Accidents involving vehicles are an accepted part of running a fleet. Often they are minor, but occasionally they are serious and the human tragedy puts into context any problems caused by damaged vehicles.
However, those issues still need to be dealt with by fleet operators and can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds from a combination of insurance claims, lost productivity and administration.
It is an area of business that cannot be ignored – and rightly so.
According to road safety charity Brake, at-work drivers have crash rates that are up to 40% higher than those of other drivers, with roughly one-third of all company cars on the road involved in a crash every year.
Katie Shephard, acting general manager at Brake, says: “In a recent survey, Brake found that in addition to clocking up more miles than other drivers, people driving for work are more likely to take life-threatening risks such as speeding or talking on a mobile phone while driving.
“This behaviour makes at-work drivers an extremely high risk group.”
Research by Total Accident Management in May shows that the most common causes of accidents are hitting the rear of another vehicle, glass damage and collision with an object.
Caroline Scurr, campaign director for Driving for Better Business, says: “Reducing the number of crashes involving at-work drivers is proven to save thousands and, in the case of large fleets, millions of pounds. In addition, cutting the carnage improves business efficiency and an organisation’s image.”
Another factor affecting accident rates that is steadily increasing is drivers’ attitude to taking risks on the road.
Peter Eldridge, head of operations at Inchcape Fleet Solutions, says: “The reality is vehicles are very sophisticated and drivers don’t tend to carry out routine checks in the same way they used to.
“People are over-reliant on technology. But you’d like to think if there is any element of driver
ownership then the drivers should take more care of checking the vehicle before they drive.”
As cars have become more technologically sound the time between recommended service intervals has also increased, in some instances up to as much as two years or the equivalent milage.
“If drivers don’t check the car until it is due for service, then potential for an increased risk goes up,” says Eldridge.
“We recommend a fleet’s policy includes that if they don’t check the car themselves that they have it checked out at a garage.
"At the end of the day, the driver is still legally obliged to ensure the vehicle is in a safe condition to drive.”
Meanwhile, the recession and in turn the downsizing of businesses has had its own impact.
“You have to look at the usage of the vehicle – how many hours does the driver spend behind the wheel? Lately, many businesses have been ‘right-sizing’ themselves and often drivers are carrying out a full day’s work and then driving long distances, thus increasing the risk of accidents,” says Eldridge.
He also believes a robust vehicle policy is paramount for companies tackling their incident rates.
“The main issue with accident management is that there has to be a strong business culture in terms of vehicle policy,” he says.
“All businesses must make sure their policy covers key elements, such as the use of mobile phones while driving.
“I’m sure most fleets cover the correct elements, but it’s not always as robust as it could be.
Accidents are an expensive business. In 2000 the Health and Safety Executive estimated the costs to employers from “at-work” road traffic accidents to be in the region of £2.7 billion per annum.
And more recent research from Fleet Support Group shows that for every fleet driver involved in an accident, the employer will have to sell more than £22,000 of products or services to cover the costs.
Meanwhile, the excess levels that insurance companies impose on fleets means that when accidents do occur, insurers rarely get involved.
Eldridge says: “Most insurers suggest that one incident costs around £1,000, not including third-party costs. It usually transpires that a fleet will pay for 60-70% of incidents its drivers are involved in.”
It is imperative for companies to track the amount of money they are spending on incidents, to allow them to prioritise training needs.
As well as any cost involved in repairing the vehicle, a fleet also faces a larger overall bill.
Fleet Support Group estimates that every accident costs at least three times more than the cost of repairing that vehicle.
Another factor affecting cost is the downtime as a result of an accident. Though this varies, on average it is seven days loss of use per vehicle.
“This is unnecessary expense for fleets because if there was no accident in the first place then there wouldn’t be any days gone,” concludes Eldridge.
Across the industry it is generally seen that a combination of risk management tactics and employing an accident management firm will bring the most effective results when dealing with fleet risks.
Risk management can be divided into three sectors: compliance, employees’ safety and saving money.
Simon Elstow, head of training and operations
at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, says: “Companies need to focus on all three of these to get the best results. With compliance, firms need to look at their health and safety policies, the Corporate Manslaughter Act and their stance on corporate social responsibility.