Fleet News

Guest opinion: hi-tech road to fleet safety

Jason Francis, managing director of cfc solutions, believes fleet software holds the key to tackling new health and safety issues.

##JasonFrancis--left## 'FOR fleets, 2002 has been the year when safety became a serious issue. Pointing to the multiple airbags and anti-lock braking systems fitted to each of your vehicles when safety is mentioned is no longer enough.

Today, you must be moving rapidly towards having an all-encompassing fleet safety policy.

The impetus for this shift has not come out of altruism. Instead, bodies such as the Health & Safety Executive have signalled their intention to get tougher with fleets. If new corporate manslaughter laws are adopted, we could even see guilty fleet managers and company directors jailed in the event of a driver dying and company negligence being proven.

Interestingly, many experts believe this is not just likely to apply to direct company vehicles but even drivers using their own cars or vans on company business. So even fleets that switch out of company cars will still have a very high level of responsibility.

What does this new emphasis on safety require fleet managers to do on a day-to-day basis? It means not only that they will need a copper-bottomed safety strategy in place – but must also be able to show in an auditable fashion that they have followed this policy to the letter.

In practice, this will have an impact on many fleet operational areas, such as tyres, for example.

Your safety policy may have to include the tread depth at which you replace tyres, but you may also need evidence that this is being enforced by your fast-fit suppliers. You may also need to show that you instruct your drivers to regularly check their tyres for other potential safety problems such as sidewall damage and incorrect inflation.

You will also have to show that your drivers know how to carry out this inspection competently. This whole process will then need to be recorded in a logical fashion. Already you can envisage the paperwork mounting up. The same principles will hold true across all areas of servicing, maintenance and accident repair.

The skills and working conditions of drivers also need to be looked at in a similar fashion and all kinds of difficult decisions made.

Is it safe for a driver to be asked to make appointments that see him or her cover 500 miles in a day? Is it responsible to put a young IT graduate into the 170bhp BMW that your human resources department says is needed to attract staff of his calibre? Does a driver who has had three accidents in 18 months require additional driver training?

Once your safety policy has been drawn up, you need to make sure these guidelines are followed. The question is how to enforce all of this? Fleet departments are already notorious for the amount of paper they generate and process. New safety processes will add to this substantially. Is there a better solution? We believe so. The answer is fleet management software.

For some time, we and other fleet software companies have been forecasting that our products are set to become even more fundamental to successful fleet management as they effectively grow to be processing hubs for a wider variety of fleet data, such as from in-car telematics and road toll beacons.

While the data feed used is more likely to be manual than through a more advanced channel, the new emphasis on safety looks to be a key element in this development. At the most simple level, fleet software will provide an infrastructure for your safety policy. Is your fleet administrator about to mistakenly allocate that powerful BMW to a rookie driver? Then rule sets in the software will flag up that this shouldn't be happening.

Crucially, in the event of a Health and Safety audit or an accident, you will be able to show simply and easily from the software that you have taken a professional, thorough and responsible attitude to safety both at the level of overall policy and when it comes to the finest details.

Experts believe that a number of test cases will soon arise, setting legal precedents about the level of liability to which fleet manager and company directors can be held. When there is a possibility that you could in the near future be in the dock facing serious charges, do you want to find yourself wishing that you had created better records covering your safety policy?'

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