By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
Better visibility helps operators institute safety programs, reduce risk, and save money.
Fleet management systems provide plenty of concrete benefits — more efficient dispatching, reduced fuel costs, theft reduction — but can do more than just improve the bottom line. With real-time visibility, fleet operators can also improve the safety of their drivers. Doing so provides a better work environment, makes the road safer, and potentially reduces liability and insurance costs for the fleet owner.
Fleet management systems provide the tools to reduce speeding, reduce distracted driving and fatigue, and encourage better driving habits. They also provide an electronic lifeline for drivers in distress. “Drivers are constantly faced with the conflicting operational requirements of deadlines and schedules, and safe driving,” says Chris L’Ecluse, safety/training manager at MiX Telematics. “While there are a growing number of organizations with safe driving requirements, often these are overridden by the need to remain productive and competitive. Drivers don’t intentionally ignore safe driving practices, but during the course of their driving duties, their attention is regularly diverted by any number of distractions.”
Many drivers operate under federal Hours of Service (HOS) rules, which were designed to help reduce driver fatigue. Fleet management systems can help companies better track the amount of time drivers have been on the road, which can improve both compliance and safety. “However, in addition to HOS, great benefits can be achieved through addressing driver performance in areas such as speeding, hard braking, and acceleration,” says Richard Pearlman, product marketing director for fleet services at Spireon.
How Do Fleet Solutions Help?
With fleet solutions that include hardware tied directly to the engine bus, managers can gain access to all sorts of vehicle and driver information: speeding, sign running, hard acceleration or braking, mileage, and other data. Using GPS location, managers can easily compare driver performance against safety protocols and generate reports to identify high- and low-risk drivers. Automated alerts can signal managers in the event of a collision, excessive speeding, or geofence violations.
Effectively using this data requires operators and managers to be proactive rather than reactive. “The real key to effective risk mitigation and addressing driver performance issues is the analysis and synthesis of this information into readily applicable business intelligence around the fleet operation and driver performance,” Pearlman says. “Advanced fleet business intelligence not only captures fleet safety and operational trends, but also empowers the fleet manager to identify and address risky fleet behavior in advance of serious incidents. Far too much effort is placed on managing incidents identified from fleet management solutions and not leveraging the advanced business intelligence and insight that this information really provides.”
Systems with in-cab hardware can also provide alerts to drivers who have strayed from company best practices. Advanced systems might also include blind-spot monitors, in-cab cameras, license tracking, or pretrip inspection functions. “Alerting the driver of a safety violation is critical for a comprehensive safety program,” says Drew Hamilton, executive VP for Teletrac. “Generally speaking, the driver is notified in the cab as infractions occur. This allows the driver to take corrective action immediately.”
These alerts have to be designed with safety in mind, however. “If set up properly, this alert should not be in the form of a text, which will invariably be read by the driver, causing an unsafe condition,” L’Ecluse says. “Ideally, a voice command will alert the drive to an urgent message, which can only be retrieved when the vehicle has been brought to a complete stop.” The solution may also include what L’Ecluse describes as a Journey Management Center, which monitors driver performance, hours of service, and rest stops.
The emphasis should still be on proactive management, however, says Pearlman. “Trending performance scoring on multiple metrics, which can be presented on a driver dashboard and incorporated into a competitive or team context, enhanced by driver coaching [not discipline] has been proven to result in sustainable improvements in driver behavior without flashing lights, audible alarms, or negative, counter-productive management after the fact,” Pearlman says.
Safer drivers can result in fewer speeding tickets, fewer accidents, and reduced liability. Increasingly, insurers are granting discounts for having fleet management solutions in place because of the risk reduction. “The commercial fleet insurers are very interested in leveraging telematics data to measure risk more accurately,” Hamilton says. “Most carriers are providing somewhere between a 10% and 15% discount off the monthly premium for having an approved telematics system in place.”
Don’t Ignore Driver Concerns
Some companies are reluctant to deploy these systems because of the cost or because they fear closely monitoring driver behavior might slow down the pace of their fleet. Driver resistance is another factor, since some employees may chafe at having their daily activities monitored so closely.
It’s important to involve the drivers in the deployment early and explain how the solution can make them safer and improve daily operations (as well as save costs). “By providing appropriate education preceding the implementation, these myths are dispelled,” says L’Ecluse. “Rather than have drivers make assumptions based on what they have heard, factbased education will almost always result in universal adoption of the program.”
These changes can be challenging for drivers and managers alike, adds Hamilton. “Keeping an open line of communication with the drivers is critical,” he says. “Be consistent with what you’re measuring and how you’re reporting it. Finally, consider a reward system for improving an overall safety score to facilitate adoption rates.”
While it’s important to identify high-risk drivers, the vendors emphasized that incentive programs that reward drivers for safe vehicle operation are ultimately more beneficial than simply punishing poor drivers. “All too often, this technology is used to mitigate incident-level performance, when, in fact, the real power lies with leveraging aggregated fleet intelligence to inform, coach, and motivate drivers to improve their behavior,” Pearlman says. “Effective, yet lasting, modification of driver behavior is achieved by involving and incentivizing the driver to achieve top levels of performance.”
Most operators have no idea how big or small their safety problems are until they begin effectively measuring driver performance. “The fear of the unknown is typically the biggest concern with fleet operators as it relates to implementing a safety program: not knowing how big a problem they might have as it relates to safety, and more importantly, what are they going to do about it once they have the data, are common points of discussion,” Hamilton says. “The fleet management provider should have sound guidance for these concerns.”