It’s important to look at the risk of stopping forward progress and accepting things the way they are versus trying to improve them through the use of safety programs.   -  Photo: Max Avans

It’s important to look at the risk of stopping forward progress and accepting things the way they are versus trying to improve them through the use of safety programs. 

Photo: Max Avans

As governing bodies, there is a responsibility to spend citizens' funds wisely. Safety incidents can become very costly, and many of them are preventable. This was central to a session on safety during the 2023 Government Fleet Expo & Conference. But even though fleet managers have access to advancements such as GPS telematics, and dash cameras, Samsara Director of Enterprise Sales Engineering Jerri Levison said that not everyone is on board with using this technology.

“There's still a lot of cynicism about whether they should use that technology, even though that technology really can cut costs and improve overall safety for organizations," Levison said during the GFX session. 

Understanding Safety in the Context of Fleet

Safety can be a lot of things. It can be related to equipment, it can be related to people, vehicles, and so on. And as Fleet Management Division Manager for the city of Orlando Jonathan Ford, CAFM, pointed out during the session, accidents are costly. Because they create a lot of downtime, it’s vital that fleet managers work to prevent that. 

Orlando has revamped the fleet’s entire accident program. At one point there were 51 vehicles down due to accidents. Part of the revamp meant that senior leadership aimed to help change the drivers' behaviors. The focus is to keep safety and responsibility a key part of everyday operations

The city uses safety devices, such as cameras and GPS devices with monthly reporting from dashboard data coming down the pipeline. This not only gives drivers a better understanding of their driving habits but ensures that when something does happen, everything is documented with the goal to prevent a similar incident in the future. 

“We’ve started this whole program from the ground up,” Ford said, adding that leadership has made sure to ask drivers and staff for input in developing what's considered a trigger event versus what's not considered a trigger event. “Explain your goals, explain your objectives of what you're trying to achieve overall.”

Ford noted that everyone needs to be involved in the process to continually improving driver behavior

The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.

Dealing with Concerns and Pushback with a New Safety Program

In Orlando, Ford and his team have worked on being transparent throughout the process of adding new technology to track diving patterns and prevent repeat accidents. Ford met with the city’s union steward, he met with staff on numerous occasions, and made it a priority to put himself out there. This meant he received an influx of questions. However, to help answer these questions, he also brought in several of the fleet’s vendors to explain how the technology works and what data would be collected.

“I think that's the key, it’s about letting those folks ask whatever questions they want, because, at the end of the day, they feel like Big Brother's watching,” Ford said. “So whatever you can do to put them at ease, I think it's going to be the best solution.”

As Ford explained, during that first rollout, there was no kind of policy. But for the second rollout they wanted to make sure that they covered all grounds. Ford and his team talked about it at the negotiation table during the collective bargaining agreement. Again, they asked the union reps to come in and help them define trigger events to allow for corrective measures. 

“If you're going to roll it out and you don't have any of these cameras or devices in the in the vehicles, start that communicate right now,” Ford said. “And have those folks come to the table, have them help create that policy.”

There are roughly 800 Orlando vehicles equipped with telematics, dash cams, or data collection device. The city is looking to expand this. With about half of the fleet being police vehicles, there were obvious concerns about breaches of data. However, the ability to turn off these systems in an emergency is being used to counteract this. 

"I go back to starting at the ground level and having that to build transparency… I can't harp on being transparent enough,” Ford said.

Safety Focus Areas to Pinpoint Change

A major focus for Orlando’s fleet safety was seatbelt usage. Leadership wanted to make sure that anyone riding in a vehicle was aware if they had a seatbelt on or not. AI technology has helped with this by using the ability to detect if a seatbelt is not being used. Because of this, Ford said drivers are now more cognizant of putting on a seatbelt before getting out on the road. 

The technology can also send a signal that alerts drivers that they need to put on a seatbelt. If after three alerts the belt isn’t on, a message is then sent to their coach or their manager. A dash-mounted device for in-cab coaching is another option for further safety measures by keeping drivers aware of real-time incidents, such as tailgating. 

Ford added that distracted driving is another area they want to focus on, especially with cell phones in the picture. But as Ford pointed out, there needs to be a plan to implement these safety measures.

Since revamping the accident process, the Orlando fleet has begun involving Risk Management making sure there is more conversation with drivers. When a vehicle is reported in for an accident, Ford is making sure fleet gets that report as well to create a streamlined process to know exactly what is happening at each step. 

“If you have a comprehensive plan, just roll it all out at once, as much as you possibly can,” Ford said.

Fostering Accountability While Introducing Safety-Related Tech

A best practice for fleets to follow is being more efficient in operations wherever possible. According to Ford, leaders should stay open-minded, continue to ask questions, and keep in communication with fellow fleet managers. 

Going hand-in-hand with this is factoring in citizen concerns and needs. 

“Governments have a responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars wisely on things that matter to their constituents,” Levison said. 

At the city of Orlando, there is an online reporting tool where citizens can report concerns. As Ford put it, if AI and cameras are not watching drivers, then citizens are. 

“They care about their tax dollars, they care what you're doing, they care where you’re sitting, they care if you're idle,” Ford said. “All of this stuff comes directly to my inbox, and I address it at the appropriate level.”

However, it’s important to look at the risk of stopping forward progress and accepting things the way they are versus trying to improve them through the use of the safety programs using technology. 

“This is really just the beginning of fleet technology,” Levison said. “When you think about telematics and dash cams, they are going to continue to get better and better and offer cities like Orlando more and more opportunities to meet safety targets. It’s always  pushing that goalpost a little bit further in the interest of continuous improvement.”

For fleets that are unsure about implementing safety technologies in their operations Ford recommends the following: go out there and talk to telematics providers and find what not only would work best for the operation but what can help improve it. 

“Learn how their systems can benefit you and talk to your neighbor,” Ford said. “I help a lot of people out as much as I possibly can, but I only know so much. And then I have to start leaning on everybody else that's out in the crowd.”

About the author
Nichole Osinski

Nichole Osinski

Executive Editor

Nichole Osinski is the executive editor of Government Fleet magazine. She oversees editorial content for the magazine and the website, selects educational programming for GFX, and manages the brand's awards programs.

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