Making plans: How fleets should prepare for Covid-level events in the future
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has led to fleet uncertainty. Martyn Collins speaks to the experts to ask what strategies should be put in place to be better prepared for future ‘Covid-level’ events, should the worst happen….
Despite the warnings from the end of 2019, no one could have predicted how quickly the Covid pandemic took hold in the UK, eventually leading to the first lockdown beginning on 23 March 2020. With only essential travel encouraged, many fleets stayed idle for months, as employees adapted to working from home.
The UK’s fleet management and leasing firms were very quick to respond, offering car and van contract extensions, plus working to mitigate charges that were still accruing whilst the fleet remained idle, and continuing service provision for customers despite highly challenging conditions.
This meant that fleets and operations were far better prepared for the two further lockdowns that followed, including the longest national lockdown at the start of this year.
But with restrictions now lifted, now is the time for fleets to take stock on what has happened and ask what strategies should be put in place if there is another pandemic. We asked key people in the industry their thoughts and what changes should be implemented to be better prepared.
Digitise your paperwork
Now, more than ever, it’s important that fleet managers have access to fleet services online. And many providers we spoke to say they have seen an increase in customers asking for this, due in part to a rising expectation from drivers that all their paperwork should be in one central place.
Paul Hollick, chair, Association of Fleet Professionals, tells us: “Because of the increase in remote working, it is essential to digitise your risk management programme as much as possible so that all the key elements are available online across your organisation. Paper-intensive activity doesn’t work in the post-Covid context. This could include documents such as e-consent mandates, for example.”
Peter Golding, managing director, FleetCheck, adds: “From our point of view as a fleet management software provider, the big shifts in risk management following the pandemic are all centred around remote working and changing mileage. This means that businesses need to ensure they have processes in place that enable them to monitor cars and vans, drivers and activity that they rarely or even never see. This presents a real duty of care challenge.
“A good example of this is vehicle safety checks, whether detailed commercial vehicle inspections or relatively simple car walkarounds. These need to be completed from a risk management perspective but many fleets previously carried them out using paper-based systems, which are not fit for purpose in the new normal. We’ve seen a big upsurge in the use of our vehicle inspection app as a result, which completely digitalises the process.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, with many innovations having introduced rapidly during the pandemic to reduce previous paper operations.
Licence Check general manager Terry Hiles says: “We are committed to improving driver risk management and processes through our primary award-winning platform DAVIS (Driver and Vehicle Management Solution).
“Our first objective during lockdown was to ensure that all services continued to operate uninterrupted. Many of our customers were involved in the provision of emergency and essential transport and were faced with the challenges of recruiting additional drivers, both professional and voluntary, whilst still observing essential duty of care obligations.
“That meant we had to adapt our processes and issued guidance using emails and blogs on the website to promote social distancing, whilst still ensuring that our customers observed the DVLA and wider data protection rules for collecting and processing personal driver data.
“We developed our recently launched SMS-based E-Approval driver permission method to specifically cope with the problems posed to drivers by restricted access to their workplace, as it provides a remote option to secure permission from drivers to check their licences without breaking social distancing rules using their smartphone.”
SMS E-Approval uses SMS text messaging to converse with the driver and gives an instant response with fewer steps and without the driver needing to be present. At the time, this cut physical interaction during social distancing rules, but we’re told it will remain in place as it uses widely available technology.
Engage with your drivers
Safety and fleet risk management programmes remain essential for reducing accidents, staying legally compliant and avoiding fines, as we move to a new future living with Covid.
Drivers will not have driven as regularly as before; in fact many fleets have reported a reduction in accidents – because of the lockdowns and changes to working – which they hope to maintain. So, it is important that companies communicate a return to driving safely message.
On a more personal level, the changes to working pressures over the pandemic may have had a negative effect on your drivers’ mental health. The AFP’s Paul Hollick says: “Remote working can be isolating and the impact on employees can be profound, creating a greater probability of accidents. This is a risk that needs to be managed in a proactive manner.”
Terry Hiles continues: “At least one in four road accidents involve people who are driving for work related purposes. Accidents do happen – often when least expected. It’s vital that companies have the correct procedures in place to protect them should the worst happen – regardless of the type of vehicle being driven to ensure that questions of insurance cover or health and safety investigations don’t exacerbate an already difficult situation.”
So, every business driver should be assessed for risk, with additional consideration given to driver behaviour via telematics and driver attitude and aptitude via assessment results and their incident accident history.
Paul Hollick sums up the interaction with drivers perfectly: “With more employees working from home, there is a possibility that they will now see themselves as ‘non-drivers’ in a corporate sense, even though they will still drive on business at some point. They need to remain engaged in your safety programmes.”
New mileage trends
With periods of lockdown, plus the move to digital rather than face-to-face meetings, fleets are likely to have unused mileage in contracts, leading to extended lease cycles; another area that needs to be taken into account.
Peter Golding tells us: “Some fleets are obviously covering many fewer miles but there are others, involved in delivering essential services, who are covering more. Each situation creates risk management demands, especially in terms of ensuring that servicing and maintenance are being completed to the necessary degree. Fleets must ensure that safety standards are being properly maintained in this respect, and this may mean new approaches in terms of using technology to identify the vehicles that are most vulnerable to failure.”
Special measures for EVs?
The move to zero-emission fleets has sped up in the pandemic, with the ban on the sale of ICE powered vehicles in 2030 looming closer, while beneficial Benefit-in-Kind figures and an increased number of models are available. It’s something that should be accommodated in policies.
Geoffrey Bray, Fleet Service GB’s chairman, says: “The company should ensure that as part of its vehicle policy, there is an individual within the company who understands all aspects of introducing electric vehicles into the fleet. Providing a new electric vehicle to a fleet driver who has no previous experience must be supported by an individual ‘driver introduction’ electric vehicle training programme.”
The speed of change from drivers being at the wheel of a diesel car to an EV has been extraordinary, with many drivers taking delivery of an EV without any knowledge of how to get the most from one. Andy Wheeler, TTC Group head of technical delivery, says: “Issuing drivers with an EV without some form of training is not advisable as they are extremely fast and need a different mindset to drive than a typical petrol or diesel car. A fleet-wide policy on electric car and van driving should be in place to maintain a company’s commitment to Duty of Care. This is why our Electric Aware course was launched.”
These suggestions from the industry professionals that we spoke to are just that – suggestions. As it is important to remember that the effects of the pandemic haven’t yet been fully realised by fleet. The general consensus is that this will be in another 12 months. Still, now is the time to take stock and reassess.