Vehicles are critical to the successful operation of HVAC and sheet metal firms. Taken for granted, they can become a significant liability. Take a walk around your company vehicles and what you find may surprise you. Do you see excessive or unordinary dents and large scratches on the body of your trucks and cars? If so, this may be an indication of your employees’ low value and care for their driving habits. Those small accidents likely went unreported and may harvest a culture of poor driving and increased liability for your company.

Ask any insurance company and they will tell you that the largest claims and settlements they encounter are vehicle accidents, especially huge losses for damage and injury to another party. You may be aware of the horror stories concerning companies sued for millions of dollars after an employee, texting on their phone, killed another driver. A comprehensive program to address vehicle safety and how you manage your fleet of vehicles can help avoid the small and large accidents looming over the need to transport people and equipment.

A fleet management / vehicle safety program establishes guidelines and procedures to be followed to protect the safety of individuals operating any motor vehicle on company business. Protecting employee drivers, their passengers, and the general public should be the highest priority. The commitment of management and employees is critical to the success of a program. Clear communication of and strict adherence to the program's guidelines and procedures are essential.

One major objective of the program is to ensure close compliance with all applicable state and local laws and regulations regarding vehicles and driving. Working projects across state lines may create additional liability as states may have varying “rules of the road” including phone use while driving. The program should establish a high level of safety awareness and foster responsible driving behavior. Driver safety awareness and responsible driving behavior will significantly decrease the frequency of motor vehicle accidents and reduce the severity of personal injuries and property damage.

Everyone shares in the responsibility to make a program a success. To avoid confusion or misunderstanding, specific program responsibilities should be done by employee type and management level. For example, high frequency drivers, those driving on public roads and highways, and supervisors of these employees should be priority.  

Documentation of driver’s information is a first step to the program. A drivers history report from the state Department of Motor Vehicles should be obtained for any worker responsible for driving a company vehicle and a process for identifying and dealing with “high risk drivers” should be worked out with human resources. Employees should be advised that probation or suspension of driving privileges may result if a poor driving record is found.

A vehicle safety training program should be developed and provided. The program should address all the items discussed in this article and any others the company feels are important. Training drivers on accident prevention and collision avoidance can go a long way to emphasizing the basic rules to follow while driving.

Training topics should be described in detail in the company vehicle safety / fleet management program. Topics to discuss during accident prevention training include the following: wearing seat belts, impaired driving, traffic laws, care in backing up, vehicle pre-use inspection and maintenance (use a checklist), use of headlights, picking up hitchhikers, pushing/pulling other vehicles or trailers, and transporting flammable / combustible materials.

Two critical points to discuss during training are the company policy on use of mobile devices while driving and what to do if involved in an accident. Companies may have varied policies and procedures for using mobile devices (typically cell phones) but the use of mobile devices while driving should be strictly forbidden (note the prior liability discussion). Once in an accident, the actions and comments / remarks from the driver could impact company liability, and employees need to know the correct and appropriate responses to other drivers and authorities to avoid increased liability.

Finally, all accidents, regardless of the level of damage, should be reported and investigated by supervisors. As noted at the beginning, a culture of “accident acceptance” such as small dents and minor property damage left unnoticed can lead to employees ignoring the importance of safe driving, leading to more serious, avoidable accidents.