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For years now, fleet managers have devoted their time to how telematics can help them better manage vehicles. And they're right to do so. From vehicle tracking and mpg monitoring to engine diagnostics, telematics can tell fleet managers a lot about their fleet units.

With all the developments in the world of telematics, today many fleet managers also look to telematics for information about their drivers. From idling and unauthorized use to identifying unsafe driving behaviors, telematics data can have a significant impact on how drivers are managed as well. In fact, some say drivers are the single most important factor in realizing the benefits of telematics — and focusing on improved driver performance is essential for maximizing the ROI of a telematics solution.

Of course, any fleet manager who has implemented a telematics program can also tell you the biggest barrier to making the program successful is drivers. They can be resistant — even insubordinate — when it comes to installing devices on their vehicles.

Fortunately, there are ways to gain drivers buy-in. Once organizations achieve this initial success, the door is wide open for fleets to make the most of the telematics data they collect about drivers. Here's how to do both. 

The Importance of Driver Buy-In

When drivers learn telematics devices have been installed on their vehicles, their natural reaction is "Big Brother is watching." Even if drivers aren't doing anything wrong, many can feel like telematics devices act as a punitive measure. Drivers have even been known to tamper with devices or worse, remove them from their vehicles.

The fact is, when companies talk about changing driver behavior to improve safety and efficiency, they're not saying drivers are intentionally doing bad things. For the most part, drivers' intentions are good, but people get into bad habits or just aren't aware. Making this understanding clear to drivers can go a long way toward gaining their approval.

"We were upfront with our drivers about installing the product from the very beginning," said Kris Peterinelli, CTP, Director of Fleet and Pharmacy Logistics, Triad Isotopes, a nationwide nuclear pharmacy. "I know people talk about 'Big Brother' watching, but in reality, we are utilizing this system no differently than how we monitor our workers inside the pharmacy. The people who have always been doing the right things have seen no difference. For those that may have strayed from the operational plan, this has helped them get back on course to meeting the expectations of their work."

Without getting buy-in, drivers will continue to feel like they're being tracked as a punishment — and that can have an impact on morale. Likewise, this attitude makes it difficult to make the most of a telematics solution. "If drivers don't buy in, it's like pushing a wet noodle up a hill," said Joe Runyan, President, Hangers Cleaners, a pickup-and-delivery dry cleaning business in Kansas City. "They will resist it at all opportunities."

The reality is, telematics not only help the companies that purchase them, but they help drivers too. By making benefits to drivers clear, educating drivers on how telematics will be used, and employing buy-in strategies like gamification, competition, and rewards, drivers will buy into — and even get excited about — their company's telematics program.

Shed Light on Driver Benefits

One of the easiest ways to gain driver buy-in is answering a simple question: What's in it for me? Telematics offer a number of benefits to drivers, and making them clear offers a quick route to easing driver concerns and builds excitement about telematics. Benefits to drivers include:

Reduced stress: One major benefit for mobile workers is real-time traffic reports that help them avoid the stress and delays due to weather, congestion, or accidents, and navigate traffic more efficiently and productively while also reducing fuel consumption. The result is increased efficiency for the worker, and better safety and improved service for the customer.

Less blame: Another benefit is providing accurate data in the case of complaints that a driver is driving erratically. One company cited an example of a field service driver who was stopped for speeding, but the telematics solution recorded his speed at under the limit. When the data was presented in court, the ticket was dismissed. "Telematics protects employees far more than penalizes them," said Mark Iverson, P.E., Director of Maintenance, Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County, Calif. "What we have found is that many customer complaints about speeding or damaged caused by district vehicles are false, and we use the information to protect the employees and to reduce our liability claims."

Personal safety: Telematics devices can be programmed to send alerts when a vehicle is ready for maintenance, keeping drivers safe from avoidable breakdowns and keeping vehicles on the road longer and actively productive. Ultimately, this means less hassle for the driver.

Telematics can also increase driver safety when it comes to location. Many mobile workers are dispatched to remote areas and would be difficult to locate in case of emergency. Telematics solve this problem. Even in-town drivers can benefit from visibility. In one instance, a utilities department purchased a telematics solution to monitor where its crews were at all times. If there was a city emergency such as a power outage, the office knew the exact location of each vehicle and whether the crew was in a safe place so power could be re-engaged.

Getting home faster: For drivers who must complete a certain number of jobs in a day, traffic alerts, improved routing, and fewer fuel stops due to improved fuel efficiency can mean getting home to their families earlier.

Making the job easier: Telematics can also help make drivers' jobs easier. "We often get calls from our techs asking who is working near them," said Matt DeVries, Operations Manager, Buist Electric, one of the largest electrical contractors in the state of Michigan. "Guys used to go through the phone list and make calls — a big time waster. Now our techs, who all have iPhones, can use an app to see who's closest in about two seconds. The more your employees understand the benefits for them, the more valuable this tool becomes."

