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August 26, 2011

If there is a constant, major preoccupation for fleet managers, it is cost control. A significant portion of those costs, are controlled (or not) by the driver. Managing driver behaviours to align with company objectives is not easy, but can produce significant savings.

Driver behaviour has the potential to affect almost every aspect of a fleet operation. How a driver generally treats, operates and maintains the vehicle has a measurable direct effect on how much the vehicle costs the organization.

“Whether it’s minimizing corporate liability, ensuring proper vehicle maintenance, or conserving fuel and reducing emissions, the vehicle operator is, quite literally, in the driver’s seat,” says Peter Nogalo, Marketing Manager, ARI.

An important weapon to help reduce overall vehicle operation cost is a well-defined and understood driver policy. Clearly articulated rules and guidelines can minimize or eliminate instances of a grey judgment area.

“An important aspect of a good policy is the insight it provides about your driver’s behaviour and identifying the steps that should be taken as a result of this behaviour,” said Paul Wingate, National Director, Client Services, TLS Fleet Management. “A policy will fall short of its objective if a company fails to provide assistance to improve driver behaviour and/or does not identify and communicate the potential consequences of a driver’s actions.”

However, having a clear safety policy is not by itself sufficient. Maintaining a proactive monitoring and enforcement of the policy once set is equally important. Not only will these actions reduce costs they help protect drivers, vehicles and the organization itself.

“Every time an employee gets behind the wheel of a company vehicle, he or she becomes an individual risk manager,” says Mike Bennett, Vice-President Sales and Client Relations, PHH Canada Western Region. “You need insight into the actions and behaviour of your drivers to effectively mitigate risk.”

Many fleet management experts agree that a periodic review of driver abstracts can help identify high-risk drivers and contribute to reducing risk. A detailed, strictly applied policy for drivers regarding seat belt use, speeding, and ‘aggressive driving should be a coordinated policy.

“Not only is aggressive driving a major cause of motor vehicle collisions, but it can also increase fuel consumption by up to 37 per cent,” said Wingate. “To educate our clients’ drivers (and our employees), one of the actions we recommend at TLS is to conduct a Canada Safety Council workshop entitled, ”The Road to Aggression,” that highlights some of the many triggers that can cause aggressive driving and how to avoid them.”

As soon as aggressive, high-risk drivers are identified, “best practice” recommends that those drivers undertake training programs the outcomes of which are be beneficial to both employer and employee. Many training options are available including simulator, classroom, behind-the-wheel and mobile programs.

Conversely, reward programs for accomplished, complying drivers should be considered. Reward or recognition programs acknowledging fuel-efficient drivers can also be cost-effective.

How can fleet managers know how drivers are performing?

“Telematics is now one of the more important tools a fleet manager has to support driver excellence,” said Nogalo. “Whether through speed monitoring or even geo-fencing, the technology offers a number of monitoring tools. Once it is installed, operator behaviour tends to improve across the board, just by virtue of it being there.”

Many fleet management companies also offer the option to have a service that not only show an incident, but how it was handled and what the end result was. This allows for high risk drivers to be monitored, and repeat offenders will be known.

“We allow for full oversight of driver behaviour when it comes to safety, from presenting a fleet’s safety policy online for drivers to developing annual training programs that include organization-wide module releases or specific training for triggered events such as speeding or rear end collision,” said Kim Clark, Senior Product Manager, Wheels Inc. “By continually monitoring drivers through the Driver Performance service and customizing the training around opportunities for improvement specific to their fleet, clients can more precisely target their efforts to be more cost effective and helpful in meeting their goals.”

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