Online risk management tools are vital for fleet

Online risk management tools can be a good way of gathering data to identify problem areas, and keeping vital checks up to date, says Rachel Gordon

There is no doubt driving at work is a killer. It is estimated by the Department for Transport that up to a third of all road traffic crashes involve someone who is at work. This accounts for 20 fatalities and 250 serious injuries a week.

Under health and safety legislation, employers are required to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of employees, and to safeguard others who may be at risk by their activities.

Media headlines have suggested more employers could face legal action, because in addition to this health and safety legislation, they also face duty of care responsibilities under the Working Time Directive and the proposed Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) also expects managers to consult with staff to ensure speed limits are respected, journeys are well planned and appropriate cars allocated.

However, some believe the media coverage contains an element of scaremongering. Terry Bartlett, managing director of Inchcape Fleet Solutions, says: “Too many organisations are getting themselves bogged down in the minutiae of existing and forthcoming legislation. In reality, every employer’s health and safety policy should include at-work driving policies and procedures in place governing drivers, vehicles and journey schedules.”

Online risk management tools can be an effective way of reducing accidents and gathering data to identify problems areas around company cars. But employers who think that they can simply install a flashy system and then forget about their responsibilities are mistaken.

Jim Salkeld, managing director of fleet provider Toomey Opticar, says: “Online risk management tools help organisations assess risk. But, [under] the HSE’s regulations, responsibility remains with the employer. We provide tools from Driving Services within our product and this does make a difference but [organisations] still need defined and measurable processes within a written policy that applies to all employees.”

Passing the buck on tasks such as checks on driving licences to an external provider is not a course of action advised by everyone. “I feel the responsibility for maintaining accurate licence and insurance records should be on the driver. Any status change should be advised to the company, with a disciplinary process for failure to inform,” adds Salkeld.

Paul Jackson, managing director of fleet specialist the Miles Consultancy, agrees: “We don’t offer licence checking. You can get someone buying a [well-crafted] fake licence for £100 that would fool most people.”

The organisation does, however, offer an online mileage capture system that enables drivers to submit their data, and which helps organisations to not only monitor the hours drivers are spending on the road but to also comply with tax rules. The Miles Consultancy will then chase up any employees who fail to do this by text alert and phone. Data can also be fed through to HM Revenue & Customs to help employers avoid investigation into mileage tax. “It helps organisations comply with [HM Revenue & Customs requirements], at a cost of around 99p per driver,” says Jackson.

There are a number of other options available to employers to help improve driver safety. Fleet industry trade body ACFO, for example, can now provide a free CD-Rom that contains a series of road risk policy templates that act as a self-help guide. ACFO believes it is essential that all fleet operators have a written policy statement, issued to all staff who use the roads on company business, spelling out their rights and responsibilities.

Aspects of safety to be covered should include a ban on the use of hand-held mobile phones or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, controls on the amount of time spent driving and driver licence checks.

Insurance companies have a vested interest in cutting the number of fleet accidents and have funded a number of research projects linked to technology. These may also offer discounted training.

In particular, some such as Norwich Union have been supportive of telematics – also known as telemetry. This is wireless technology, which logs and transmits vehicle data and can be used to show drivers’ location and help to identify poor standards of driving.

As long as agreed key performance indicators are achieved, the insurer will often provide fleet policyholders with premium discounts. But, telematics IT is costly, and primarily used in expensive commercial haulage vehicles, rather than company cars.

Beyond this, experts stress a culture change must take place alongside any online tools used if accidents are to be reduced. A driver may perform well under the artificial conditions of a training centre, but when they are speeding to appointments, the lessons learned can go out of the window.

Dr Will Murray, research director for Interactive Driving Systems, which acts as a partner company to insurer Zurich, says: “No matter what technology is developed, there is no silver bullet. Saving lives comes through changing attitudes.”

He emphasises that blaming reckless drivers is not the answer. “There are plenty of accidents because the driver is overworked and suffering from fatigue. That means managers have to change.”

Interactive Driving Systems provides online tools that integrate assessment, training and performance management. These allow employers to carry out tasks such as audits, input crash data, analyse risk assessment outcomes, and electronic licence checks. It also provides standalone options from a simple online Highway Code to an online defensive driving programme.

With its Safe Driving Pledge, a customised agreement is provided to each employee and once accepted by the driver, an entry is made in employers’ management information system to confirm it. This is described as a commitment by the driver “to do the best for themselves, their family and their employer”.

Centrica is just one of the organisations that uses the tool. Its drivers, whether they use their own cars or company vehicles, have to sign the Safe Driving Pledge and undertake online training.

Jon York, fleet operations manger at the energy firm, explains: “We have reduced our collisions by 8% through a number of driver and management policy initiatives, focusing on detailed fuel monitoring, vehicle safety features, young apprentice drivers, multimedia-based driver risk assessment, monitoring and electronic licence checks.”

With the development of increasingly sophisticated monitoring technology, online risk management tools can be a good way of keeping tabs on employees’ driving behaviour without being seen as adopting a Big Brother-style approach. Marc Wanless, motor fleet underwriter at Mitsui Sumitomo, says: “It’s unlikely the managing director would want to be spied on. There is still a place for traditional driver training – it’s about pulling everything together.”

Case study: Direct Communication

Fleet plan needs going over

Walkie-talkie supplier Direct Communications has used online fleet risk tools to improve safety, and to reduce the number of accidents and the cost of insurance.

It needed to improve standards after two company cars were written off and four others were involved in incidents in 2005.

Fleet manager, Gavin Bailey, explains: “The accidents cost us more than £60,000 in damage alone. We knew there was going to be more focus by the government, police and HSE on reducing accidents and so action had to be taken.” As a result, it introduced an online risk management tool, provided by Drive Tech.

Since its introduction, it has only suffered two minor at-fault crashes and one other non-fault accident. It has also secured reduced insurance premiums from its insurer Zurich.

Now, all at-work drivers undergo an online risk assessment followed by on-the-road driver training for all employees designated as ‘high’ risk, such as young drivers, employees who have been involved in accidents and those with licence points.

Online tools for staff using their own cars

For tax reasons, some drivers are now opting to use their own, rather than a company, car on business. Some providers now offer online tools that help employers to ensure these staff are reminded of key information about maintaining their car to a required standard. ALD Automotive, for example, offers an online risk management Car Allowance Road Risk Solution (Carrs), as part of its existing DriveSafe package.

This provides management information on mileage reporting, driving licence validation, MoT reminders, driver and vehicle details, service information, road tax renewals and insurance validation. The technology also generates 30-day reminders of renewals to information such as Vehicle Excise Duty and insurance.

Jaama, meanwhile, provides online advice around vehicles, drivers and business journeys, including issues that affect staff using their own cars on business purposes.

In addition, fleet managers may find that products aimed at company car drivers may also be useful in managing the risks associated with drivers using their own cars.