Six-Point Fleet Playbook
By Mark Boada
The pandemic is the most recent example of the need to update procedures and policies documents. Five others include residual personal data in vehicle digital memory when vehicles are remarketed; legalized marijuana; using fleet vehicles for second jobs; carrying weapons; and using cell phones for calls and texting.
Estimates of Fleet Policies in Place
Pandemics - 0-1%
Data Clearing - 0-10%
Legalized Marijuana - 10-30%
Using Fleet Vehicles for Second Jobs - 10-60%
Carrying Weapons - 30-80%
Cell Phone Conversations and Texting - 50-95%
Government health agencies abroad and in North America quickly released guidelines on how to minimize transmission, including the shutdown of nonessential businesses, social distancing, frequent handwashing, the sanitizing of touched surfaces, and the wearing of masks and personal protective equipment.
While some fleets and vehicles fell under the nonessential business directive, many have been required to continue operation, largely in the government sector and in the food, fuel, healthcare, delivery and limited retail sectors of the economy. As a result, they’ve been forced to adopt procedures on the fly that have yet to be specified in their polices.
Who is responsible for sanitizing shared vehicles, how often and when? Best practices include sanitizing after every use and before and after a vehicle is brought in for maintenance and repair (by the user in both cases when the repair is outsourced, and by the user and fleet shop when conducted in-house).
The provision of and requirement to use of gloves, sanitizers, masks and other personal protective equipment for shop personnel, fleet drivers and any family members permitted to drive the vehicle. For example, drivers should be required to wear gloves when refueling their vehicles and to wipe down their fuel card.
Clear instructions of which vehicle surfaces should be sanitized, what kind of liquids should and should not be used for each type of surface, and that excess liquids must be removed from touchscreens. Attention should be paid to all frequently touched surfaces, including the steering wheel, control knobs, touchscreens, sun visors, door handles and seat belts.
Maintenance of idle vehicles, including periodically running engines to prevent the batteries from dying and oil degrading; driving short distances to keep brakes from rusting and tires from developing flat spots, and maintaining correct tire pressure.
2. Data Clearing
Today’s connected cars are technological marvels and allow drivers to link their smartphones with in-vehicle communication and infotainment hardware. Not surprisingly, though, driver and even organizational data remains in these systems’ memories unless deliberately wiped clean. That poses a hazard to both if a vehicle is stolen or falls into the hands of cybercriminals once it’s retired from the fleet and remarketed. Clearly, procedures for deleting all traces of such data need to be established and specified in fleet policies.
3. Legalized Marijuana
As of this writing, medical and/or recreational use of marijuana is legal all across Canada. There are 33 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia that permit medical use and 11 allow recreational use.
Safety is one of fleets’ highest priorities and studies have shown that the bloodstream presence of THC – the active chemical agent in marijuana – raises the risk of a collision. For that reason, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations have zero tolerance for drivers of heavy-duty trucks engaged in interstate commerce and allow for random driver testing.
Non-CDL fleet drivers can also be tested and disciplined for THC, despite state laws legalizing the use of marijuana. While it may be legal to use marijuana off the job, traces of it remain in the bloodstream for long after it is used and can still impair a driver on the job. As the 6th U.S. Court Circuit of Appeals has held, “private employees are not protected from disciplinary action as a result of their use of medical marijuana, nor are private employers required to accommodate the use of medical marijuana in the workplace.”
Some drivers have sought an exemption from company anti-drug policies under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Courts have found, however, that the law doesn’t require employers to allow marijuana use as a reasonable accommodation for someone with a disability, even if that person is a registered medical user with a doctor’s prescription.
Employers are allowed to test all fleet and gray-fleet drivers and take disciplinary action against them, up to dismissal, for any trace of THC in their system. The caveat is that employers have this leeway only if they clearly inform them of the organization’s and fleet’s drug-testing policies, including pre-employment screening, random drug testing, blood levels of THC and consequences. While these are often stated in an organization’s job application and employee handbook, they should also be explicitly spelled out in the fleet policy.
4. Using Fleet Vehicles for Second Jobs
With the rise of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft and the increasing popularity of restaurant and grocery store delivery, there are more opportunities for people to earn extra income by taking a part-time job that involves using a fleet vehicle. Obviously, this raises operating costs, increases vehicle wear and tear and expands the risk of collisions and liability. To protect themselves, fleets need to address whether and to what extent they will allow this kind of use.
5. Carrying Weapons
This issue is more than a decade old, so it may be a surprise that a significant number of fleet policies still don’t address it. Regardless of whether driver is registered to use a weapon to conceal one while carrying it, the common fleet practice is to ban rifles, pistols, knives and other weapons from a vehicle as a way to prevent violence and messy civil and criminal lawsuits. That restriction, however, is seen by some as a violation of a fleet driver’s Second Amendment Constitutional rights. If your fleet policy doesn’t address this issue, it’s past time to talk about it with your HR and legal departments.
6. Cell Phone Conversations and Texting
With all the attention this issue has received from government agencies, safety organizations, fleet trade associations and the media, most fleets seem to have gotten the message and address these behind-the-wheel collision hazards in their policies. But this isn’t simply a question of whether they do address the issue, but how they do as well.
Best practice is to ban using a digital device for any reason while driving. This leaves open, however, whether hands-free use is allowed. Apart from driver use of headphones for conversations and digital assistants for voice-command dialing OEMs are increasingly making hands-free calls easier by providing Bluetooth phone connectivity to vehicles’ loudspeakers. Voice-to-text systems are also available to make texting hands-free.
But with unanimity, the driving safety community advises that even hands-free phone calls pose a significantly higher crash risk than no call, and that, because of their many errors, voice-to-text systems increase crash risk by even more than the factor of 22 times that hand-texting does.
Even when a fleet bans hands-free calls, its policy may be worded in such a way that still leaves it liable to damages. In 2012, a Texas jury found that even though PepsiCo’s prohibited hands-free calls, the company was still liable for $21 million in damages because its policy did not explicitly inform drivers that hands-free calls are dangerous.
Note: Thanks to Rich Radi of ARI; John Wuich and Elizabeth Wills at Donlen; Steven Curt of Merchants Fleet and Steve Saltzgiver of Mercury Associates.
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