Company News » Duty of care to fleet drivers – the commercial imperative

Duty of care to fleet drivers – the commercial imperative

Investing in road safety has benefits beyond financial, finds Catherine Chetwynd

ANY driver behind the wheel of a car has sole responsibility for (largely) one tonne of moving glass and metal – and he or she is an ambassador for your brand, so undertaking risk assessment on your drivers is both duty of care and common sense. It ensures drivers are legal, compliant with health & safety (H&S) legislation, and not covering massive distances every day, putting themselves under duress and breaking the speed limit to do so.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) document Driving at Work advises that organisations “plan, do, check, act” – in order – to fulfil their legal duty to manage H&S. This culture has to start at the top to ensure best compliance with company car policy. And getting drivers to sign off against policy – perhaps in return for their car keys when they join the company – sets the bar high.

Risk assessment starts with checking drivers’ licences. From June this year, the paper counterpart goes digital, making it more difficult to inspect. “The biggest risk to a company is not having in place a solution to check driving licences because a driver will not be able to produce a document without going online to create it in front of their employer,” says managing director of Licence Bureau Malcolm Maycock.

Penalty points on a licence are not only an indication of a driver’s attitude to the law. If someone with an otherwise clean record gains three lots of speeding points in quick succession, it could be stress-related: that person is not concentrating. Whereas, says Maycock, “if they collect points over 14 months for failing to comply with a road sign, using a hand-held mobile phone and speeding, they appear to have a total disregard for any offences”.

Online assessments can cover everything from knowledge of the Highway Code to attitude, and remedies range from training – again, online – to going out on the road with an assessor. Driver training is not the thorny issue it used to be, according to principal consultant of Lex Autolease Chris Chandler. “We surveyed 505 company car drivers and 58% said it was a good idea for everyone to have some driver training and 33% said it would be good for some people to have driver training – to target high-mileage people, for example,” he says.

However, it is important to define your fleet, drivers and attendant risk, including the vagaries of grey fleet, so that training is apposite. Delivery vans, largely operating in an urban environment, are more likely to be incurring a series of smaller incidents such as knocking off wing mirrors, scraping against a post, etc. – low-cost damage, although there is a lot of it. Meanwhile, drivers on A roads and motorways are travelling at higher speeds and are potentially at risk of serious injury. And young employees in vans in an urban environment might need to learn to park in tight spaces.

A far greater cost

The cost to the company of any incident is far greater than mending the metal and includes the time an injured driver is off work, the time a vehicle is off the road, the cost of a replacement, if one is needed, as well the cost of management time. And if drivers have a number of incidents, their insurance premiums are likely to increase.

Removing distractions is one way of improving standards and companies can embed in driving policy the rule that there must be no use of mobile phones or satnav while driving. “At 70mph, a driver’s thinking distance is 31 metres; on a hands-free phone, it is 38 metres,” says senior compliance associate for Licence Bureau Les Owen.

In addition to this, says CSR manager at Arval Tracey Fuller, “it is important to learn from incidents. A driver can be interviewed after the event, to understand why it occurred and see whether it could have been prevented.”

Driver training does not have to be a remedy; it can be an ongoing process. According to Lex Autolease report Fleet Insight, 57% of fleets with 250 vehicles or more provided training on accident avoidance and safe driving and 40% of those on economical driving. And if employees are driving responsibly, that reflects well on the employer’s brand: reputation management is inherent in risk assessment.

Spectrum Property Care monitored fuel efficiency during a driver training programme and, at the end of a half-day course, there was a 10% to 12% improvement in fuel consumption over the same route. Even considering the fact that anyone sitting next to an assessor is likely to drive more prudently, Chris Chandler says that this should still clock in at between 4% and 6% in real-world conditions.

Moreover, says head of product services for LeasePlan Oliver Boots, “records need to be kept”. This should marry all data, such as speeding points, online risk assessment results and telematics scores, to give the full picture. Through this, LeasePlan achieved a 10% reduction in insurance premium for the 300-strong fleet of a high-street brand, saving £28,000.

But investing in road safety has benefits beyond the purely financial. “By giving road safety the same focus as health and safety, your employees will know that you take it seriously and that brings about increased awareness in your drivers,” says Tracey Fuller. ?

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