Fleet Safety: 6 + 1 Key Elements For Success

First a confession:  The title of this blog isn’t original.  I hope that Eldeen Pozniak, my safety professional friend from Saskatoon, Canada won’t mind my shameless adaptation of the title she used for a recent speech at the Pacific Rim Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Not only is it a catchy title, but her speech was excellent.  If you ever get a chance to hear Eldeen speak don’t miss the opportunity.

Focusing Your Fleet Safety Program

Recently, I was a speaker at the ASSE Southwest Chapter PDC in Dallas.  It was a good experience that allowed me to hear several good presentations, and one of which I want to share.  Rob Fulenwider of the Texas Department of Transportation topic was DOT safety, but was much better than the title implied.  First, he provided an update on recent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rules and what to expect from enforcement.  Of course there were horror stories to get everybody’s attention, but then he shifted gears and presented a proactive approach to crash prevention.  Mr. Fulenwider is a good speaker and continued by asking a question.  “What do you think causes the most crashes?”  This was a great open-ended question that sparked open conversation with the audience as they told him what they thought the answer is and he proceeded feedback.

His purpose in all this was to set up his presentation of the fundamentals of fleet safety and how focusing on the basics can pay off.

1.  Speed.  The saying goes that “Speed Kills” and it’s true.  All things being equal, if we teach drivers about controlling their speed and how to recognize when they are going too fast for traffic conditions or the weather, we will have more time to react.  Reaction time is a key element that ties back to all forms of distracted driving.  When speeding, or going to fast for conditions, even the most minor distraction can take away the margin for error leaving you no way out.  It doesn’t matter what defensive driving program you teach, focusing on controlling speed will provide the biggest dividend.

2. Distance.  Here we are talking about following distance.  By maintaining  a cushion between you and those ahead of you increases your ability to see approaching danger, as well as have time to react.  Distance also applies to those to your sides.  Creating space for an emergency manuever is important and without developing a distance cushion to the side and rear we don’t have sufficient distance to react safely.  Try to maintain a 4 second cushion between you and the vehicles traveling ahead, and if possible at least 2 seconds between you and the vehicles in other lanes.  These both can be difficult to maintain, but through active involvement  and feedback from the drivers the distance margin can become habit.

3.  Conditions.  Though we talked a little about traveling to fast for conditions, there is more to consider.  Conditions relate to anything in the environment that can have an effect on safely driving or maneuvering the vehicle.  Though most of us think about weather conditions, the overall condition of the road surface, or night driving conditions and visibility, what about the potential for animals entering the roadway, especially at night.  By maintaining the correct speed for actual or potential conditions, slowing down when necessary and maintaining proper distances will greatly increase our ability to react and steer clear of danger.

4.  Left-Hand Turns.  Intersections are dangerous enough, but when you add the action of a left-hand turn across traffic you increase the risk dramatically.  Almost any fleet safety professional will tell you that crashes at intersections are one of the most common occurrences.  The most common proximate causes include: following too close and rear-ending the vehicle in front, or side-swiping one in the next lane when trying to avoid rear-ending, and misjudging the speed of oncoming traffic and attempting a left-hand turn in front.  Teaching drivers to eliminate all left-hand turns and always slowing down at intersections greatly reduces risk.  Beyond teaching the avoidance of left-hand turns to drivers, you will also want to talk with those who construct the routes.  Have them work to build in right-hand turns into the routing system whenever possible (which is always!).

5.  Backing Issues.  Most of us can remember learning to drive and the difficulty we encountered when backing the family car or truck for the first time.  Our vision was limited, the direction we needed to steer was reversed, and we had some physical limitations.  Now as adults we still have difficulty backing out of the driveway, or a parking spot at the shopping center.  Experts say that the most common non-roadway incident comes from backing up.  Now we add in a large commercial vehicle with even more vision and maneuverability issues and we are asking for trouble.  The key lies in how we are training our drivers.  Always teach them to avoid backing up in the first place. But, with dock deliveries and other types of drop-offs it may not be feasible.  First it is important that they learn the dimensions of the vehicle and how to manuever in close quarters.  Next they need to learn how to use their mirrors and gauge distances.  This takes practice, so make sure they get the time necessary to master backing the vehicle.  Then teach them to always verify their pathway.  This requires them to exit the vehicle and to walk the route, assuring they know the path they will follow and any obstacles.  Using spotters to direct the driver as they back is the best method, but when not available taking the time to check the path will improve the odds.  Lastly, proceed slowly and with extreme caution.  Some experts also recommend honking the horn in the absence of a backup alarm system.

6.  Annual MVR Check.  I think it was Demming who said “past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior”.  Another key element in a good fleet safety program is a system that validates the safe driving behavior, such as a check with the state and making an MVR check.  CSA 2010 takes the pre-check to another level, but if your vehicles don’t fall in the heavier DOT classifications, an MVR check is a good place to start.  It is also recommended to institute a substance abuse program with random testing, along with regular driver safety education and observations.

Here’s where the +1 Element comes in.

New ANSI/ASSE Z15 – 2012 Approved

A comprehensive standard aimed at increasing commercial motor vehicle operations’ safety developed by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) was approved recently by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The revised ANSI/ASSE Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations, Z15.1-2012, standard approved March 28 will be effective August 20. The practices in the standard are designed for use by those responsible for the administration and operation of motor vehicles as part of organizational operations.

According to the information on the ASSE website, ANSI/ASSE Z15.1-2012 calls for organizations to have a written motor vehicle safety program that defines organizational requirements, responsibilities and accountabilities for drivers and motor vehicle safety; to have a written safety policy that includes communicating management’s concern for the health and well-being of drivers throughout the organization; how to have a system of responsibility and accountability in order to ensure effective implementation of a vehicle safety program; a driver recruitment, selection and assessment program; orientation and training; a system in place to report to corporate executives major incidents, trends and safety performance, including the immediate reporting of major incidents to management; internal and external communications programs to be in place, (this includes contingency communications with the media); inspections and maintenance; regulatory compliance; and audits.

The revised standard provides guidance for occupant restraints; impaired driving; distracted driving; aggressive driving; journey management; and, fatigue. It also covers operational policies on vehicle business use; vehicle personal use; driver-owned/leased vehicles; and, for using rental cars. Further, the standard provides guidance for driver qualifications; vehicle management; and, incident reporting and analysis. Sample policy/acknowledgement forms are included within the Appendix of the standard including a business use policy, a personal use policy, and a distracted driving policy. The Appendix provides guidance on incident rates including various methods of calculation as well.

Fleet Safety Requires Focus

As we’ve discussed, Fleet Safety doesn’t just happen.  It requires vigilance and an ongoing commitment to driver education and team involvement.  Then, establishing the infrastructure and management systems outlined in ANSI/ASSE Z15 – 2012 will provide the muscle you’ll need to maintain a solid fleet safey program.  Safe Driving…..  And thank you to the ASSE for some of the content I’ve included above.  Please feel free to comment and share with others.  Thanks.