By Janice Sutton
We always look forward to interviews with Tom Callahan, President of Donlen. He is very thoughtful and serious, but also has a lightheartedness about him that is contagious. In this recent interview, his focus was driver safety, which is clearly a passion of his. To wrap it up, we asked him to give us his thoughts on the future of fleet.
“There are studies that say you can lose up to five seconds if you are on a cell phone. When you consider that a lot of these forward collisions happen in a second and the car moves several hundred feet in a second, five seconds is like the length of a football field or longer. That is not a lot of leeway.”
The future? Callahan says, “The future is going to be those people that can utilize data effectively. It is going to be those that have the great and flexible technology platforms. It is going to be folks that give great thought leadership and it is going to be the folks that can work and partner with people out there the best, because we can’t do it all alone.”
Safety is a big concern for fleets. How are fleet management companies enabling fleets to keep their drivers safe?
Driver behavior is a cause of 90 percent of accidents. So, if you really want to deal with safety, you need to monitor driver behavior. Telematics is a great tool for that. And then you have to develop various driver scorecards in order to modify driver behavior. What we like to do is create a gamification activity – make improved driving fun, make it competitive.
The data available from the OBD2 port continues to grow. Our role is to convert that data into valuable information that can be utilized to make drivers safer and less likely to be involved in accidents.
Fleet management companies have been instructing drivers on what is actually in their vehicle. It is amazing how many things are in the vehicle – lane departure, forward collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, all sorts of things. And if drivers know how to utilize these tools today they can become a much better and safer driver.
But in some ways, these systems require the driver to be more attentive, and less distracted. It is scary when you think about distracted drivers and the use of cell phones. Fleet management companies are starting to become more rigorous around fleet policies and say: “hey, that cell phone usage… hands free, please.” That is a huge distraction.
There are studies that say you can lose up to five seconds if you are on a cell phone. When you consider that a lot of these forward collisions happen in a second and the car moves several hundred feet in a second, five seconds is like the length of a football field or longer. That is not a lot of leeway.
In light of development of this technology, what advice do you give to a fleet when they are building their selector? Should they order these safety technologies? The higher cost may be offset by a higher residual value of course, but more importantly, isn’t there a moral issue as well as possible negligent entrustment exposure?
It starts with a set of corporate goals for a company’s fleet. When we meet with clients and ask what their goals are, it is not just about transactional costs. Their drivers are precious commodities – and they go to the top of the list. It is not just about the overall cost. It is about how we can keep these folks safe.
What we have done is include safety ratings in our vehicle optimization models. We coach our clients to consider that and we also work with the OEMs to see how much of these safety features can be residualized. What is the value at the end of the lease and what is not?
It is early days, I think, for some of that, quite frankly. We won’t know for a while, but it is a safe bet to say that we feel better from a moral perspective, and from a negligent entrustment perspective.
When you consider overall in this country 32,000 people lose their lives annually due to accidents that are 90 percent preventable due to driver behavior, it is something that we need to get to.
One of the reasons Google and others are so focused on autonomous driving is the folks that run Google have a bigger vision, it is not just about the money. It is about a social responsibility and they take it seriously. I think in the not-too-distant future we will look back at 32,000 lost lives to include a lot of fleet vehicles that are out there on the road and we will think that it is almost barbaric how we dealt with this.
We are doing our part. I think that in the selector process, you have got to include safety and advanced driver assistance as part of your overall deal. To date, we have gotten some good responses especially around the sales fleets and certain delivery fleets as well.
What do see as the future of fleet?
It will be different but there will be a significant role for fleet management companies. Because we are going to be getting data from so many sources, the question will be taking that data and using it productively and making it into information and not just data.
Fleet managers will be part of the future. They will be doing many other things in addition to what they do today. I think you will see a continued emphasis on outsourcing of some of the functions of fleet managers. They will be partnering with FMCs. I think you will also see technology continue to be key, not just technology for its own sake — enabling technology. I think telematics will be a huge enabler of productivity and driver safety.
Finally, as vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance, and as autonomous vehicles get more and more into the build, there is a role for how to manage all of that data that will be generated. Whether there is a driver or you do not have a driver you are going to have to utilize the asset in the best way possible and I think there is a role for FMCs to do that.
I see OEMS going into mobility, whatever that might eventually evolve to. We have to be a little bit careful, however. At times, we have seen the OEMs get too broad in focus and perhaps they take their eye off of making great vehicles. With all the changes that are coming about we as an industry have to consider that it might not be about how many cars you have under management. It might be how you are utilizing those vehicles. So whether that is car sharing or ride sharing, partnerships with car sharing providers — which Donlen has already done.
Even a convergence of rental and leasing, because when you look at the future it might be a situation where you come into a company and say: hey, look, for an hour, for a day, for a week, multi-month, multi-year, what is the solution? It is not just about one vehicle for one driver. It is about the best utilization of that vehicle. I think that is what is going to be driving the industry.
The future is going to be those people that can utilize data effectively. It is going to be those that have the great and flexible technology platforms. It is going to be folks that give great thought leadership and it is going to be the folks that can work and partner with people out there the best, because we can’t do it all alone. But if we can build alliances and partnerships with some of the really cool providers of services, and at the end of the day also consolidate that to one view, one platform for our clients, it is going to go a long way.
It is a very exciting time to be in the industry.