Keeping your fleet costs down

To some involved in the road haulage fleet insurance sector, the term ‘risk management’ may still mean little more than claims analysis and driver training. Whilst those can be helpful steps along the path of risk improvement, arguably such measures fail to fully recognise and address some key issues that can have a catastrophic impact on the well-being of not simply truck drivers but various key stakeholders including other road users – and insurers.

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But in today’s tough economic climate with the road transport industry hit as hard as any, the question many haulage operators will be asking themselves is whether spending time and money making their drivers safer should be seen as an expense that can be saved when times or hard or an essential investment regardless of economic conditions.  Progressive haulage companies will already recognise the benefits of running a safe fleet.  Those that have yet to recognise the benefits of risk management perhaps overlook the fact that a carefully designed programme that tackles all the key issues does not simply benefit truck drivers and other road users; it can significantly benefit their own business:

  • Safer driving can yield substantial fuel bill savings as well as economies through reduced tyre wear, less truck and driver down-time and less management time wasted dealing with disrupted delivery schedules.

  • Cutting accident frequency and severity should lead to lower insurance premiums, a cut in uninsured damage and a marked reduction in the risk of brand damage resulting from a serious or fatal accident involving a liveried vehicle.

  • It helps fulfil their responsibilities from an occupational road risk perspective thereby also significantly reducing the risk of a successful manslaughter or corporate manslaughter prosecution following a fatality.

So how can a haulage company best roll-out, and realise the benefits of, risk management in harsh economic times? Arguably what customers need most today are a series of logical steps and affordable solutions that help them down the path of transforming their business into a safe - and at the same time more profitable - operation.

Culture

Key to risk improvement is a top-down management culture that places safety at the heart of the business and at the same time embraces the often-neglected need amongst drivers for appropriate recognition and reward in return for adopting behaviours that support a culture that places road safety firmly at the heart of their operation. Without that management culture, drivers will quickly realise that their bosses are simply ticking boxes or paying lip-service in order to give their business a ‘safety wash’. If a driver training programme is rolled out in a fit of enthusiasm and then forgotten about by management, drivers will just as quickly forget about or ignore what they have learned. If technology that can report on driving style is installed in every vehicle, perhaps at considerable expense, but the data captured is never used, drivers will soon revert to type. So the first key step is to get that management culture firmly in place.

As well as having the right culture, a clear policy for the management of work-related road safety needs to be clearly communicated to all staff. That policy needs to include matters such as the maintenance of vehicles, the carrying out of daily vehicle checks, measures to be taken to ensure that drivers have the knowledge they need to drive safely and are sufficiently fit, monitoring driving style and behaviour, journey planning and contingency planning to cope with adverse weather conditions. It also needs to forbid behaviours that can distract a driver such as eating whilst driving and using hand-held mobile phones.

Falls from vehicles are another risk that must be considered during the risk assessment process. This includes considering, as appropriate, matters such as condition of vehicle and trailer access steps, safe access to vehicle trailer beds, sheeting vehicles and upper-deck vehicle transporter safety.

From an occupational road-risk perspective, it’s essential that risk assessment does not ignore the risks posed by driver fatigue. Crash-related risk factors that drivers’ hours regulations arguably do little to address includes a range of fatigue-related issues such as the risks posed by shift work patterns that overlook ‘body-clock’ issues, an overly-demanding delivery schedule with little room for delays or potentially life-saving naps, the risk posed by a driver not knowing what best to do, or not being allowed to take appropriate action, in the event of becoming excessively sleepy whilst driving, and the risk of a driver having a serious sleep disorder with potentially fatal consequences – a significant risk within the haulage industry. Once the risk assessment has been completed, an appropriate action plan that prioritises and addresses the issues identified needs to be drawn up and rigorously implemented.

Driver CPC training

Drivers themselves need to have the necessary skills and awareness of what behaviours underpin safe - and consequently fuel efficient – driving. That’s where traditional driver training programmes and the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) can play an important role.

The issue with traditional driver training programmes is that most truck drivers can turn in an adequate performance during the course of a typical in-cab driver training session. But what happens once the initial post-course euphoria has evaporated or once a driver is back behind the wheel away from the watchful eye of a driver-assessor or instructor?

