Companies that fail to take fleet safety compliance seriously face significant financial, legal and reputational consequences. According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration report, a fleet vehicle accident can cost your business $16,500 to $500,000 – depending on the severity of injuries and damage. In total, motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion each year in lost productivity, medical care, property damage, and legal expenses.
Fortunately, many accidents and related expenses are largely preventable with the proper approach to maintaining your fleet's health, safety and compliance. Like traditional workplace safety, strict adherence to commercial vehicle laws and regulations will protect your company's employees, assets, and reputation while also offering significant financial benefits.
Beyond adhering to critical safety and legal best practices, companies that operate well-maintained fleet vehicles – and drive them responsibly – can expect lower insurance premiums and experience fewer disruptions caused by unscheduled maintenance.
Here's a look at how to ensure fleet safety compliance and enjoy better delivery times, happier customers, and an improved bottom line.
What laws require compliance for fleet health and safety?
Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970 to ensure that employers in all 50 states provide a workplace free from unnecessary hazards. Since its inception, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has changed American workplaces significantly, greatly reducing injuries, illnesses, and deaths.
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In some situations, OSHA tenets don't apply if another federal agency is in charge of creating rules and regulations for specific working conditions. Two examples of these agencies for commercial vehicle drivers are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and a separate agency under its control, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Businesses must be aware that commercial vehicle operators follow different rules and regulations depending on various factors, including the type of vehicle, what's being transported, and the distance driven.
FMCSA rules and regulations
The FMCSA's core mission is to reduce the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks or buses. The agency is responsible for setting the maximum consecutive number of hours of service (HoS) a driver can provide before stopping to rest, depending on specific criteria.
For example, passenger-carrying drivers can't drive after being on duty for 15 hours, following eight consecutive hours when they've been off duty. Property-carrying drivers can drive only a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive off-duty hours. Failure to adhere to these regulations may result in fines and probationary periods for the carrier, impacting its safety rating.
The FMCSA also manages the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, whose goal is identifying commercial operators with driver or vehicle safety concerns. The program effectively scores, ranks, and groups commercial operators based on the number of safety incidents over a certain time period – similar to how states issue points on a noncommercial driver's license. In both cases, negative marks can increase insurance premiums and result in more severe penalties.
The FMCSA uses seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) in its safety measurement system. Carriers are given a BASIC percentile on a 0-100 scale (100 indicates the worst performance) based on each carrier's violation rate for each BASIC category.
The collective BASIC percentiles are used to identify which carriers require intervention based on the following categories.
- Controlled substances and alcohol: This category refers to instances of drivers caught operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Compared to the national average, controlled substances and alcohol increase the crash rate by 34%, according to the FMCSA.
- Crash indicator: This category identifies crash history with state-reported data from the past two years, regardless of the driver's role in the crash.
- Driver fitness: This category is a record of any instances where a driver did not possess – or failed to maintain – a valid commercial driver's license or any necessary medical certificates.
- Hazardous materials compliance: This category refers to a carrier properly following relevant hazardous materials requirements, including proper packaging, labeling, and care when loading, transporting, and unloading items.
- Hours of service compliance: This category refers to a carrier adhering to requirements for adequate rest for large truck and bus drivers. Rest requirements ensure vehicle operators are alert and able to respond to external conditions quickly and safely.
- Unsafe driving: This category monitors how well a carrier's drivers follow basic driving laws and avoid dangerous activities, including texting, speeding, using a handheld mobile phone, reckless driving, improper lane changing, and general inattention.
- Vehicle maintenance: This category monitors regular pre-route and post-driving visual inspections along with regularly scheduled maintenance.
Best practices to maintain your fleet's health and safety
It's essential for business owners and supervisors to establish policies, procedures and clear expectations that make driver health and safety the No. 1 priority. Incorporating your policies into an employee handbook is a good idea.
Even if you hire experienced drivers, don't assume their previous employers properly adhered to the rules and regulations for commercial vehicle operators.
Here are four best practices to ensure your fleet's health and safety:
1. Develop a fleet safety policy.
Setting clear expectations is a critical management function. When it comes to fleet safety, this means developing a comprehensive fleet safety policy that drivers and managers can easily understand and follow. If everyone at your company isn't on the same page, it's challenging to prioritize safety.
