Fleet Safety Management: Why and How to Protect Your Business
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), nearly 5,000 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes in the U.S. in 2020. There were 108,000 such vehicles involved in injury crashes in the same year. The following year, fatal truck accidents spiked by 13 percent to their highest level since 2005.
All of this wreckage can have a devastating effect on the finances of any company with a fleet. Consider the impact of a serious accident in terms of property damage, medical expenses, legal fees, loss of productivity, and raised insurance premiums. A single major accident could cost your operation millions and drive you out of business.
The good news is that your fleet safety management program can help you create a culture of safety that prevents accidents, injuries, deaths, and costly property damage. You can minimize risks in your fleet operations by taking steps to improve driver behavior, safeguard driver health, monitor vehicle maintenance, and ensure regulatory compliance.
Establishing a comprehensive and consistently executed fleet safety management program can not only help you save lives but also enhance the reputation and profitability of your company. Before you plan and optimize your program, it’s essential to understand the leading threats to fleet safety.
Understanding key fleet safety challenges
As you focus on fleet safety management, keep in mind that most accidents and other safety incidents revolve around several common behaviors:
According to the Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2020 provided by the FMCSA, there was at least one driver-related factor recorded for 32 percent of fatal crashes involving a large truck. The most common driver-related factor was speeding, which outpaced driver impairments such as fatigue, alcohol consumption, and illness.
The FCMSA’s data for 2018-2020 on fatal crashes involving large trucks raises a compelling point. Twenty percent of the crashes occurred in areas with a posted speed limit of 60 to 65 miles per hour, while another 20 percent happened in speed limits of 70 to 75 miles per hour. But 32 percent occurred where the speed limit was just 50 to 55 miles per hour, despite the fact that higher-speed crashes are more dangerous and more likely to cause fatalities. One can reasonably conclude that drivers are more likely to exceed a speed limit of 50 or 55 than a higher speed limit, and that this aggressiveness is what makes 50-55 zones the most dangerous places to drive.
The irony is that speeding generally isn’t even worth the effort. One online calculator shows that for a 95-mile trip, driving 80 miles per hour instead of 65 saves just 16 minutes.
Lack of seat belt use
Federal laws have long required commercial truck drivers to wear seat belts. Unfortunately, an estimated 14 percent of CMV drivers still don’t comply. The consequences can be deadly: in 2020, nearly half of all large truck occupants who weren’t wearing a seat belt in a fatal crash died.
But what about the notion that in the event of a bad crash, a driver will be safer if thrown free from the vehicle? It’s a myth. Yes, unbelted drivers are 30 times more likely to be ejected from the vehicle, but 75 percent of them will die from their injuries. A good fleet safety management program can help prevent these tragic and unnecessary losses.
The number of potential distractions for commercial truck drivers continues to increase. Here are the distractions most likely to cause accidents:
- Mobile devices: Phones and tablets encourage drivers to take their eyes off the road, and even a two-second lapse in concentration—driven by the desire to see who just called or read a text message—can lead to a crash. A truck traveling at 55 miles per hour covers 161 feet in two seconds.
- In-cab technology: You’ve probably outfitted your trucks with helpful communication devices and GPS monitors. There’s a purpose to these systems, but also a danger that they’ll distract drivers at the wheel.
- Food and drink: Who hasn’t had the experience of dropping a French fry while driving, looking down to see where it landed, and then having to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision?
- External distractions: As your drivers cruise down the interstate, they’ll see roadside attractions, unusual activities, beautiful scenery, and even unique billboards that entice them to take their eyes off the road for seconds at a time.
In one review of National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigations, it was determined that 20 percent of them had identified fatigue as a probable cause or contributing factor. Fatigue slows driver reaction times, which increases the risk of accidents. But it’s not enough to encourage drivers to go to bed earlier the night before their next load. Many drivers get fatigued because their working hours are too long and their deadlines are too demanding. Others struggle with irregular schedules, which can throw off sleep cycles. That’s why fleet safety management programs strive to help drivers mitigate fatigue in ways that also support adherence to hours-of-service regulations.
Poor vehicle maintenance
Among all fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2020, the FMCSA determined that vehicle-related factors affected four percent. This category includes common problems such as tire blowouts and brake failures. Any fleet safety management program should encompass regular vehicle maintenance activities that help prevent mechanical failures to keep trucks safe on the road.
It’s easy to overlook sanitation as an element of fleet safety. But dirty cabs can make drivers sick and impair their driving. A good fleet safety management program will incorporate measures to ensure that the high-touch areas of cabs are as clean as possible. A great starting point is to follow the recommendations of the Technology & Maintenance Council.
How ignoring fleet safety can increase your costs
It’s obvious that ignoring fleet safety increases your risks. It can also hurt your bottom line in several ways:
- Greater fuel consumption: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, aggressive driving can reduce your gas mileage by 15 to 30 percent at highway speeds. Managing fleet safety involves implementing measures to keep drivers within the speed limit, which will also help reduce your overall fuel costs.
- Higher maintenance costs: Repairs always cost more than preventive maintenance in the long run. Although your fleet safety management program will primarily strive to protect drivers by keeping their vehicles running optimally, it can also reduce the need for costly repairs.
- Fewer insurance claims and less litigation: Every truck accident will require you to file a claim with your insurance company, which will likely raise your rates. And if there are other drivers involved, expect there to be legal repercussions, which can run into the tens of thousands or even millions of dollars depending on the nature of the accident.
How a fleet safety management program can help
A fleet safety management program that uses cameras and a powerful telematics solution as its foundation can help you overcome the issues we’ve described by:
- Monitoring driver speeds to ensure safe, fuel-efficient driving.
- Providing visual confirmation that your drivers are wearing seat belts and avoiding distractions while driving.
- Allowing you to intervene immediately when drivers become sleepy at the wheel.
- Helping you monitor vehicle health and schedule preventive maintenance at precisely the right times.
Schedule a call with our team to learn more about how Gridline can support a fleet safety management program.