A City of Mobile, Ala. driver goes through driver training as part of the City's safety program.

A City of Mobile, Ala. driver goes through driver training as part of the City's safety program.

At a Glance

Some methods to ensure driver safety include:

  • Identifying and keeping track of problem drivers by conducting motor vehicle record checks.
  • Enacting a strict cell phone use policy.
  • Pairing driver performance feedback with training.
  • Using video recording to train drivers and reduce agency liability.

Fleet safety policies have a long history of implementation. And while agencies always strive to continually improve them, sometimes accident rates flatten out, and it becomes clear that more needs to be done.

That's where finding new ways to beef up a safety program can help. A good safety policy is the foundation for any program, but more can certainly be done. With improved online driver training, in-vehicle video recording systems, and driver feedback programs, fleet managers have more options than ever to improve their safety programs.

Training Drivers through Incident Recording

The safety program in Orange County, Fla., relies on annual motor vehicle record (MVR) checks, as well as required driver education training (DET) at least once every three years or in the case of an at-fault accident. While these measures have proven effective, the County looked to technology to improve the program. Using DriveCam, the County is able to record 12-second "snippets" of video when a vehicle is subjected to a pre-determined level of g-force - incidents such as hard braking or acceleration, hard cornering, or a collision. When one of these incidents occurs, the video saves footage 8 seconds before and 4 seconds after.

Having this footage on hand gives fleet and safety managers two major opportunities: one, to coach a driver on unsafe behaviors and two, to help identify the cause and fault of an accident.

"When the incidents do not involve a collision, they are used as training opportunities to modify the behavior that caused the camera to record. It allows us to address issues like distracted driving before an accident actually occurs," said John Petrelli, manager, Risk Management and Professional Standards. "When a collision does occur, it allows us to evaluate negligence and liability immediately from a claims perspective and then further address the cause from training perspective."

As a result, the County has seen major improvements in its safety metrics. Since the DriveCam pilot program began in 2007, automobile liability costs are down, from $450,000 in fiscal-year 2007-2008 to less than $150,000 in fiscal-year 2009-2010. Likewise, the number of claims has fallen over those same years, from roughly 300 to less than 100.

"With our DET program, our accident numbers were fairly stagnant. We were looking at something to drive those numbers down further, and the program fit with our culture of training. Our accident reduction rate has been amazing," Petrelli said. 

While Petrelli has seen positive results from the program, he also encountered a few challenges. In terms of the product, the only restraint was time. "The program is easy to implement, with the biggest challenge being the logistics of having 780 vehicles taken out of service for 30-45 minutes to have the cameras installed," he said.

Other challenges proved to be more organizational. Because the program provides a greater opportunity to monitor and coach driver behavior, disciplinary actions are taken against employees who did not change their driving behaviors even when coached, counseled, and trained. And, with 50-percent of the labor force comprised of collective bargaining employees, the County encountered some union pushback when disciplinary actions were taken as a result of the program.

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Video footage on Orange County, Fla., vehicles allows fleet and safety managers to coach a driver on unsafe behaviors and help identify the cause and fault of a collision.

Video footage on Orange County, Fla., vehicles allows fleet and safety managers to coach a driver on unsafe behaviors and help identify the cause and fault of a collision.

The second challenge was sheer size in such a large organization, it was key to have staff on board who took the program seriously and were diligent in its implementation.

But despite the challenges, both the numbers and anecdotal evidence suggest the program is well worth the effort. For instance, one of the County's fire and rescue units was involved in an accident. The other driver swore the County vehicle ran a red light, and even went so far as to hire an attorney. But video evidence proved the story false. "We forwarded a copy of the video to both their insurance carrier and their attorney," Petrelli said. "The carrier immediately accepted liability and the attorney dropped the case, saving us approximately $30,000 in attorney fees - both defending ourselves and, since we are self-insured, providing a direct savings to the program."

Driver Recording Helps Pass Cell Phone Policy

The safety program at the City of Mobile, Ala., is multifaceted and includes MVR checks, random drug testing, post-accident and post-injury drug testing, and departmental accident review committees, all of which have been in place for nearly 10 years and have proved to be effective in helping to reduce crash rates.  

Two new safety initiatives, however, have helped the City continue to evolve the program: a policy that prohibits all use of mobile devices while driving a City vehicle, and, like Orange County, use of DriveCam.

"The cell phone policy was a hard sell - people like their technology," said Gary Gamble, safety manager for the City. "But we were able to get the policy passed after a DriveCam video documented a crash where our driver was talking on a cell phone and not paying attention. The crash was not our driver's fault, but it could have been prevented if the driver had been paying attention."

In addition to reinforcing the importance of the City's cell phone policies, video recording has also helped resolve liability issues. "We have had several collisions where the DriveCam has clearly shown that our driver was not at fault," Gamble said. "This documentation has greatly assisted in settling claims."

Cameras in City of Mobile, Ala., vehicles have helped the City enforce its cell phone policy and resolve liability issues.

Cameras in City of Mobile, Ala., vehicles have helped the City enforce its cell phone policy and resolve liability issues.

