Keeping your drivers and other motorists safe is paramount. As safety features in vehicles evolve, so do the available equipment and technology you can use to add extra protection for peace of mind.
Across the country, there are public fleets making changes in the name of safety, not only for their drivers, but also for those they might encounter while they’re on the job.
Setting the Standard in New York City
The New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) has been taking steps to prioritize street safety through the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan since 2014. It’s a citywide campaign spanning several city agencies, but DCAS manages the city’s vehicle fleets. The city has invested in comprehensive engineering, enforcement, and education strategies to bring it closer to the goal of zero deaths and serious injuries.
DCAS has also worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Volpe Center on a number of Safe Fleet Transition Plans, including two for city fleet vehicles and one for the private trade waste industry.
New York City’s Safe Fleet Transition Plan is broken into three tiers: required, best practice, and technology to be tested. Under the program, the city has either retrofitted or purchased new vehicles with more than 75,000 safety systems. Those include automatic braking, pedestrian collision warnings, truck side guards, and intelligent speed assist, DCAS Deputy Chief Fleet Management Officer Eric Richardson said.
A Place for High-Vision Trucks in Fleets
High-vision trucks, which have an engine under the driver as opposed to in front of them, are a best practice solution the city is implementing when possible. Trucks with engines in front of the drivers can block 25 feet around the front of their vehicle, Chief Fleet Officer and DCAS Deputy Commissioner Keith Kerman explained.
“When you come into urban environments that are extraordinarily dense and crowded, 25 feet might as well be a mile of distance when you're in a place like New York City with the extraordinary amount of pedestrians and children and bicyclists who are everywhere,” Kerman said.
He encouraged other fleet managers to use high-vision trucks in their fleets.
“We need to push the market to provide high vision models,” Kerman added. “There are far more high vision models being developed right now in Europe than there are here in the states and in North America.”
Protecting Vulnerable Road Users with Truck Side Guards
A new law requiring side guards on many of the city’s trucks went into effect in January 2023. Side guards fit the side of a large vehicle and are designed to prevent pedestrians and bicyclists from falling into the exposed space between the front axle and rear axle of the vehicle. Motorcyclists, e-bike operators, or even small cars could also become trapped without the side guards. The law applies to trucks within the city fleet, commercial waste trucks, and now city-contracted vehicles.
Side guards are required for large vehicles, which are defined as those with a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight rating exceeding 10,000 lbs. However, street sweepers, fire engines, car carriers, off-road construction vehicles, any other specialized vehicles, or those where side guard installation would be deemed impractical were exempt.
The city has installed over 4,300 side guards through retrofits and new vehicle purchases.
Maintaining Safe Speeds with Intelligent Speed Assist
In recent months, New York City ran an Intelligent Speed Assist (ISA) pilot with 50 fleet vehicles. That will be expanded over the coming months.
Most existing speed governors set a maximum speed a vehicle can go. This program takes it a step further, combining the speed governor with vehicle telematics to adjust the maximum vehicle speed to match changing speed limits as the vehicle travels. The system prevents vehicles from speeding. The early results from ISA have been very positive and DCAS is looking into adding the technology to more vehicles.
DCAS has already installed telematics on its entire fleet and city school buses — over 28,000 units — the largest public fleet rollout in the nation. DCAS provides real-time alerts to supervisors of excessive speeding. In this case, an excessive speed is 25 mph+ above the set speed limit.
When a driver is excessively speeding in a city vehicle, management can call the driver or their supervisor to encourage slower driving speeds. The pilot has allowed the city to cut over 50% of excessive speeding.
Leveraging Telematics Data to Reiterate Safe Driving Practices
DCAS receives monthly risk reports for every single vehicle in its fleet using telematics data, categorizing drivers into a low, moderate, and high risk. The report looks at excessive speed, accelerating, hard braking, hard turning, and seatbelt use. The department gives that data to its agencies, so they can see how their drivers behave.
“The good news is that most of our vehicles operate in low and mild risk; most of our drivers are operating safely,” Kerman said. “Those who aren't, we now know them. And we send those reports to every agency commissioner every month.”
That allows agencies to focus on training drivers who need reminders about safe driving practices. In this case, those operating at the moderate are high risk represent only a small percentage of vehicle operators. But the goal is to bring that number to zero as part of the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan.
Putting an Emphasis on Driver Training
DCAS and its partner agencies have trained more than 90,000 fleet operators in safe and defensive driving. The department trains non-emergency staff, while the New York City Police and Fire Departments conduct their own training, which includes an Emergency Vehicle Operations Course. All authorized city fleet operators must complete driver safety training.
After completing the all-day course, drivers can receive insurance benefits and points reductions.
The department is returning to offering in-person training, after the pandemic led it to move the training online. In March, DCAS held a Train-the-Trainer session as part of an initiative to certify a new team of safe driving trainers for the in-person training.
DCAS safety training emphasizes the need for focusing while driving at all times, reminds operators that DCAS bars handheld and hands-free phone use by drivers, explains the 3-second rule for avoiding rear-end crashes, and reviews the regulations for proper fleet operation.
This year, the department intends to add discussions about its Intelligent Speed Assist technology, as well as a review of crash safety with electric vehicles, and present safety risk reporting for each vehicle through Fleet Office of Real Time Tracking (FORT).
Through all of these initiatives, DCAS leadership recognizes the example it is setting in promoting driver safety among public, nonprofit, and private fleets.
