Mitigating fleet driver risk

Cutbacks during the recession have put company car drivers under pressure, possibly increasing risk levels, says Sarah Coles

If you read nothing else, read this…

– The risks attached to driving for work increase if drivers are working harder, and must be mitigated by policies and training.
– Structured risk management programmes can cut fleet costs by 20% to 25% and reduce fuel costs by up to 15%.
– Strict policies are needed to stop employers neglecting fleet maintenance.
– Apart from setting rules, organisations must also keep an eye on what happens in practice. This can be done by building up a profile of individuals’ driving habits.

Your colleagues have been made redundant, you have been given a larger sales patch to cover, and it is increasingly difficult to hit your targets. You are worried about losing your job and paying your bills, and you have been on the road for 11 hours. Just how safe is your driving?

The recession has clearly increased the risk associated with driving for work, so fleet managers should be asking themselves where these risks lie and whether the organisation can manage them proactively.

Richard Hill, sales and marketing director at driver training firm Peak Performance, says: “[Employers] have fewer people doing more work as a direct result of redundancies. Drivers are under pressure. They have to work harder, drive further and work different hours to keep their head above water.”

Common sense

Ensuring all these factors do not significantly raise risks within an employer’s fleet is a matter of good management and common sense, says Paul Holmes, head of risk solutions at the AA. “You need to be realistic and sensible about targets and think about the implications of the way you work. Avoid setting up meetings so people drive unrealistic distances. Permit staff to stay in hotels overnight to avoid them driving too far.”

Such measures may seem like an unnecessary expense at a difficult time, but Hill says that with a structured risk management programme, employers can cut costs by 20% to 25% and reduce fuel costs by up to 15%.

Risk management can also help reduce insurance premiums. For example, Chelmsford Electrical, which operates a fleet of 35 light commercial vehicles and 12 cars, adopted risk management policies, including driver training, and has seen insurance premiums drop from £1,350 to £550 per vehicle.

Robust policies

Employers are advised to underpin such safety measures with robust policies and procedures. Nigel Grainger, a senior risk consultant at Fleet Risk Consultants, says: “It should be documented in the policy for vehicle use, which should lay out things such as breaks and working hours.”

Apart from setting rules, organisations must also keep an eye on what happens in practice, which can be done by building up a profile of individual driving habits. “Track maintenance records, fuel usage and accident data for each individual, so, for example, if the fuel consumption increases, it could mean they are driving erratically, covering dangerous distances or involved in fraudulent activity,” says Holmes. “It is about using management information effectively.”

Organisations should also monitor whether drivers are looking after themselves, train managers to identify stress and fatigue, and run checks to ensure factors such as eyesight are tested regularly. Grainger says: “We think one in three drivers is driving with defective eyesight. Most people use a computer, so they can have their eyes tested for free, and employers can make sure they have the glasses they need to drive with.”

Increased lease period

Beyond the drivers, there are also risks in the way leases are being managed, with many businesses increasing their lease periods by about six months to save cash. Grainger says:

“If they are cutting corners on maintenance, it will increase risk.” Holmes adds: “There are organisations that cut back on servicing and maintenance to try to save some cash. They need to know what they are doing from a safety point of view.” If organisations have chosen to stop offering new leases, and instead encourage employees to use their own cars, the risks are multiplied. “The biggest risk is employees using their own car,” says Grainger. “If [employers] have their own fleet, they know the cars are insured properly and being maintained. They know when they got them and what they are. If staff are using their own vehicles and if [employers] are not running systems properly, there is a massive risk.”

A possible solution lies in the careful management of grey fleets. There is also new technology for tracking grey fleets, using mobile phones to give speed and journey mileage reports. Essentially, a driver’s location can be identified by tapping into their mobile phone. By matching up the distance travelled with the time on the mobile’s clock, an employer can establish whether that driver is speeding or failing to take breaks.

Of course, even when organisations do all these things, there is always the risk of the unexpected, says Grainger. “If employers are making people redundant and they are on gardening leave for a month, there is a risk they will drive recklessly and may not even bring the vehicle back. We heard of a firm that had to ask the police to help retrieve the car – and they found it in a tree.”

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