Monetary rewards: Accessing driver behavior data can yield savings on insurance premiums just for keeping a watchful eye on driver behavior. While this is obviously a benefit to the company, it can translate into benefits for drivers too. Companies can then use the money saved on premiums to provide extra privileges or incentive programs for drivers, or even increased wages. For instance, one Emergency Medical Service company was able to offer its employees full-time benefits because of the insurance savings it received from implementing a telematics solution.

Take Education Full Circle

After discussing the benefits of telematics devices to drivers, it's important to take that education full circle and discuss the benefits to the organization as well. Drivers will want to know the company's motivation for making the telematics investment. Without this kind of transparency, drivers are likely to continue to be suspicious. But with it, the likelihood of buy-in increases.

"Employees want to understand the how and why a company makes its business decisions," Peterinelli said. "I believe it is important to let them know that for our operations, we installed telematics to ensure timely delivery to our customers, assist with making safe decisions while operating the vehicle, and to operationally support our objectives around the size of our fleet."

Mary Joyce Ivers, PWLF, CPFP, Fleet and Facilities Manager, City of Ventura, Calif., focuses on the mission of her organization: To support the citizens in the city. "It is important, with any changes, to communicate the information, answer questions, and build trust," she said. "Employees want to do a good job, so seeing this as a beneficial, cost-effective tool is important. We used fuel conservation and safety to promote the positive aspect of the telematics tool to save money and improve our services to the community."

To gain driver buy-in, Ivers and her team met with the SEIU labor management committee and explained the equipment, how it works, and how it benefits the employees and the operating departments. "We included telematics in the City policies for use of city-owned vehicles and issued a memo to the employees on the purpose and use of the telematics," she said.

Bryan Magloire, Supply Chain and Operations Analyst, Southern Wine and Spirits, the nation's largest wine and spirits distributor and broker, focuses on safety when educating drivers about telematics. "The company is obligated to do what's right, but it will be done in a manner that does not create a hostile work environment for the drivers by educating them on what the technology is all about," he said. "Is there a concern about 'Big Brother' watching you? Yes! But you have to put that aside and look at it in the context of safety for the driver and community. And that's why education is key."

DeVries chose to communicate in writing to keep messages clear and focused on the monetary benefits to the company and its employee owners. "When we rolled out our telematics solution, we sent a letter to all our employees stating the benefits (efficiency improvements, safety, fuel economy, and accountability) of a live GPS system and our purpose for doing so," he said. "The letter also described incentives for all company vehicle drivers — namely because we are employee-owned, we all benefit when we are more efficient and more safe."

Use Competition to Your Advantage

After communicating about implementation, it's important to continue to drive buy-in. A little friendly competition is a great way to keep drivers motivated.

For instance, some companies post scorecards on driver behavior where their coworkers can see them. Knowing that results will be public can be a major motivator drivers. But competing against each other can be even more motivating, as drivers will want to perform better for their own gain.

Other companies run contests to see which driver idles the least, follows posted speed limits, and gets the best fuel economy. Then, winners are announced on a monthly or quarterly basis. Competing to be the safest, most efficient driver includes drivers in the benefits of telematics and can result in major improvements in driver behavior and key fleet metrics.

Make a Game of It

Beyond competing to be the best at the end of the month or the quarter, some companies turn driver behavior into a game that drivers can take part in every day they're on the road. For instance, one mobile app creates incentive-based contests around good driver performance. Drivers can compete individually or on teams — whichever management chooses.

As drivers engage in the game, they self-manage their performance. As they drive, the mobile app offers tips and tools to increase their performance.

With every mile driven, players can see their score at a glance and make adjustments as needed. And with every improvement, drivers are safer and companies see increased savings and efficiency.

"We just completed in the first quarter of this year our first ever 'Driver Safety Cup' utilizing a driver performance software program," Peterinelli said. "We focused on safety initiatives around speeding, hard braking, rapid acceleration, and idling. Our main goal of the program was driver safety and accident reduction, but we realized a side benefit was a fairly significant fuel reduction as a result of the changes in driver behavior."

Reward Driver Behavior

In addition to gaining the glory of being the most fuel-efficient driver or the driver who idles the least, some fleets also reward their drivers with more tangible prizes.

For some, bonuses are tied to key metrics so that the driver who consistently observes speed limits, idles the least, or saves the most fuel, can reap monetary rewards for their vigilance. One company gave each driver $35 at the beginning of the month, then let drivers keep it if they stayed in line with the set objectives by the end of the month.

Another fleet took a different approach, in which each week the VP of Operations hung the driver scorecard in the driver room. The top five drivers weren't required to attend their weekly driver refresher training sessions.