Those that are new to professional driving must get a Driver CPC before they can drive an HGV, bus or coach. Existing professional drivers have been granted what are termed ‘acquired rights’. As fleet operators and vocational licence holders alike will be well aware, if an HGV driver has ‘acquired rights’, he or she must complete their 35 hours of periodic training by the 9th September 2014. Coach drivers in a similar position had until the 9th September 2013 to complete 35 hours periodic training. Once those 35 hours of periodic training have been completed, drivers will be issued with their Driver Qualification Card. Drivers will then be required to complete 35 hours of periodic training every five years throughout their professional driving career.

Driver monitoring

There are two approaches to the on-going monitoring of driver behaviour. One is reactive - to just let drivers get on with the job until a crash happens at which point fingers are pointed and an inquisition begins. The other is proactive - to adopt a strategy that results in a lasting change in attitude amongst the driver workforce by consistently praising and rewarding positive behaviours. As well as rewarding safe and fuel efficient driving, such programmes require desirable outcomes to be clearly defined – outcomes such as achieving a defined period of crash-free driving or achieving average monthly fuel economy targets.

To help with the rewarding of positive behaviours, consideration should be given to sensitively deploying appropriate ‘telematics’ solutions designed specifically to monitor driving style and behaviour. Deployed in isolation, they are no more likely to transform a sub-standard risk into a star performer than any other tactical ‘quick-win’ device or initiative that ignores the need to put in place a management culture that places safety at the heart of the business, that overlooks the need for risk assessment, that does not take into account the need to ensure that drivers have the necessary safe and fuel-efficient driving skills, and that fails to see the need for driver recognition and reward in return for displaying appropriate behaviour.

But when telematics systems are used as a tool to help change attitudes by focussing on positive behaviours, as a tool to further enhance the awareness and knowledge of professional drivers through the likes of in-cab ‘traffic light’ systems that provide immediate feedback on a wide range of manoeuvres and as a tool to manage safe and fuel efficient driver incentive programmes, they can help transform driving style and behaviours across a company’s entire driver workforce.

Given the wide range of telematics systems being used within the haulage industry, not just amongst different transport companies but sometimes from an intra-company perspective too, careful consideration is needed, and well thought out solutions are required, if consistent information is to be gathered whilst at the same time avoiding costly duplication of technology. That means the chosen solution needs to be complimentary to an operator’s existing telematics ‘black box’ GPS / GSM system or systems as well as being able to quickly and easily provide easy-to-understand information that supports driver coaching and, where necessary, the devising of focussed re-training programmes to meet the needs of specific individuals.

Recognising the benefits of telematics systems, truck manufacturers are moving towards installing a ‘black-box’ as standard, and then typically offering a suite of products designed to capture data from those ‘black boxes and to translate it into useful information. Suites available can include driving style and behaviour reporting tools.

Safety devices

But it’s all very well truck manufacturers providing black-box devices, but what are they doing to help make their trucks inherently safer? As well as constant enhancements to a wide range of essential safety systems such as braking and stability systems, manufacturers are looking ever more closely at the development of safety-related options designed to in particular tackle two of the ‘big three’ causes of crashes – rear end collisions and crashes resulting from lane-changing (the third of the ‘big three’ being crashes at road junctions). Options either developed or being considered include proximity sensors, automatic distance control devices and lane departure warning systems.

And finally, there’s a growing range of after-market devices available designed to help improve truck safety. As well as forward-facing cameras that may encourage drivers to drive more carefully, there are two-way cameras designed to monitor the driver as well as what’s happening on the road ahead. Systematic review of automatically-down-loaded film footage from such two-way camera systems can provide important information about driving style and behaviour. Other devices include CCTV systems designed to enhance visibility along the side and rear of trucks, the former potentially helping to avoid side-swipe collisions with more vulnerable road users including cyclists and pedestrians, and the latter helping with reversing manoeuvres. But none of these tactical technology-based devices should be considered a quick-win road safety solution in their own right; they are simply tools that may assist with and form part of a holistic strategy towards occupational road safety.

It’s no surprise risk management is a much-used term in the haulage insurance industry given it’s insurers that are left to pick up the potentially very serious financial consequences of a fatal accident involving a truck. Insurance programmes under-pinned by risk management measures designed to comprehensively and lastingly address the risks posed by inappropriate driving style and behaviour offer the potential to transform even the largest trucks into some of the safest vehicles on the road. But if the full benefits of ‘risk management’ are to be realised, it’s important for insurers and brokers alike to keep in mind there are no ‘silver-bullets’. What is needed instead if real and lasting benefits are to be achieved are holistic solutions that customers have embraced in their entirety - culturally as well as practically - and demonstrably put their weight behind from the top of the company down.