Technology will form the bedrock of the future battle to cut road accidents, according to fleet experts from leasing and insurance.
However, technology in isolation will not prevent drivers crashing vehicles; it has to be used to inform a cohesive risk management and incident reduction plan with buy-in from across the company.
Achieve this and you can expect to not only see a reduction in crashes, but a reduction in insurance premiums – a double-whammy saving.
In addition, in some instances insurers will even part-fund investment into crash-reduction technology.
The consensus among fleet professionals is that telematics offers the biggest opportunity with its ability to provide specific information about a driver’s behaviour.
Bernel Meyers, senior risk consultant at insurance company Zurich, says: “Basically, there needs to be far more uptake of telematics in fleets. Large goods vehicles will routinely use telematics either installed by the manufacturer or as an aftermarket option, and fleets operating cars and vans need to do the same with data relating to safety being properly analysed.
“In-vehicle cameras also seem to be increasingly coming into favour. I think that we’re missing an opportunity to
make the most of this type of technology currently, but this should change.”
Oliver Boots, head of product services at LeasePlan, urges fleets relying on driver training to understand the importance of correct implementation.
“Fleet operators are increasingly using data from telematics to deliver training to the individuals or driver groups that need it most,” Boots says.
“Telemetry data is often most useful for high-mileage fleets where significant analysis may be required to best establish training needs.”
When telematics is used in conjunction with other emerging technologies, such as in-vehicle cameras, its potential to improve drivers’ behaviour becomes even greater.
Steve Shirley, commercial motor risk manager at insurance company Aviva, also believes that telematics with in-cab cameras will be of “increasing importance”.
“Telematics combined with in-vehicle camera systems has the potential to make a real difference to driver behaviour in the future,” he says.
“The drivers are in no doubt that they’re being monitored and are likely to take greater care.
“But, as ever, it comes back to how the information that’s gathered from the technology is subsequently used by the fleet manager.”
Malcolm Roberts, fleet services manager at Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions, said fleets should use “all the tools” at their disposal to minimise accidents.
“It’s not only going to be driver training that will feature – but that’ll still be a major component that’s increasingly shaped by telematics.
“It’ll be a case of gathering as much data as possible and then acting on it.”
Improving driver behaviour
Studies suggest that up to 95% of all at-work road incidents are caused either wholly or partly by employees’ actions. The remaining 5% are down to mechanical failure, vehicle defects or uncontrollable events such as falling trees.
So, what can be done to improve driver behaviour?
Phrases such as ‘effective communication’ between employees and an ‘engaged management team’ that’s ‘committed to cutting accidents’ are heard regularly in any discussion of this topic.
Meyers adds: “To make drivers more responsible, companies should, in the first instance, have robust policies and procedures in place concerning safe driving and a safe fleet.
“Their line management should understand their roles and responsibilities and be proactively implementing the policies to ensure they are looking after the health, safety and welfare of their teams.
“They should also have a robust education and communication programme in place, which includes a driver’s
understanding of what’s required of them in relation to the fleet policies and procedures.”
Roberts adds that effective communication involves total clarity when it comes to the impact of crashes.
He says: “To my mind, discussions about the true cost of accidents should be explained at an employee’s annual review.
“By talking through the real costs that are involved – including repair, lost business and increased insurance premiums – employees are likely to become more engaged.
“I think that this is far more positive than adopting punitive measures like fining employees who have two at-fault crashes.”
Chris Chandler, a senior consultant at Lex Autolease, believes fleets should consider actively rewarding good drivers. He also extols the merits of establishing “a total safety culture” within an organisation.
“For many organisations, it becomes clear to employees that this is important if prominent display within their workplace is given to the number of accident-free days that have been enjoyed,” says Chandler.
“Then, when someone has a crash, they’re fully aware that they’re responsible for affecting that tally.
“I also think that for some organisations it’s even worth considering rewarding accident-free periods in some way, possibly with shopping vouchers, in order to incentivise the whole process.
“This investment is often recouped through savings made on wear and tear on the vehicle.”
When it comes to minimising accidents, many organisations continue to place strong emphasis on driver training.
But the consensus is that this training needs to be shaped by specific requirements if drivers are to be properly engaged.
Meyers advises fleets to use training as part of a risk management package.
“The better driver education programmes will be risk-based according to individual requirements and not a one-size-fits-all approach,” she adds.
While it’s widely accepted that telematics is going to have an increasing importance when it comes to accident minimisation, the onus remains on fleet managers to monitor the data to identify those drivers with training requirements.
Doug Jenkins, global risk consulting service coordinator at insurance company AXA, says: “The biggest influence on a driver’s behaviour is their line manager. Telematics systems tell a line manager how a vehicle is being driven and once this information has been collated, it’s down to the fleet manager to find out exactly what the cause of this behaviour is.
“It might be that someone is consistently speeding and, as a result of talking to them, you realise it’s because they’ve got too much work on,” says Jenkins.
Shirley adds: “I’m getting asked regularly whether companies will see their insurance premiums reduced if they use different types of technology.
“At the moment, we determine premiums according to the number of previous claims a company has had.
“Consequently, if a fleet uses a new technology that helps drive down crashes then, ultimately, that will save them money on their premiums.”
Meyers adds that some insurers are willing to reduce premiums for fleets if technology is deployed.
“Any support is likely to be dependent on the relationship between the insurer and the insured,” he says.
“Procedures which help control claims costs also add weight to the argument for premium reduction.
“But the introduction and use of technology such as telematics, along with proactive management of the data emanating from this technology, will allow businesses to achieve savings in terms of fuel cost, vehicle maintenance costs and better vehicle utilisation.”
Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking are becoming more common in new cars.
Chandler said that these technological developments are doing much to cut at-work crashes. “In 2012, around 1,700 people lost their lives on British roads - down from around 3,000 a decade ago,” he says.
“Over the past 10 years, the availability of ADAS in addition to other developments like airbags and side impact protection systems have really made a difference.”
Shirley adds: “Our advice to fleet managers when they are selecting vehicles is to consider fully what their drivers need to ensure their safety.
“If driver assistance systems ultimately result in a decrease in crashes then that will be reflected in that fleet’s insurance premiums,” he says.
Post accident review groups are also perceived to be an important way for organisations to get to “the root cause” of the collision.
AXA’s Jenkins concluded: “If an organisation has individuals with the right credentials in place to lead these groups, then I think that they are very useful.”