When Are Policies Too Strict?

Before writing a policy that will last for years, determine whether it’s the best one. Would a typical employee follow the policy?

March 19, 2018

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

Recently, we ran a news story about a public agency that decided to change its driver policy after numerous minor collisions increased fleet repair costs. Drivers are now required to take safety courses following a collision. Additionally, if a second person is in the car, the passenger is required to exit the vehicle and guide the driver while he or she is backing out of a parking space.

Another public agency decided to change its policies and purchase telematics after it determined a couple of employees had used their vehicles for commuting, which was against the agency’s driver policy.

Both of these cases remind me that rules are made for rule breakers. The first one is an instance of an agency reaching a breaking point, while the second is one where it only takes one or two rule breakers to ruin it for everyone else.

Are We Taking It Too Far?

In these examples above, are the decisions the right ones, or are they too drastic?

In the first one, I agree there should be a policy for more training for those involved in collisions. But imagine being the passenger and having to help a driver exit a parking spot — maybe the weather is below freezing, or maybe the driver doesn’t appreciate your help. Would this policy actually be followed? And if it’s too much, what steps could this agency take to reduce fender benders?

For the second story, one of our online commenters thought the reaction was ridiculous, that adding a potentially expensive technology that requires purchasing costs, upgrading, and monitoring just because of the actions of two employees doesn’t make financial sense.

I agree. But then, what’s a fleet or city manager to do? What’s a better way to enforce a take-home policy?

Consistency About Enforcement

Some policies are not enforced.

Take, for instance, the example of an agency that did not allow police officers who live farther away to take home patrol cars. It was known that officers did not follow this policy, and elected leaders eventually changed it to allow more officers to officially take their cars home.

In just as many instances, however, those officers would have been written up for “wasting taxpayer dollars.” How does one know what is and is not enforced?

Sometimes policy breaches are blown out of proportion — what seems to be a minor issue results in an audit, media coverage, and public outcry; what makes this unfair is that I’m sure some other, bigger issues are ignored.

Policies That Make Sense

Rules are how our society functions. We follow laws, company policies, school rules, and common decency. And while I would love to say that common sense should rule, everyone has different opinions about how things should be.

But before putting in writing a policy that will last for years, we should determine whether it’s the best one. Is it too strict? Would a typical employee follow it? Does it make financial sense? Are there any loopholes? Will it make sense years from now, or will it need to be revised? How will it be enforced?

It seems agencies are quick to change policies once outside auditors are called in — sometimes this is a good thing, in that it allows quick response and sometimes funding. Other times, it seems more a response to fear, a way to appease even if it’s against the best judgement of the fleet manager.

Do policies exist in your agency that aren’t necessary, or has your agency implemented potentially unnecessary measures because of one rule breaker?


  1. 1. Phil Rumian [ March 28, 2018 @ 11:39AM ]

    Let's see now: To reduce collisions when leaving a parking spot, we risk having someone run down, as they walk around the car, to be sure the driver will not hit any parked cars. Or maybe slipping on snow and ice, and getting injured. Yep, makes sense to me.

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