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Do your duty

Date: 25 February 2016   |   Author:

Having to fulfil duty of care responsibilities when running a fleet might seem like a distraction from the core role of issuing, maintaining and replacing company cars, but rather than being viewed as a chore, it should be considered potentially the most important aspect of the job.

"Driving is probably the most dangerous activity that any employee has to do during their working day," says Steve Arscott, sales director at mobile workforce management service Romex.

Of course, it goes without saying what the worst-case scenarios might entail, but alongside that there is also the prospect of the company facing sanctions. But fleets can do much to protect their drivers; moves that can also improve their bottom line.

"The first thing fleets should do is make sure that everybody in the business knows what their duty of care responsibilities are and why," says Selwyn Cooper, Volvo's head of business sales. The key is to ensure directors and managers understand the potential risks of running a fleet, and that they could be held liable if obligations are not met.

"The fleet manager is responsible for the vehicles not the drivers - the duty of care lies with the directors of the company," says Adrian Walsh, who directs the Driving for Better Business safety campaign. However, fleet managers have a role to play, he adds, while drivers must be reminded of the importance of safe driving.

As persistent bad drivers may need to be disciplined, Cooper says "it is essential that an employer can prove that policies were in place and were communicated well".

Following on from this, checking drivers' licences is another key responsibility. "Are they legal drivers?" asks David Richards, head of marketing at fleet risk management service provider AA Drive Tech, who continues: "Let's make sure they have a licence suitable for the work they do."

Similarly, Arscott points out that managers need to ensure that they are aware of the challenges facing their drivers daily, with policies that cover all scenarios they could encounter. Another important consideration is keeping track of employees' entitlement to drive; many of motorists have a high number of points on their licence, which could potentially invalidate fleet insurance policies, Cooper warns.

The employer's responsibility extends to overseeing vehicles used on business, even if these are sourced through salary-sacrifice schemes, he adds: "The employer is ultimately responsible for whether the vehicle is correctly insured, taxed and maintained. While it is being used on company business, the company is responsible for its legality and safe operation."

With grey fleet vehicles, employers should ask to see drivers' insurance certificates to check they are covered for business use, continues Cooper. Random vehicle condition checks "to keep drivers on their toes" are also wise, he adds. Meanwhile, Walsh, of Driving for Better Business, dissuades fleet managers from allowing staff to use grey fleet vehicles for business trips at all: "You have to try and avoid people using their own cars on company business because they're too difficult to control".

Driver training should boost all drivers' safety, claims AA Drive Tech's Richards, providing greater observation skills and increasing concentration levels. "With driving quality it's more about the attitude and behaviour of the driver, so we don't teach people how to drive: we work on what stresses they are under, distractions like mobile phones, and whether they're in demand to talk to managers at all times."

Addressing such in-car distractions is key to fulfilling duty of care requirements, claims Adrian Bewley, head of business rental at daily rental firm Enterprise, who adds: "I think the distractions are going to get greater. Education is the only option for fleet managers."

Arscott claims that while 30% of collisions are currently down to speeding, 26% are down to driver distraction, which is set to overtake speeding as the number one cause in 2016.

But as well as being a potential source of distraction, technology is also playing an increasing role in boosting compliance and safety. "There are apps that recognise that you are the driver and cut your phone off, and that recognise fatigue in long-distance drivers, and all this can be managed through technology and existing smartphones", he continue. 

Apps installed on company smartphones also offer much greater scope for monitoring driver safety with salary sacrifice and grey fleet drivers, Arscott adds.

Walsh sees a very easy way of improving safety through fleets procuring the safest cars: "They need to be Euro NCAP five-star with AEB [autonomous emergency braking]. That's dead simple."

Other safety systems also have a key role to play, says Volvo's Cooper: "Blind-spot information systems and even the humble parking sensor have been proved to dramatically reduce collisions and vehicle damage costs to fleets."

A surefire way to improve safety, though, is by reducing the amount of car journeys taken, says Walsh. "People should only drive when necessary. The less driving you do, the less risk there is - and businesses save a huge amount of money."

A good business travel checklist starts with establishing whether journeys are necessary and whether employees have the best car for the job - "the safest, most fuel-efficient vehicle", Walsh adds. Making sure that management takes an interest in driver fatigue and mobile phone policies is also important, as is establishing that drivers are fit and qualified to drive. However, according to Walsh, "the most important thing is that the driver's environment is safe to operate in - and that's the best way of saving money and complying with duty of care."