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GUEST OPINION: Driving the Driver

Date: 06 August 2009

Are fleets neglecting the most important piece of safety and economy equipment - the driver? Encouraging the right driver behaviour will save UK plc millions of pounds argues Robert Kingdom, head of marketing at Masterlease

The 2009 Budget introduced more layers of confusion for fleet managers whose collective brains have become as taxed as vehicles with emissions greater than 225g/km.

There are now five more VED bands - more than doubling the current number - with the promise of more to come in 2010.

However, although it is important to focus upon the environmental and cost output of fleet vehicles, lip service has been paid to the most sophisticated technology of all - the driver.

'Driving the Driver' should become the mantra for corporates with large fleets seeking to unleash the full potential of their people to cut carbon and costs. This is based upon encouraging the right behaviours for the right reasons to get the right results. It is an engagement, empowerment and educational journey that can save UK plc millions of pounds in terms of less wear and tear on the vehicles, fewer at-fault accidents, reduced fuel and emissions and greater RV for the car at the end of its lease life.

Driver training goes a way towards giving an element of control upon those aspects, by focussing the ability of the driver to undertake their role in a safe and efficient way, but what we can do in addition is to motivate the person at the wheel to drive their vehicle in a particular style.

Motivating employees is a process of supplying incentives that will encourage, inspire, cultivate and influence individuals to act in a desired way to achieve specific goals. Motivation cannot force employees to work safely, but the provision of a work environment where employees can drive safely, comfortably and in conformity with company procedures and policies will make a difference.

And therein lies the concern. For many operators, the decisive factors in the choice of vehicle are more focussed upon the ability of the vehicle to do the job and how much it can carry. This is not to diminish the importance of these factors, but the input of the driver into the decision-making process is equally important.

Gaining the buy-in of your drivers is often difficult, but many of the initiatives suggested below can bring benefit to drivers and employers alike. Simple cost-negligible approaches such as driver "clinics" being part of the vehicle specification or procurement process, or by offering incentive programmes as part of a cost-awareness mindset (drive efficiently, save fuel, gain financial incentives) can liberate business savings. These will enhance pride, professionalism and recognition.

Any incentive criteria should be developed and applied on a consistent basis to achieve maximum benefits. Criteria could include length of time/mileage accrued without accidents, perhaps a penalty for "at fault" crunches, or fuel economy figures produced on a monthly mileage basis. If appropriate, a league table could be generated to establish a sense of friendly, internal competition, the winner of which receives a suitable token of the management's appreciation, rather than a cash incentive as companies should not be in the business of paying drivers to do what they should already be doing.

The benefit to businesses is simple. By establishing a work environment built upon a sense of achievement, recognition, group decision making, job enjoyment and opportunities for growth and advancement, employees will respond in a favourable way, improving both the safety record of the company, its fuel costs, maintenance bills, and ultimately improve its bottom line.