Keeping drivers safe is one of many intense responsibilities a fleet department carries on its back. From cameras to vehicle weight, there are an incredible number of features one must take into consideration when spec’ing the safest vehicle possible to get the job done.
Acting with Input
John Seevers, superintendent of acquisitions, Fleet Services Bureau for the City of Long Beach, Calif., says there are many factors to take into consideration when it comes to spec’ing a vehicle for safety.
The first is visibility. Being able to see out of a vehicle properly is vital, and adding camera systems helps a great deal. Backup cameras often come standard now, but Seevers likes to add additional cameras for a better overall view.
“On our automated sideloader refuse trucks, we do side cameras, rear cameras…anything that will increase visibility and allow us to operate more safely.”
Being a beach city, trucks that patrol on the sand have to be able to spot people soaking up the sun.
Step-in height is another feature he specs for, which helps in terms of ergonomics.
“If it’s a field unit where they’re getting in and out of the vehicle all day long, that becomes an issue. We’ve actually starting using a different chassis for our refuse trucks because of it.”
Ergonomics are a focus for police vehicles, too, as one must account for how officers fit in the vehicle with their gun belt.
“Let’s say you’re going to install a computer inside a vehicle. Will a passenger be able to fit in the seat next to the driver with it? We’ve had challenges in the past where they couldn’t fit a passenger comfortably. If you’re working with a smaller vehicle and you need to have a center mounted computer, that becomes a challenge.”
The City of Long Beach does its own in-house upfitting, and has vendors come in and work with the fleet team on design aspects. Clear signage on vehicles can make a world of difference, especially on larger vehicles that stop in the street regularly. Adding additional flashing lighting can also prevent accidents from occurring. Their in-house expert advises them on lighting for more challenging specs.
Making sure proper training is made available with a vehicle when you decide to purchase it is extremely beneficial.
“Be sure to ask what they offer and when. Is factory training available? We do training with delivery on any type of specialized vehicle. We’ll set up training for both operators and mechanics. We try to incorporate that in our specs, or at least do our research to see what they’re offering.”
On field trucks, mounting as much equipment on the curb side as possible for ease of access also enhances safety. Safety cones, for instance, can be mounted on the front bumper, under the back of the truck, or on the side of the vehicle.
When the City of Long Beach starts its annual process for each replacement plan, Seevers meets with customers in each department. At the beginning of the fiscal year, he hands out a new replacement plan for that specific department. He sends out a questionnaire where customers can check off what kind of features they’d like. From there, the department creates specifications and sends it back to the user department for review, ensuring it goes to the management level and user. The user will then sign off on the specs before it’s sent out to bid.
The involvement doesn’t stop there. If it’s a larger vehicle, they’ll conduct a prebuild meeting and invite end users with the vendors. In a lot of cases, they’ll even have them travel on the inspections. For example, with fire equipment, firemen need to have a lot of input and being there allows them to ask any questions they may have about features they may need. Once vehicles arrive, they have yet another chance to provide input. He also has the City of Long Beach safety office review specs, too.
With COVID-19, there have been a lot of discussions about how spec’ing for safety might change to protect drivers from the virus. With many working from home or vehicles being deployed with only one person per unit, there haven’t been too many changes, but they have discussed the possible inclusion of shields to separate the passenger compartment from the driver.
Spec’ing for the Future
When spec’ing, Matthew Case, fleet division manager for Manatee County, Fla., always evaluates vehicle class first and makes sure they have the right class size, Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), and towing capacities, depending on the vehicle. He is focused on accident mitigation, including collision prevention and blind spot monitoring.
“Most manufacturers used to only include those items on higher trimmed vehicles. What we’re seeing now is most of those options are available in a separate call out for government work vehicle specifications. We’re spec’ing our FY21 replacements now, and were looking at the availability of pre-collision devices on our ton and a half crane trucks. We found it was a very simple $200 option to add it, and that, to me, is a no brainer.”
Part of spec’ing a safer vehicle is making sure you have the right size vehicle class for what the asset is being used for.
