There are three ways to make your fleet safer: choosing safe vehicles, screening company drivers, and setting policies for the safe use of company vehicles.
Choosing Safer Vehicles
Some of the factors that affect vehicle safety include:
- Vehicle size: In general, the larger the vehicle, the safer. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, “in relation to their numbers on the road, small cars account for more than twice as many deaths as large cars….Vans and standard-size pickups generally have the low death, injury, and collision claims results associated with large vehicles.” The IIHS defines large vehicles as those with a wheel base of 110 or more inches.
Many companies are concerned with fuel economy. But buying larger cars doesn’t necessarily mean you will spend more for fuel. A vehicle’s size (its exterior dimensions) has more of an effect on its safety performance than its weight, which directly affects fuel consumption.
- Vehicle design: Designs that incorporate strong occupant compartments (“safety cages”) and “crumple zones” in the front and rear help protect drivers and passengers by deflecting crash forces away from the occupants. Other things to look for include side-impact protection, which usually consists of energy-
absorbing padding inside car doors and side guard beams; head restraints high enough to support the heads of taller occupants; anti-lock brakes (which help prevent brakes from locking in slippery conditions, but provide no improvement in braking in dry conditions); and daytime running lights.
Crashworthiness affects not only occupant safety, it can also affect your insurance costs. Insurers factor the cost of paying injury claims into auto insurance rates, and safer cars result in fewer injury claims. People who select safer types of cars might also be more careful drivers. Selecting a car with a higher safety rating can reduce your insurance costs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a site called SaferCar.gov that allows users to search its 5-Star Safety Ratings for vehicles by make and model, locate car seat installation help, file a vehicle safety complaint, find recall information and subscribe to automatic notices about vehicle recalls.
Consumers can also find safety information on new car models at other sites. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety provides crashworthiness test information by make and model at www.iihs.org/ratings/default.aspx. Consumer Reports also provides safety information at its site, www.consumerreports.org. (Some information available to non-subscribers for no charge, but access to full reports requires a subscription.)
- Lap/shoulder belts: All new passenger vehicles have safety belts. Look for lap/shoulder belts that are comfortable, since they’re more likely to be worn. Other things to look for include “automatic crash tensioners” and “webbing grabbers,” which reduce an occupant’s forward movement in a crash.
- Air bags: We strongly recommend buying cars that have both front and side-impact air bags. Some models also have “curtain” airbags, to protect occupants in case of a rollover.
- “Smart” features: Experts estimate at least 90 percent of all auto accidents result from driver error rather than mechanical failure. Although the truly driverless car isn’t available to the public — yet — many cars today have smart features that can help drivers avoid accidents. These features can warn drivers of upcoming dangers and may take partial control of the vehicle.
Smart features available on some models include electronic stability control, lane departure warning systems, and forward collision warning systems. Electronic stability control systems detect when the vehicle is losing traction and use automatic braking of individual wheels to prevent the vehicle from skidding. ESC cannot increase the available traction, but maximizes the possibility of keeping the vehicle under control and on the road during extreme maneuvers. Lane departure systems monitor lane markings and warn drivers that their vehicle is unintentionally drifting out of the lane. Forward collision warning systems use radar to track the position of vehicles in the forward pathway. They use algorithms including speed and distance to alert the driver when the possibility of a crash arises. This can help the driver react in time to prevent a crash. Systems can also include automatic cruise control and braking functions to help avoid accidents.
According to the IIHS, a study of California drivers with two convictions during a three-year period “were more than twice as likely to crash during the next three years as drivers with no [moving-vehicle] convictions. Drivers with three crashes on their records were more than three times as likely to crash.” Before hiring employees whose job duties include driving, obtain a copy of their driving record.
Setting Safety Rules
Before allowing employees to use company vehicles, provide them with a list of rules for safe vehicle operation. Your rules should state:
- Drivers must obey traffic laws, including speed limits.
- Drivers and occupants must wear safety belts at all times.
- The use of alcohol and other intoxicants, including legally prescribed drugs, is prohibited while driving company cars.
- The use of radar detectors is prohibited while driving company cars.
- Drivers should pull over to the side of the road when using car phones. (You may also equip company cars with phones that offer one-button dialing and hands-free operation.) Check current state law for rules governing cell phone use.
Of course, no rule is effective if it isn’t enforced. Define the penalties for disregarding the company’s fleet safety rules — from suspension of driving privileges to dismissal — and enforce them.