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The Insider: Close for Comfort

By / 1 year ago / Comment / No Comments

The Insider seeks feedback from his drivers and wonders if there really is a substitute for on-road training.

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“The popular fleet view is that one puts drivers through an on-line assessment with practical interventions where required.”

It’s amazing the difference a subtle change in reporting lines can make in successfully implementing policy changes and cost savings. Recent networking with a fellow fleet manager revealed they now report directly to a company Board member.

With a well-run executive board which meets regularly, new policies are proposed, and quickly implemented because the decision-makers can see the benefits across the whole business. As someone who formerly felt they were working alone in the wilderness, it has enriched their personal motivation, as well as saving the company money, so everybody wins. If only more companies took that view, instead of relegating their second-largest expenditure to a keen petrolhead with part-time responsibility for fleet or worse, outsource it altogether and retain no in-house expertise.

A fresh set of eyes often reveal practical and cost-saving opportunities not necessarily obvious when one is close to the issues on a daily basis. Whilst one takes pride in running a well-managed fleet, wouldn’t it be great if we could trade places with our fleet manager contacts and cast an eye over each other’s fleets for a day or two to seek out new ideas?

I recently attempted the ‘fresh pair of eyes’ approach by involving a cross-section of our drivers in investigating a new project; or at least, I tried to. I figured that as they were the people out on the road using the vehicles, they should have valuable insight into what may or may not work. Note the ‘may not’ – we wanted to introduce something which was likely to be considered controversial and therefore sought honest feedback from the affected population.

I am not wholly convinced about the claimed cost-savings, and the supplier’s proffered trial would have proven whether or not it was worth pursuing. But if it does work, there are material and wellbeing savings to be had for the drivers as well as the company. What I found instead was that too few drivers were willing to voice their opinion because they were concerned about peer pressure, should they recommend a course with which others disagreed. This is disappointing, because I’m aware other companies set up focus groups which include the end user, with some success. As it is, if the project goes live, all we will get is grumpiness and “well we never wanted it anyway”. Not conducive to a great working atmosphere but one must move forward.

And finally for this month, I share with you the relief that I ended the period with the same number of drivers as I started, despite the efforts of a foreign registered left-hand drive lorry. A driver I never hear from between cart changes, who drives big mileage, doesn’t get tickets and has performed impeccably in any kind of on line or practical driving application thrown at him, was sideswiped by a lorry as he was passing it in narrow lanes of roadworks on Britain’s oldest motorway. The lorry driver didn’t notice, and broadsided the car some yards along the road, finally knocking it up the embankment where it rolled over and came to rest. The car – a Honda as it happens – held up remarkably well and our driver escaped unscathed except for bruising. He only knows what happened because a following witness told him. When the airbags went off he couldn’t see anything and was along for the ride.

We pulled him from work for a few days in case of delayed effects and also decide whether to put him through a further driving assessment. Less than a week later, a similar thing happened to him again, only this time the lorry driver immediately felt an impact and the resulting damage was superficial, and very fortunately again no physical damage to the driver.

The popular fleet view is that one puts drivers through an on-line assessment with practical interventions where required. The two incidents described above are of a type rare on our fleet, and the risk profile for the specific driver low. Now, I am left with the feeling that we need to be doing more to equip our drivers, and that perhaps there is a case for practical on-road advanced training after all.

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