Identify All Drivers

Identify and make a list of all authorized drivers. Include all employees, spouses and family members who are permitted to drive company vehicles even if only occasionally — no exceptions. Anybody who is permitted to drive a vehicle should be required to present a valid driver’s license to the fleet manager. The license number should be recorded or a copy of the license should be kept on file in a secure database or file.

While many companies permit spouses and family members to drive company vehicles, it is important to note that permitting these extra drivers to use the vehicles could result in higher insurance rates. It is best to check with your insurance agent to determine how this increased exposure affects rates.

Policies and Procedure

Every company with a fleet of vehicles of any type should have a policy that clearly identifies who is and is not authorized to operate company vehicles. For example, the policy may exclude use by anybody without a valid driver’s license, drivers under a certain age, drivers with a poor driving record, etc. Be specific, list restrictions and identify limitations. Require drivers to report any changes to their driving status, violations and/or accidents to the fleet administrator as soon as possible. Failure to comply should be considered a violation of company policy, which could result in the employee’s losing company vehicle driving privileges.

The policy should also state when drivers are permitted to use vehicles and for what purpose the vehicles may be used. For example, a policy may state that a vehicle that has been issued to an employee may only be used for transportation to and from work and for work-related purposes. It could state that only the employee is permitted to drive the vehicle. Or, it may say that the employee’s spouse or other authorized workers may use the vehicle.

The fleet manager should anticipate how the vehicle may be used by the employee and address these potential situations in the company policy. For example, the policy may state that the vehicle may only be used to transport company workers and the employee’s immediate family members. If a vehicle is equipped with a tow package, the policy should state if the employee is permitted to tow an RV, boat, etc.

The policy should require that authorized drivers must comply with applicable state laws. If a state requires the use of hands-free cell phones, you may want to establish company requirements. In fact, it is considered a best practice to restrict the use of cell phones and texting while driving because cell phone use and texting are consider as dangerous as driving while under the influence.

Before any drivers, including spouses or family members, are permitted to drive a company vehicle their motor vehicle record (MVR) should be checked. An MVR check will reveal traffic violations, accidents, license revocations or suspensions, DUI and other important information. Your insurance agent will know how to check MVRs.

The company may elect to restrict or prevent the use of vehicles to only drivers with good driving records. A driver with a lot of violations or a DUI on their record may not be permitted to operate a company vehicle under any circumstances. Establish the rules, make all authorized drivers aware of the rules and let them know that MVRs will be reviewed annually or at the fleet manager’s discretion. Provide all drivers with a copy of the fleet policy and require all drivers to read and acknowledge the policies, requirements and rules. Keeping a copy of the policy in the glove box of each vehicle is also a good practice. Require every authorized driver to sign a statement that they understand the company reserves the right to remove company vehicle driving privileges at any time.

Vehicle Maintenance

All company-owned vehicles should be maintained in safe operating condition. Although the day-to-day safe operation of vehicles is the driver’s responsibility, the company may be held accountable for any incidents involving company-owned vehicles. Therefore, the company should require drivers to inspect their vehicles and report any defects or safety issues to the fleet manager.

Most states have vehicle inspection requirements, and the fleet manager should keep a record of when each vehicle is due to be inspected. Drivers should be notified when their vehicle is due for inspection.

A comprehensive fleet program incorporates a scheduled maintenance plan to ensure all maintenance is performed on schedule. Companies may want to go a step further by requiring drivers to bring the vehicle in periodically (e.g., quarterly or semiannually) for inspections and/or maintenance by the company mechanic or designated repair shop. Maintenance plans will help to ensure the vehicles are in safe operating condition and extend vehicle life.

Driver Training and Education

A company should use driver training to promote and improve safe driving habits. Providing and/or requiring authorized drivers to attend recognized defensive driving programs (DDPs) can reduce exposure to accidents and improve driving behaviors. In addition, most insurance companies will discount fleet insurance rates by at least 10 percent if 80 or 90 percent of all authorized company drivers successfully complete a recognized DDP.

Although some DDPs are available online and are acceptable to insurance companies, they often lack the ability to provide feedback, first-hand knowledge and coaching. DDPs provided by trained instructors offer valuable experience, information and coaching. Consider offering or making the opportunity to attend a DDP to authorized drivers. Check with your insurance carrier to find out what programs they consider acceptable. Note: Some insurance companies will provide DDPs at no charge to their insured clients.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that a fleet safety program makes good business sense. When properly implemented and enforced, it will reduce exposure to vehicle accidents, prevent employee injuries, reduce liability exposure, extend vehicle life and reduce insurance rates. For more information about Fleet Management Programs, consult with your insurance carrier or visit the National Safety Council at www.nsc.org.

George Kennedy is NUCA’s vice president of Safety.