Fleet Feedback

EVEN in the worst of weather, Santa can depend on Rudolph to deliver him and his famous bag of goodies to millions of rooftops, safe and sound. But with a shortage of flying reindeer and magical sleighs, ensuring your employees and/or products are safely transported can be more daunting than sliding down a chimney.

An estimated 3 percent of the vehicles on U.S. highways are licensed for commercial use; yet, these vehicles will be involved in more than 40 percent of all fatal traffic accidents this year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Annually, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors says 66 percent of company vehicles are the subject of insurance claims, and 83 percent of commercial drivers are involved in aggressive driving incidents.

In addition to tangible losses, businesses also must deal with bad PR when an employee driving a vehicle that prominently displays a company's name cuts off, tailgates, or otherwise angers another motorist.

Beyond the Sticker
They can't accompany drivers on the road, so many companies have given the public responsibility for monitoring and reporting poor driving behaviors through the use of decal systems. The decal provides motorists with a phone number or Web site where they can report an incident with a company vehicle. While these systems can help you to identify problematic behaviors, Smith System takes the process one step further with its Web-based SmithSAFE program. By integrating monitoring and training components, SmithSAFE is designed not only to identify, but also to change poor driving behaviors.

As with similar programs, you begin SmithSAFE by placing decals on your fleet vehicles. The decals provide motorists with a phone number to call to report driving behavior, both good and bad, and an identification number specific to that vehicle. Operators trained to gather facts (ID number, incident, location, weather, etc.) from even the most irate of drivers answer the calls. This information is then entered into a database.

After each call, a SmithSAFE administrator verifies the motorist's story and correlates the call with a specific customer vehicle. The administrator then e-mails or faxes the company a Motor Vehicle Observation Report (MOR), which details the call and recommends countermeasures for the driver. In addition to MORs, customers also receive monthly reports on drivers with repeat complaints, call frequency, management response analysis, zero activity, and the percentage of reports returned. Reports include information for the current period, the previous period, the same period during the prior year, and historical data. They can be accessed anytime via the Internet and can be sorted for specific locations or regions and for specific users.

Steering in the Right Direction
Program statistics predict that 80 percent of your drivers will never receive a call. And while you may be tempted to terminate those drivers who do receive complaints, don't just yet--they're not necessarily a lost cause. According to Smith System, 10 percent of the drivers in the SmithSAFE program receive one call and never receive another. An additional 10 percent of drivers receive repetitive calls, reflecting unsafe behavior or attitudes, which Smith System says can be resolved with simple constructive counseling.

Realizing you're not a counselor, the program does it for you. Each MOR includes recommended countermeasures for the type of behavior observed. For example, if a motorist reported your employee was tailgating him/her, the report would have a "tailgating" link, which you could click on for information on how to counsel your driver about this behavior.

If even with help your counseling skills are lacking, the reports also recommend other countermeasures ranging from videos and computer-based training to on-the-road training. Conveniently, these additional materials and services are available through Smith System; however, depending on the package, they may be at additional charge to the SmithSAFE program.

Because driver counseling and training is such an integral component of the program, each incident report includes a dropdown menu to record the action or countermeasure taken. Additional fields allow for notes on the driver's reaction. When a supervisor indicates countermeasures have been taken, the system records the incident as resolved, which is reflected in one of the monthly e-mail reports.

In the spirit of positive reinforcement, the SmithSAFE program also records the complimentary calls your drivers receive and acknowledges them with a certificate.

The Guarantee
Through a combination of training, monitoring, reporting, and intervention, the SmithSAFE program appears to be one of the more proactive approaches to fleet monitoring available. It can help to save lives and money, including the costs of employee turnover. "It's truly a complete picture," says Frank Powers, vice president strategic projects and marketing for Smith System.

If you're still not convinced, the program includes one more component to help you make up your mind: a guarantee. If you don't experience a 10 percent reduction in collisions in the first year, Smith System will give you your money back. With commercial vehicle collisions costing employers more than $50 billion each year, a 10 percent savings might not get you a flying reindeer, but it could buy lots of presents.

This article originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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