Fleet training programs from a legal perspective
In the year 2011, commercial motor vehicles were involved in 5,330,000 accidents.1 Large trucks and busses accounted for 329,000 of these accidents.2 The estimated costs of all commercial motor vehicle crashes in 2011 amount to $87 billion, an increase from $84 billion in 2010 and $79 billion in 2009.3 These costs include those paid out in litigation associated with these accidents, as well as the costs to the companies owning the vehicles.
The creation and implementation of a fleet training program is intended to reduce the number of accidents involving vehicles within your fleet, leading to a safer and more efficient fleet. This guide is intended to provide an overview of fleet training programs from a legal perspective, specifically addressing the importance of record-keeping and driver education.
The primary goal of a fleet training program is the reduction of accidents involving vehicles within your fleet. While the implementation of a fleet training program is intended to reduce accidents, programs may also decrease costs associated with fleet management. Implementation of routine maintenance procedures can decrease the maintenance costs associated with the upkeep of the fleet. Improvements in driver training, awareness, and performance can also lower maintenance costs. In addition to lowering costs associated with maintenance, regular maintenance and upkeep of the vehicles may eliminate accidents due to improper maintenance. Many states allow an individual injured in a motor vehicle accident to assert a cause of action against the vehicle owner based on an argument that the company failed to adequately maintain and inspect the vehicle. This claim may be brought even when vehicles in the fleet are not serviced in-house. Implementing a training program emphasizing the importance of reporting and recording routine maintenance, problems with the vehicle, and subsequent repairs allows for the company to ensure that the vehicles in the fleet are kept to a high maintenance standard. These records will be crucial in the defense against a claim of improperly or negligent maintained vehicles.
What to Include
Every fleet training program should be tailored to the particular organization. At a minimum, the program must require compliance with the applicable federal, state, or municipal laws regarding driver training, trip reporting, and accident reporting.
Driver safety should be an essential component of any fleet training program, regardless of the vehicle size or type. Many motor vehicle accidents have similar causes, and many of these causes are preventable. Defensive driving instruction and discussion of these causes can reduce accident frequency.
Should an accident occur, the organization may be held liable for the driver’s negligence. Installing safe practices and driving habits among your drivers is important to reduce accidents. Encourage drivers to follow all safety guidelines and to drive responsibly and carefully. Consider including a mobile device use guide as part of your training, focusing on eliminating driver use of technological or mobile devices while driving.
The DOT limits drivers for motor carriers to a set amount of time they may drive in a particular period. 49 C.F.R. § 395.5. Further, every driver is required to record his or her duty status for each 24-hour period. 49 C.F.R. § 395.8. Should your fleet not meet the definition of ‘motor carrier’ and thus not be required to follow the DOT regulations noted, the hours an employee spends driving per day is still important information for the organization to record. If an accident occurs, the fleet may be liable for the actions of the driver. Implementation of a strict hours on the road protocol may provide for more alert and responsive drivers.
Preventative maintenance programs are an important aspect of any fleet training program. Not only does regular maintenance allow the fleet to perform more efficiently, but it can lower the risks associated with negligent maintenance of vehicles should an accident occur. Inclusion of a maintenance program is important even in fleets where maintenance work is not performed in–house, but rather serviced by outside companies.
Pre- and post-trip inspections should be established. No commercial motor vehicle should be driven unless the driver is satisfied that the following parts and accessories are in good working order: service brakes, parking brake, steering mechanism, lighting devices and reflectors, tires, horn, windshield wipers, rear-vision mirrors and coupling devices (when applicable). While the list may not be entirely applicable to fleets comprised of smaller vehicles, it provides a good foundation for a pre-trip checklist.
Motor carriers are also required to systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles subject to their control. Parts and accessories are required to be in safe and proper operating condition at all times. Additionally, motor carriers must maintain, or cause to be maintained, records for each motor vehicle they control for 30 consecutive days.
A fleet training program should include measures directed towards driver and employee safety, as well as vehicle maintenance. Each program should be tailored to meet the needs of the particular fleet, but at a minimum follow all state and federal regulations governing commercial motor vehicles.
How to Use
The successful implementation of a fleet training program requires the establishment of processes and procedures throughout all levels of the organization. Management should actively participate and support employees throughout the training process.
While it is crucial to train new drivers, all employees should participate in continuing education programs. The organization should engage in refresher, remedial, and ongoing training in an effort to expose drivers to safety ideas and information and stress that safety matters. Good education programs provide useful driving information to each driver and help to develop favorable attitudes and techniques for avoiding accidents.
Continued monitoring of an employee’s participation on the tasks required by the fleet training program is also crucial. Employees should be motivated to fully buy-in to the program, and recognition for participation should be considered. Management should review participation to determine whether the program is effective. If procedures are not being followed, management should not only work with the employees to follow the procedures, but also examine the procedures themselves to determine if a better way of addressing the issue may be created.
The completion of a fleet training program should be supplemented by continued recordkeeping and analysis. The collection of detailed and accurate records allows the company to analyze any accidents, as well as the general maintenance and condition of the vehicles within the fleet. The importance of record keeping should be reiterated to the drivers not just during their initial training, but throughout their employment at the company. Supervisors should ensure the documents are being completed, and being completed accurately.
Should a lawsuit be filed against your organization relating to an occurrence involving a vehicle in your fleet, the production of accurate, complete, and up-to-date records will be essential in preparing a defense against the claims.
Fleet training programs are necessary to develop and establish safety procedures throughout the fleet. The goal is to increase the safety of not only the fleet drivers, but other drivers with whom they share the road. Decreasing accidents and increasing maintenance procedures will result in a safer and more efficient fleet.
The foregoing is not legal advice. Employers are advised to consult counsel with respect to developing and enforcing fleet training programs and record retention policies.