Driver Safety in Utility Fleets

Driver safety is a concern among utility business owners and fleet managers. Often, the most dangerous part of the day for a worker in the utility industry is the time spent behind the wheel of the vehicle.

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By Ashley Jones

Driver safety is a concern among utility business owners and fleet managers. Often, the most dangerous part of the day for a worker in the utility industry is the time spent behind the wheel of the vehicle. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of fatalities in the workplace-more than fires, explosions, falls, trips and equipment incidents combined. In addition, vehicle crashes occur every 5 seconds in the United States, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

Vehicle crashes not only endanger the lives of your employees and others on the road, but they can also cause considerable financial strain on your company. Many of these incidents occur during the workday, during the commute to and from job sites-and employers bear the cost of these injuries that occur both on and off the job. The average cost of a crash costs an employer $16,500 and crashes involving injuries cost $74,000. If a fatality is involved, the cost increases to over $500,000, according to OSHA.

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As a whole, motor vehicle crashes cost employers $60 billion annually in medical care, legal expenses, property damages and lost productivity. In addition, they drive up the cost of benefits such as workers' compensation, Social Security, and private health and disability insurance.

Many utility companies may use or consider using a global positioning system (GPS) fleet management solution for tracking and routing vehicles, but you may not realize fleet management solutions can also be used to monitor driver behavior and increase driver safety in many ways.

Educate Your Drivers

Many of the commercial vehicle crashes that occur throughout the year are preventable if your company implements a driver safety policy and gives your employees the tools to do their job safely, without negatively affecting productivity.

The first step to ensure your drivers practice appropriate driving behaviors and are safe on the road is to create safe driver policies and stick to policy enforcement. This should also be done in coordination with some type of driver behavior program. When considering a GPS fleet management solution for your company, you should find one that supports your business' strategy to address driver education and driver safety issues.

This can be accomplished with online driver education courses that support your comprehensive strategy to promote safe driving habits. Online education courses provide safety managers and business owners a way to constructively engage and coach drivers to be safe behind the wheel. Courses may be offered from the GPS fleet management solution and can offer insight into aggressive, distracted, fuel-efficient or proactive defensive driving.

By addressing these behaviors proactively, fleet owners and safety managers can reduce driving incidents while also demonstrating the value of driver and fleet safety to employees, both experienced and novice. Promoting responsible driving habits from the start allows businesses to reduce insurance costs, cut down on potential collisions and decrease legal expenses. With the high number of driving incidents occurring each year, utility companies need to take a preventative approach to driver safety. Find a fleet management solution that gives you an outlet for your business to encourage responsible driving and ensure your fleet is operating at the safest level possible. When it comes to driver safety, prevention is the best policy.

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Reduce Distracted Driving Opportunities

Distracted driving incidents are increasingly in the news, and for good reason. Distracted driving is a factor in 25 to 30 percent of all traffic crashes, according to OSHA. Drivers in the utility industry are often driving to and from sites, spending a great deal of time operating a vehicle. With busy schedules, road construction and other delays that occur, many employees feel pressured to multi-task to keep up with work-related responsibilities if they're driving. Drivers make more than 200 decisions during every mile traveled, increasing the chance that if your employee is distracted during his or her route, an incident may occur.

Currently, 41 states ban text messaging while driving. In addition, 11 states also prohibit hand-held cell-phone use while driving, which includes talking on the phone. In 2011, commercial truck and bus operators were also banned from all hand-held cell-phone use, except for emergency purposes. Since it is now illegal in most cases for your employee to use his or her phone while driving, the basic features of your GPS fleet management solution-tracking, routing, dispatching-are essential for any business.

Many fleet management solutions, however, also provide additional distracted driving support, helping companies eliminate the need to communicate through a hand-held device. Make sure your GPS management solution provides an option for your company to discourage distracted driving by blocking or restricting calls, texts, emails, web browsing and more while the vehicle is being operated. Twenty-eight percent of all accidents are caused by mobile devices, increasing the importance to eliminate the risk hand-held devices present.

These distracted driving solutions allow your company to maintain your policies concerning mobile device use in vehicles, ensuring driver safety and protecting your company reputation. Some solutions also provide the option to set up an automatic Short Message Service (SMS) response to anyone who attempts to contact the driver on their cell-phone while he or she is driving, informing them the employee is driving and will contact them shortly. This eliminates the urge to multi-task because your employee knows the person attempting to reach them is aware they are unavailable while driving.

Cell phone use by drivers creates a serious threat for your company. According to the Network for Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), more than 90 percent of all motor vehicle crashes are caused by human error and neglect. The risk of being the target of a lawsuit greatly increases when an on-the-job employee causes the vehicle crash.

By using a GPS fleet management system that disables distracted driving, a utility company decreases communications to the basic, necessary interactions and greatly decreases the risk of an accident occurring.

Identifying Dangerous Driving

Despite designing company policies and creating a culture of safety, chances are there will still be an occurrence of distracted or aggressive driving in your company's fleet. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines aggressive driving as occurring when "an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property," and includes but not limited to tailgating, weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, running stop signs or red lights and preventing other from passing. Aggressive driving actions were reported in 56 percent of fatal crashes from 2003 to 2007, with excessive speeding being the number one factor.

Driver safety reports are an essential feature to look for when considering a GPS fleet management solution. These tools monitor, measure and identify dangerous actions such as hard braking, quick acceleration, sharp turning and excessive speeding. This information is not used to scold employees, but to help drivers realize and identify any dangerous habits. Business fleet managers are supplied with concrete metrics to help identify risky drivers and work with their employees to take proactive actions against vehicle crashes.

Driver behavior information also helps in cutting down on excessive fuel costs, vehicle wear and tear, and additional expenses from insurance or potential collisions.

Importance of Driver Safety

Companies spend money on creating logos and company information to transform vehicles into moving billboards. Inappropriate or dangerous driving on the road in your fleets can turn that investment into a poor company image. Safety and compliance are major concerns for fleet managers, so it is important to have driver safety education and monitoring options in your GPS fleet management solution.

Ultimately, it is your company's responsibility to protect your employees and company's image against the dangers of driving. Fleet management solutions can not only increase productivity and efficiency and decrease fuel usage, but assists fleet managers in working with employees and drivers to ensure everyone's safety on the road.

About the author: Ashley Jones is marketing director at NexTraq. The NexTraq Fleet Tracking solution and its applications-Fleet Dispatch, Fleet Metrics and NexTraq Connect-deliver real-time data needed to optimize fleet operations.

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