Taking the right road

02 June 2015

Selwyn Cooper, head of business sales, Volvo Car UK, looks at how companies can seek to offset the risks associated with employees driving for business.

Research by 'Driving for Better Business' reveals that businesses are losing an estimated £1.2 billion every year through their vehicle fleets - due to uninsured losses, such as legal and administration fees, and damage to brand and reputation, incurred from accidents involving company vehicles and drivers.

Put another way, based on a Volvo Co-Pilot report, one in three employees will have a collision during the next 12 months when travelling for work. Therefore, the stakes are high and potentially costly when staff take to the road. According to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007, a vehicle is considered to be part of the workplace, meaning that the employer’s duty of care, regardless of the size of the organisation, does not cease beyond the confines of the office.

When personnel take to the wheel in either company cars, or their own vehicles, otherwise known as ‘grey fleet’, there are several ways that businesses can look to drive down the risk of an accident occurring and the resulting burden placed on the bottom line.

Fleet managers need to be aware of their responsibilities under the current legislation (inclusive of the Health and Safety At Work Act), as the penalties are severe for those who fail to comply. They have the all-important role of checking that the car is fit for purpose, that the driver is in good health, and are indeed legal, safe and competent to undertake the job in hand. All of these obligations are as important as each other.

Vehicle choice is critical, but the selection should not solely be determined by the total lifetime running costs (i.e. fuel, depreciation and maintenance) as this may prove to be a false long term economy. Does it meet the needs of the driver and the purpose for which it is intended? What passive safety equipment does it come with? Many systems are now standard such as ESP and ABS, but fleet managers should still assess that the car is fitted with the correct level of accident prevention and protection technology. Euro NCAP is also a widely recognised five star industry rating measuring vehicle safety, and this can serve as a useful guide.

The interior specification of the model and degree of in-car connectivity is another key consideration, as this all makes for safer working when on the move. For example, Bluetooth technology and the ability for the car to act as a Wi-Fi hotspot facilitates hands free calls, accurate voice recognition and intuitive and succinct satellite navigation decreases stress, journey times and emissions, whilst head-up displays reduce the need for eyes to be taken off the road when reading data generated by the car. It sounds obvious, but they all contribute to a happier and safer driver.

Employees not only need to be in good health prior to travel (i.e. in terms of vision and fitness), but any deterioration should be minimised when using the vehicle through factors such as bad posture or poor air quality. Volvo has always designed its cars around people – so it has world renowned seat comfort that enables drivers to remain alert during the drive and arrive fresh at their destination. It has also further developed its in-car air quality system and introduced ‘CleanZone’, a new system on the all-new XC90 SUV which aims to improve the driving environment by decreasing the entry of noxious substances and dust from outside getting into the cabin.

Being competent and safe at the wheel is just as essential as being fit, in order to reduce the danger to the driver and to others on the road. Driver error is a major factor in more than 90% of road accidents, and there are numerous suppliers of driver training programmes on the market today which focus on increased hazard perception and awareness, as well as the removal of distractions.

Even if all of the above is satisfactory, legislation is all about being compliant with the law. This calls for organisations to implement an effective system or interface which makes sure that driving licences are continually up to date and valid, and one that allows employees themselves to be fully aware of their responsibilities and company policy. Fleet 21, the partner of the Volvo Co-Pilot risk management programme for SMEs, typically recommends an annual licence audit for drivers with up to three points, a six monthly check for four to seven points and monitoring every three months for eight points or more.

At the end of the day, effective risk mitigation comes down to a successful partnership between the employer and employee. Both should know their obligations and limits, and both need to look to mitigate the risks both on and off the road to lessen the chance of any negative impact on the business and themselves.