Managing vehicle risks
Choosing the vehicle
The type of vehicle you choose will vary based on the size of your facility and its special needs. Vehicles can include private passenger cars, mini-vans, 11-15 seat passenger vans, or small to large buses.
Note: It’s important to recognize that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued safety warnings regarding the handling characteristics of 11- 15 seat passenger vans. According to NHTSA, these vans have an increased risk of rollover under certain conditions. NHTSA strongly discourages the use of 11-15 seat passenger vans to transport people, unless the vans comply with federal school bus standards.
Know the rules for 11-15 passenger vans
- If your facility currently uses 11-15 seat passenger vans, NHTSA recommends the following to support safe operation of these vehicles.
- Always use seat belts, and have a written seat-belt use policy. Make sure drivers enforce the policy. Passengers’ risk of death or serious injury is greatly reduced by using seat belts, especially shoulder restraint belts.
- Select only experienced drivers to drive the van on a regular basis. Experience is defined as time behind the wheel of a similar size and type of vehicle, not just driving experience. These vans handle differently than other passenger vehicles, and only experienced drivers should operate them. A sudden swerve back onto the road or an emergency maneuver to avoid an object in the road can result in vans rolling over, especially when they are fully loaded with passengers.
- Avoid conditions that lead to a loss of control. Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Make sure you are well rested and attentive, and always slow down when the roads are wet or icy.
- Drive cautiously on rural roads. Be particularly careful on curved rural roads, and maintain a safe speed to avoid running off the road.
- Know what to do if your wheels drop off the roadway. If this happens, gradually reduce your speed and steer back onto the roadway when it is safe to do so.
- Properly maintain your tires. Make sure they are properly inflated and the tread is not worn down. Worn tires can cause your van to slide sideways on wet or slippery pavement. Improper inflation can cause handling problems and lead to catastrophic tire failures, such as blowouts. Check tire pressure and tread-wear once a month.
- When a 15-passenger van is not full, passengers should sit in seats that are in front of the rear axle.
- Never allow more than 15 people to ride in a 15-passenger van. Some experts say not to load 15 passenger vans with more than 10 or 11 passengers, and to load from the front seats going back.
- Allow adequate braking time—these vans are substantially longer and wider than a car.
- When changing lanes, make sure you have adequate space to move into another lane, and frequently check your side-view mirrors.
- Steer smoothly. These vans don’t respond well to abrupt steering maneuvers.
- Don’t store anything on the roof.
Managing vehicle risks
Selecting and training the driver
In addition to providing safe, well-maintained vehicles, you must be certain to carefully select and train drivers. Age, experience, and a clean driving record are considerations. Anyone driving passengers at your organization should hold a valid driver’s license that complies with the licensing requirements of your state’s Motor Vehicle Department. Drivers should be at least 21 years old, have at least 5 years of driving experience, with no violations or accidents for the past three years. Before you hire drivers, you should:
- Carefully check references from previous employers.
- Order Motor Vehicle Reports (MVRs) for the driver. The MVR lists all moving violations and serious accidents the driver has had in the past 3 years.
Make sure your employment applications include a question about the applicant’s experience driving vans or buses. The application should also include a spot for the applicant’s driver’s license number and the state that issued it. A copy of the driver’s license attached to the application is a good method for gathering the necessary information for those employees who may be required to drive. If an applicant cites experience driving vans or buses, take care to check their references and document, in writing, what you find.
Test for drugs and alcohol
The U.S. Department of Transportation now mandates drug and alcohol testing for all employees who drive commercial vehicles. Commercial vehicles are those designed to transport 16 or more passengers, or those with a gross weight of over 26,000 pounds. Specifically, the rule applies to all dri- vers who have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), even if a facility has only one such driver. The rule also applies to volunteers.
Drug testing should be used in the applicant screening process, or at the very latest before the employee first drives a commercial vehicle.
In addition to pre-employment testing, the following types of testing are required:
- Post-accident testing: drug and alcohol testing within two hours of an accident that involves the loss of a human life, or when the operator receives a citation under state or federal law for a moving violation arising from an accident.
- Random testing: drug testing must be performed on 50% of drivers annually, and alcohol testing must be performed on 25% of drivers annually. These tests must be conducted throughout the year.
- Return to duty testing: after failing a DOT drug or alcohol test.
- Follow-up testing: unannounced, follow-up testing out- side the random testing requirements for employees who fail a drug or alcohol test
Drug testing should be done using a DOT Drug Screen, which is performed by a clinic, physician, or hospital and ana- lyzed by a certified laboratory. The alcohol test is done through either a breath test or a saliva screen. You can con- tract with outside testing companies to come onto your premis- es and perform the tests for a flat fee per driver.
For further information, contact your local office of the U.S. Department of Transportation, or call the DOT Drug Enforcement and Compliance Hotline at 800-225-3784.
Train your drivers
Finding the right driver is a difficult process. It is not over, however, with the selection. You need to train those who have been selected to do the job successfully, and most importantly, safely.
You can take several approaches to driver training. You should give each driver your facility’s written policies and requirements, and review them during orientation to be sure they are clearly understood. You can also give drivers addition- al driving practice during orientation, and include a defensive- driving course presented by a driver-training instructor. You might ask state police, local law enforcement, or highway patrol officers to make a presentation to your drivers that reviews the major causes of accidents in your area, and gives some helpful tips about accident prevention and defensive driving techniques.
Some organizations use a Driver Awareness Program periodically during the year as a method of ongoing training. Others offer incentive bonuses for safe driving. Whatever method you use, make sure you devote enough planning to it. The key to accident prevention is planning ahead.
The National Safety Council offers many safe-driving courses, including one specifically geared toward school bus drivers.
Develop vehicle procedures
It's vital to maintain a procedure manual that details your organization’s policy on
- Driver selection and training.
- Vehicle maintenance schedules.
- Vehicle condition reporting.
- Standard rules and procedures for transporting passengers.
The Transportation Rules and Procedures checklist on page 7 gives you some general guidelines to follow when creating your facility's Vehicle Procedures manual.
Take your show on the road
After you’ve selected your vehicles and trained your drivers, you’ll want to road test your drivers. Cars handle differently than vans; vans handle differently than buses. Road testing ensures that your drivers will become accustomed to driving different types of vehicles. Your road tests should include
- Backing up
- Quick stops
- Loading and unloading passengers
- Crossing streets
- Parallel parking
- Assisting passengers with disabilities
- Safe speeds for approaching intersections or turning left
- Performing a vehicle safety check
- Filling out the Driver’s Vehicle Condition report
- Using emergency and safety equipment
- Following state and local laws
- Following proper procedures in the event of an accident
It is a good practice to keep written documentation of the driver test elements and drivers’ results.
*Markel Specialty is a business division of Markel Service, Incorporated, the underwriting manager for the Markel affiliated insurance companies.