Gamble said so far, the City has seen a significant reduction in collisions in the video-equipped vehicles. Its overall accident rate on equipped vehicles is down, and seat belt compliance is up significantly. Gamble said cell phone use violations are decreasing as drivers are coached when they are caught violating the policy. Video recording has allowed the City to identify drivers who continually fail to comply with policies even after being coached, and take disciplinary action.

On top of clear improvements to the safety program, Gamble said the technology has been easy to implement and use. "One of our requirements was to have a system that could be used with no extra work required from the drivers or supervisors and that would not require any new infrastructure to be installed," he said. "Additionally, having DriveCam analysts review all of the video ensures that only relevant events need to be viewed by the supervisors."

The City fleet did see some challenges during installation, as this is done in-house and competes for technicians' time for other vehicle repairs. The same goes for fixing malfunctioning units. However, Gamble said failure has not been an issue, and the units appear to be very reliable.

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There was some initial resistance on the part of drivers, many of whom felt the cameras were intrusive. "The reality is that these are City assets, and we need to do everything we can to protect them," Gamble said. "We emphasize that DriveCam is primarily used for coaching and improving poor driving behaviors, which we all have, but for repeat offenders or those who choose to violate policy, there are consequences."

The City has encountered many instances where video footage has helped coach drivers or proven their innocence in a crash. "We had another incident where a speeding vehicle passed one of our trash trucks as it was making a left turn," Gamble explained. "You can see the driver clearly checking the road before making the turn. Without the DriveCam to document [this], our driver could have been charged with an at-fault accident, but with the documentation we could see that he was not at fault."

Combining Driver Feedback with Training

Like Orange County and the City of Mobile, the City of Deerfield Beach, Fla., bolstered its safety program with additional resources, resulting in improved safety stats. The City holds monthly safety meetings on various topics including defensive driving, immediately investigates all incidents/accidents, and holds employees accountable, through progressive discipline, for at-fault incidents/accidents.

"How's my Driving" decals on City of Deerfield Beach, Fla., vehicles combined with training have reduced collision rates by 50 percent.

"How's my Driving" decals on City of Deerfield Beach, Fla., vehicles combined with training have reduced collision rates by 50 percent.

But on top of these tried-and-true methods, it wanted to do more to decrease the total number of vehicle accidents. To do so, the City teamed up with Driver's Alert to launch a program that paired driver performance feedback with follow-up training.

"We placed 'How's My Driving?' decals on roughly 200 vehicles in order to get feedback on City driver behaviors," said Rene Pelaez, insurance service manager for the City. "Getting this feedback is a proactive measure of poor decisions or driving habits." Once a driver receives a complaint, the City uses Driver's Alert's online driver training to coach him or her.

While some drivers had reservations about the system, Pelaez said they've realized the benefits over time. "At first they thought 'management was out to get them,' " he said. "But we have been able to prove that the only drivers who receive any type of discipline are the bad ones, and that is a small group of people."

Despite any initial resistance, the program has proven itself: The City has seen a more than 50-percent decrease in vehicle accidents.

It has also been able to defend City drivers. "Once, we received a call that one of our vans transporting children was going 80 mph down the interstate," Pelaez said. "When I investigated, I found that the van is only capable of doing 60 mph, and that they were in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Clearly someone chose to make a false report - they must have just been bored."

More Than Just Numbers

While additional safety measures save fleets significant expenses in terms of liability and repairs, the benefits of an improved safety program extend much further. Drivers may initially resist safety initiatives, but ultimately it is their safety and protection that stands to benefit. And people, after all, are any organization's greatest resource.

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6 Safety Tips to Reduce Accidents & Limit Liability

A comprehensive program that holds government fleet drivers accountable for their behavior behind the wheel is the key to reducing fleet accident rates and the rising cost of accidents. So says Brian Kinniry, who oversees fleet risk management and driver safety services for The CEI Group.

"Our experience shows that drivers generally know the right way to drive, but develop bad habits," he said. "By tracking driver behavior, it's been proven that fleets can identify and intervene with bad drivers before they have their next accident."

To implement an effective accident prevention program, CEI offers the following tips:

1. Avoid hiring bad drivers. Conduct motor vehicle and criminal background checks to keep bad drivers from being hired.

2. Identify problem drivers. Review every driver's motor vehicle record at least once a year, and keep a file that also reflects each driver's accident history. "Fleets should rate drivers using a point system based on the number and severity of their motor vehicle violations and accidents drivers have had over the prior three years," Kinniry suggested.

3. Intervene with bad drivers promptly. Fleets that have succeeded in raising their safety performance are those that have responded quickly and consistently to bad driving behavior. "Consequences can range from being required to take additional driver safety lessons, to restrictions on driving privileges, suspension or termination," according to Kinniry.

4. Train and retrain drivers. Fleets with the best safety records typically offer driver safety training, including behind-the-wheel, online, and classroom lessons. Kinniry recommends offering training to all newly hired drivers, and every three years to all fleet drivers.

5. Document all interventions. Keeping detailed records of the ways fleets evaluate and intervene with drivers is key to limiting fleet liability.

6. Create and maintain a safety culture. Drivers need to know that at the highest levels, the organization values safety. Every fleet should have a written safety policy that's easily accessible and on which drivers are tested annually.  Safety messages should be regular and frequent, and safety should be a component of every driver's annual review.

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