“Sometimes when I’m driving around in a different municipality, I’ll see some vehicles doing things they shouldn’t be. You can tell when they’re squatted down that they’re way overweight. We work with departments on a five- or seven-year lookout to make sure we’re spec’ing the vehicle heavy enough so they will have all the capacity for any future expansion they might do. Right now, they might be towing a smaller trailer, but there might be plans to take on a larger trailer for doing more work.”
When the department identifies an asset for replacement, they send out a vehicle replacement form which helps them engage the asset user in the process.
“Don’t just tell them what they’re going to get; work with them and listen to what they need for the job. You’re going to get much better communication and a better fit for the asset. What we found is people that get the vehicles and equipment that fit their needs the best last the longest, because it doesn’t get misused or overloaded and they generally care for it better.”
The department has made a few changes to combat COVID-19, specifically in the county’s public safety division. They’re adding ultraviolet lights into all air conditioning units on ambulances, and spec’ing them with service ports that can inject a solution in the patient compartment that can kill any bacteria in minutes instead of requiring crews to constantly wipe trucks down.
On the municipal side, especially pickup trucks, they always order vehicles with vinyl seating, which makes them much easier to clean and keep sanitary.
While Mario Guzman, MPA, CAFM, director of support services for the City of West Palm Beach, Fla., also purchases as many cameras as are available to keep drivers safe, he has also added Bluetooth capabilities to his list.
“Some may think that’s a luxury, but in this modern world, you never know when an emergency call might come in and it’s important to be hands-free. We have a no cell phone policy with our assets and don’t encourage their use, but we know it may come up and want to be prepared.”
He’s also started putting weight scales on the city’s garbage fleet to ensure they’re not overweight. When it comes to bigger trucks, GVWR is an important focal point.
“If the vehicle capacity is 10,000 lbs., we want to be well below that. We like to be under the 10% margin because if you have a vehicle that’s fully loaded, it can still take that capacity. It means less maintenance, and better turning, steering, and braking,” he says.
They make sure they’re buying the biggest vehicle possible that can easily transport what they need it to.
“Let’s say the weight is at 10,000 lbs. and, fully loaded, it’s going to be at 9,200 lbs. That’s a little too close for comfort. I’d rather bump it up so it’s at least 15,000 lbs. Then you’re well below that limit.”
Every quarter, they have a “state of your fleet” meeting and a report. They identify every single vehicle in that department’s fleet, and how much they spent on those vehicles year to date. Those with the highest maintenance figures are the ones that are recommended for replacing.
“It’s a collaborative effort. As fleet professionals, we bring our fleet-specific subject matter expertise to the situation. The problem with that is you still need information and feedback from users. We’re experts in our field, but we have a blind spot when it comes to actual use. Ultimately, the fleet department is not operating a backhoe or other industrial equipment. We need that input from the front-line user.”
Protecting Drivers and Investments
Kevin Callahan, CAFM, fleet services division manager for Auburn, Ala., says while the reduction in backing accidents pays for itself quickly when it comes to cameras, he also likes to add rear-sensing and blind spot monitoring when available.
“Operators like being able to look directly behind them and know they are backing as safely as possible. Another safety feature we pay attention to is the use of high visibility seatbelts in all our medium-duty vehicles. Anything that can potentially avoid a collision is money well spent. Our goal is to protect our drivers and to protect the investment we have in the vehicles.”
He also makes sure to look at weight capacity.
“We ask ourselves ‘is this going to be big enough to pull that load safely? To brake safely? What can we do to improve?’ If we know the truck will be pulling trailers, we add a brake controller. If it’s going to be loaded down all the time, we get a heavier suspension. We try to spec our vehicles in a way so they aren’t operating at max capacity and the vehicle can handle everything it could face in a safe manner.”
Working Safely and Efficiently
With a focus on vehicle mission and operator safety, Luis Pagán, vehicle replacement coordinator for the City of Orlando, Fla., says the city looks at driver assist features like reverse sensing, rearview camera, backup alarm, lane departure warning, Bluetooth, and power windows, door locks, and mirrors.
“We want safety features that assist in performing job duties safely and efficiently at the work site. Aspects like work area lighting, easy access steps, platform running boards, an exterior grab handle to assist in climbing into or onto a work area, Rhino Linings to prevent slipping, curb side/eye level compartments to safely access tools or equipment, high visibility DOT reflective tape, and warning/emergency lighting are all helpful in this.”