“[We’re] just making sure that we are trying to set the example that we are trying to talk to our fellow cities and fellow public and private fleets about how to make their fleet safer,” DCAS Deputy Chief Fleet Management Officer Eric Richardson said. “The adage is, ‘if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.’ I think we continue to be a beacon for fleet safety, for public and private fleets as we go forward.”
Highlighting Driver Safety in Wisconsin
One person spreading DCAS’ message is its former Director of Fleet Safety, Mahanth Joishy. Joishy is now fleet superintendent for the city of Madison, Wisconsin. He helped launch the Vision Zero initiative to Madison in 2020.
The city’s Vision Zero program includes a focus on telematics/GPS metrics and trends, coaching and disciplinary action when needed, operator safety training, awards for safe drivers, analyses of collision and incident costs and trends, the banning of all cell phone use — both handheld and hands-free devices —and testing other vehicle technology like advanced driver alert systems (ADAS), cameras, and intelligent speed monitoring.
The city’s fleet team leads a two-hour defensive driver training class and other driver trainings, which are available to all city employees, that costs only the training time.
“Training time is worth every minute to our operators who can use this critical safety knowledge — not only on the job — but in their personal lives with their families,” Joishy said.
The fleet department uses telematics data from city vehicles to study trends on seatbelt use, speeding, idling, hard braking, hard acceleration, and more. Using this data, agencies can identify vehicle operators practicing risky driving behaviors so they can prevent some of these behaviors. Safer driving practices not only enhance safety by preventing collisions, but it also leads to lower wear and tear on vehicles and sustainability by saving fuel.
The data also helps Joishy identify safe drivers so they can be recognized. The city has a “Safest Driver Award” it gives out to vehicle operators whose data shows are making smart choices behind the wheel.
Becoming Proactive, Not Reactive with ADAS
A 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration memo stated that in the case of crashes, the “critical reason,” the last event in the chain of events leading up to a crash, was due to driver error in 94% of crashes.
Fleet managers are beginning to adopt technology aimed at preventing this.
You’re likely familiar with some of the ADAS technology commonly available in newer vehicles. OEMs often offer a few ADAS features like lane departure warnings and pedestrian and cyclist collision warnings. That technology is actually often from Mobileye.
Mobileye’s technology is used by the vast majority of major manufacturers powering a spectrum of safety features that compensate for human error. Mobileye is working with automakers to evolve from today’s base ADAS to tomorrow’s autonomous features, integrating advanced technologies into new production vehicles.
However, Mobileye’s technology is not only reserved for the OEM assembly line. The core technology of these advanced features is available in an aftermarket product called Mobileye 8 Connect that provides five safety alerts.
Mobileye can customize the technology to fit a specific fleet’s needs and provide additional educational opportunities, so fleets understand how to make the best use of the technology.
Mobileye’s aftermarket product is also a good way for fleet managers to retrofit older vehicles with new technology to make them safer, especially as some managers are forced to hold onto vehicles for longer periods of time due to the ongoing supply chain crisis.
In cases where fleets were waiting on vehicles with OEM-installed ADAS to be compliant to safety policies, the crisis complicated things. This is something Mobileye recognized.
“We have been working with both fleets and their upfitters to install our collision avoidance warning system to minimize the disruption in the fleets’ operations and remain compliant with their safety [policies],” General Manager for Mobileye North America Uri Tamir said.
Here are the alerts Mobileye 8 Connect offers:
- Forward collision warning (19 mph and above).
- Speed limit indicator — notifies the driver when the vehicle exceeds the most recently detected posted speed limit.
- Headway monitoring and warning — allows fleet managers to customize a safe following time help drivers maintain a safe distance.
- Lane departure warning.
- Pedestrian and cyclist collision warnings.
Fleet managers can choose to purchase OEM-provided ADAS for their vehicles, retrofit an aftermarket collision avoidance system, or choose a hybrid approach depending on the vehicle’s type and model year.
“The rising direct and associated costs of crashes drive fleet managers to seek a proactive solution to reduce collisions and improve operational efficiency within their organization. ADAS is an essential component of that,” Tamir added.
Advice for Fleet Managers on a Tight Budget
Sometimes, fleet managers may see the adoption of driver safety technology as a cost barrier. But it’s critical for fleet operations, Joishy said.
“In this day and age, I would consider GPS and telematics to be a no-brainer and a must-have for any fleet, on par with fleet staff having email accounts for communication,” Joishy explained. “It is impossible to run a safe and efficient fleet without telematics these days. It is money well-spent, will pay for itself if managed well, and there is a highly active industry in this space with many options for every budget.”
There are other steps fleet managers can take to promote safe driving as well.
It can be as simple as placing posters promoting safety in break rooms, bulletin boards, and hallways. Hanging signs in parking garages and lots encouraging drivers to slow down can also be effective, Joishy said.
Additionally, don’t underestimate the low-cost benefit of having “How’s My Driving?” bumper stickers on fleet vehicles with a phone number to call to report dangerous driving, paired with internal stickers meant to remind drivers that their GPS is watching them. All of these can change driver behavior for the better, Joishy added. Madison has partnered with Harvard University’s Kennedy School to study the effectiveness of the stickers that encourage members of the community to call in if they see negative and also positive driving behaviors on the road by city operators.
Rule changes like the cell phone ban are cost-free as well.
Bottom line, it’s crucial to take whatever steps are feasible for your fleet to make drivers and other road users safer.