To make it easier for businesses, the FMCSA provides a motor carrier safety planning tool with explanations and templates to help you create a helpful program.
Regularly reviewing your fleet safety policy is essential to ensure your policies and procedures are effective over the long run. Review your guidelines, training and communications regularly – especially after any vehicle incident. Ask for feedback from your drivers to make sure your guidelines are in perfect alignment with what's being asked of each motor vehicle operator during their shift.
2. Follow electronic logging device requirements.
With a few exceptions, commercial drivers must prepare a record of duty status for every 24-hour period. When requested by a safety official, motor carriers must provide their ELD records in a digital format.
Basic ELD requirements also state that motor carriers must retain a backup copy of their ELD records for six months on a secondary device. Any failure to record or retain these records makes the driver and carrier liable to prosecution and subject to fines of $1,000 to $10,000.
3. Implement driver training programs.
How a company vehicle operates on the road plays a significant role in the public's perception of a brand. One of the best ways to ensure your fleet vehicles are operated safely is to implement a driver training program that goes beyond ensuring your commercial operators follow the rules of the road.
Driver training programs should include the following elements.
- Driver identification: Consider which managers, supervisors, support staff and commercial vehicle operators may at some point drive a fleet vehicle – or even a rental car – on behalf of the company. Just because an employee doesn't have the word "driver" in their job title doesn't necessarily mean they won't operate a vehicle as part of a work-related duty. To be safe, anyone who could potentially operate a vehicle should be included as part of your program.
- Driver screening: Work toward building a long-term safety record by carefully screening new hires. This includes a criminal background check, motor vehicle reports, history of traffic citations, physical examination by a medical professional, and knowledge of any drug or alcohol violation history. Consider seeking legal or experienced HR counsel to make sure you ask the right questions and meet any requirements to stay compliant with federal, state or local background check laws. If you don't have an internal HR department, consider using one of the best human resources outsourcing services.
- Employee onboarding: Don't make assumptions about a new or existing driver's training level. Instead, ensure that everyone operating your fleet vehicles is on the same page regarding safe driving expectations. While the basic rules of the road may be fairly consistent across the country, your business may have special procedures for operating on your property, proper vehicle storage at the end of the shift or expectations when arriving at a client's location. Provide all drivers with detailed information on safe driving strategies – including programs for task-specific vehicles.
- Growth potential: Consider conducting quarterly or biannual training reviews to ensure your commercial operators adhere to the policies established in your onboarding program. While regular, ongoing driver training exams can help reduce incidents on the road, they can also be essential in protecting your company from any drivers who choose not to follow the policies you've outlined in the case of an accident or moving violation. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for experienced drivers to offer training, and a basis for drivers to move up to management level.
- Accident review board: Managing accidents is an unavoidable part of operating a fleet of vehicles. Establishing a review board with a cross-functional team of managers, supervisors and drivers will ensure that each incident is reviewed from numerous perspectives to help determine if it was preventable or unavoidable. The board should review the driver's incident account and other available police reports, insurance investigations and witness statements. Consider choosing a fleet tracking solution, which will provide additional data to help analyze accidents.
- Maintenance: Regular maintenance will extend the life of your depreciating assets while reducing employee downtime and repair costs. Many of the best fleet tracking software solutions that are often installed to monitor idle time include the option to generate preventative maintenance schedules automatically, with notifications and alerts based on manufacturer recommendations. Stakeholders can be notified of issues as they occur with engine fault codes and inspection issues to help manage resolutions quickly.
4. Acknowledge and reward safe drivers.
One of the fastest ways to foster a new company culture focused on safety is to publicly acknowledge and reward your top performers. Everything from bonus checks and gift cards to encouraging emails from leadership can work to keep drivers committed to operating their vehicles as safely as possible.
Special privileges or flexible work hours can also be utilized as a reward to keep drivers motivated to meet your company's expectations.
A well-designed fleet safety incentive program is unbiased, with the ability to measure performance metrics – such as hard braking, speeding, fuel efficiency, sudden acceleration and overly fast turns. While you can use each driver's scorecard to identify areas for improvement, it's essential to acknowledge the positive aspects to keep drivers feeling valued during the review process and motivated to drive safely.