Make the Most of Driver Data

Once drivers buy into the benefits of telematics, tracking their performance can yield significant benefits for organizations. "It's created the ability to do a version of the 'ride-along' without having to get in the car all the time," Peterinelli said.

Here are some of the direct benefits of driver data:

Timely driver feedback: Since telematics devices record hard braking, excessive speeding, rapid acceleration, and other risky driving, managers can leverage this data to coach mobile workers on safer driving behavior. Coaching can yield a dramatic reduction in speeding, which helps to reduce crashes and mitigate liability. Coaching drivers can also reduce idling to help control fuel expenditures and reduce carbon emissions. Geofences can then let managers know when drivers leave their approved territory, again offering the opportunity to coach the driver on following the organization's guidelines.

The telematics solution Ivers relies on alerts management when drivers exhibit unsafe driving — and that's when they act. "If a speed alert is sent to the supervisor, safety importance and training is provided to promote safe driving habits," she said. "There were a few instances where the employee went out of the geofence and the supervisor and employee discussed the reasons."

Having these one-on-one conversations can make a major impact on driver behavior. For instance, if telematics data reveals a driver is experiencing a lot of harsh braking occurrences, fleet managers can investigate and resolve the situation before an accident happens. The behavior could be the result of any number of things. But by calling in your drivers individually, showing them the data and discussing it, you have a much better chance of figuring out a solution.

Live driver feedback: While fleet managers can monitor driver behavior remotely, some telematics solutions can identify unsafe driving practices and alert drivers in real time, with warnings right in the vehicle. This in-cab feedback helps drivers become aware of undesirable behaviors and change them on their own — without a supervisor ever being involved or a violation going on record.

For instance, a company could set the system to issue a driver alert if they're more than 5 mph above the speed limit for a certain amount of time. If that limit is exceeded, the driver hears a warning and knows instantly to slow down. The impact is immediate: The driver engages in an undesirable behavior, gets an alert, and in most cases will then change that behavior. It's like having an in-cab coach.

Links to training: As telematics devices gather data that identifies trends in unsafe driving, some systems can link directly from telematics to training. For instance, drivers who consistently exhibit harsh braking would receive an email alert that identifies their behaviors and offers links to online training to learn how to correct the behavior.

Fleet managers can also approach it another way: If they notice a specific trend popping up in a certain region — say excessive idling in certain states — they can deploy training to all drivers in that region.

"We have speeding alerts that are emailed to the team when they exceed the posted speed limit by more than 5 mph," said Matthew Ricketts, President & Chief Experience Officer, Better Life Maids, a professional, green house cleaning company located in St. Louis, Mo. "Over time you see a dramatic decrease in those alerts as the teams become more aware of their speed. Getting speeding alerts in real time has had an immediate impact on our drivers. At first, we just had the speeding alerts delivered to management. Once we started sending the alerts to the teams, as they triggered the alerts, we saw an immediate decline in the amount of alerts we received."

Overall, telematics data allows companies and their managers to act with more confidence. Armed with data, fleet managers no longer guess at what caused the last accident. Instead, they understand what could cause the next one and then take the appropriate steps to avoid it.

Put It in Writing

Just as important as it is to act on telematics data, it's also important to document policies and processes for how to act on it. Every company that invests in a telematics solution is

going to have access to the same incredibly powerful data, but it comes down to what you do with the data that separates the most successful fleets from the rest. Without policies and processes in place to put the data to work, data goes to waste.

"Before telematics, we had no way to enforce our policy on regular basis," Iverson said. "It was just by occasion when someone witnessed the infraction that we could act on it. Without policies and processes in place, employees would not know what the expectations and requirements for their behavior are. Also, without a formal policy, it would be almost impossible to discipline an employee." 

The first step Peterinelli took was to familiarize drivers with how telematics would be used. "All drivers signed documentation stating that they understood we had placed the devices in the cars and would be monitoring the vehicle and their actions," Peterinelli said. "Any new-hire driver signs this document going forward as part of the onboarding process. A consistent process is the key. The policies need to be enforced, and therefore they need to be consistently monitored. Everyone knows the rules going in."

Ricketts said that having processes in place has helped drivers self-monitor their behavior. "When you define expectations in advance you have a measuring point," he said. "Without policies or set processes, too much is left to the discretion of your employees. We train our staff on best practices while using the system, what to expect as far as feedback from us, and it seems to pay off with the need for minimal corrective coaching."

Beyond educating drivers, having policies and processes in place also offers important protection to the companies who employ telematics devices. With so much data on unsafe driving practices on hand, it's important for companies to demonstrate they actually do something about it and don't simply let unsafe driving practices go unnoticed. Policies and processes prove companies are doing their due diligence in the arena of safe driving.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet