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Safety is never far from the top of the fleet management agenda

One of the biggest reasons for taking greater control over a company’s activity out on the road remains the safety and wellbeing of staff.

Driving is the riskiest activity most people engage in while at work and road crashes have been found to account for an estimated 96,626 in work zones in the United States.

The importance of road safety was underlined in research recently conducted by TomTom Telematics among its customer base. This study found that managing risk and driver safety is still seen as the biggest fleet management challenge, cited by 17.4% of respondents. It was followed by routing and navigation, and the reduction of fuel costs (both 12.6%).

When it comes to the biggest legal issues concerning fleet managers, the top three are all safety-related – health and safety (27%) and driver hours (22.9%).

None of this will come as a major surprise but even if the fleet management priorities haven’t changed much over the past 20 years, the methods for handling them have.

The evolution of technological solutions

In the early days, the telematics technology used by businesses focused on track-and-trace functionality, allowing businesses to pinpoint the location of their drivers at any time and check stats for mileage and driving hours.

Driver behavior monitoring represented the next key development in the ability for telematics to help improve road safety. OptiDrive 360, a key feature of WEBFLEET, delivers direct feedback to drivers before, during and after their trip. This includes performance feedback based around eight key principles of safe and efficient driving – including speeding, harsh steering and braking, and idling – and predictive advice designed to help drivers save fuel and drive more smoothly.

But the potential for telematics to help improve safety standards only continues to grow.

Much of this is down to the power of integration. Webfleet uses stable, open APIs to allow it to connect to a huge range of third-party software and hardware, effectively meaning it can be tailored to the needs of an individual organization or used to target a specific challenge unique to a certain industry or type of fleet. This might include integrations with onboard safety cameras and software such as routing and scheduling or maintenance schedule.

Fleet operators are starting to recognize the opportunities provided by integration, as 38% of those surveyed as part of the TomTom Telematics research said integration with third-party software and systems is the telematics functionality that interests them the most. This put integration at the top of the list, well ahead of reporting and dashboards (19%).

Strength in unity

The benefit of integrated systems is that they allow data from different sources to be brought together in one place, enabling smarter decision-making.

Regarding improving fleet safety, this could take many forms.

For starters, vehicle maintenance can be improved by drawing up-to-date information directly from the vehicle. When integrating with a software system that specializes in service scheduling, telematics can provide odometer and vehicle diagnostics data to help companies adopt a proactive approach to maintenance.

Using the available data, management will be able to get alerts when a vehicle is approaching its next service interval based on actual mileage. They can also see when engine fault codes occur, helping to ensure vehicles can be called in immediately when work is required, rather than relying on the driver to report issues or waiting until serious problems develop. For example, a misfiring engine caused by damaged spark plugs or wires can be fairly straightforward to fix but, if it is ignored, can result in damage to other engine parts, including the catalytic converter. Therefore, what should have been a simple repair may end up costing a large sum of money.

In the area of driver behavior, integration with hardware such as onboard cameras, like Smartwitness,  can help to make a big difference. Although the driver behavior reporting provided by telematics systems is already fairly comprehensive, the ability to actually see what occurs out on the road can also prove invaluable.

For example, when an incident of poor driving is measured by the telematics system, it is possible to generate an automatic report linked to video footage from onboard cameras, which is sent to the relevant manager to form the basis of a driver debriefs. This allows managers to understand better why certain incidents are occurring and take appropriate action, whether through targeted training or by making adjustments to a driver’s working environment.

A safer working environment

Integrated telematics can also help to relieve some of the pressure on at-work drivers by facilitating more efficient ways of working.

By integrating with routing and scheduling software, telematics enables companies to move to a more dynamic planning model, where schedules can be optimized and adapted according to the situation out on the roads.

In the first instance, daily schedules can draw on traffic data and information on historic journey times to help ensure time on the road is minimized. Trips can be carried out at times of the day and week that are most appropriate based on anticipated journey times.

Thanks to the constant availability of traffic information, schedules can also be amended as the picture out on the road changes, with customers quickly notified of any changes or delays. As a result, drivers are less likely to be hampered by unrealistic schedules that force them to squeeze too many jobs into a day.

This could potentially have a knock-on effect on safety too, as drivers. By spending less time on the road, driving at times when the roads are less busy, and operating schedules that are less demanding, the risk of an accident can be decreased. Meanwhile, drivers may be hampered by fewer distractions, helping them to focus on the task of driving safely and efficiently.

Equally, close monitoring of driver hours and mileage means managers can keep an eye on their drivers’ workloads to help ensure drivers do not spend too long behind the wheel each day, week or month. Jobs can be assigned only to those drivers who can safely fit them into their schedules.

Ultimately, integrated solutions have fairly limitless potential and it would be reasonable to expect the development of ever more creative solutions to the problems faced by fleet operators. Companies now have more tools at their disposal than ever before to help tackle the eternal road safety challenge.

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