By Donald Dunphy, Contributing Editor
The United States is currently facing a dramatic COVID-19 spike. The intensity of the resurgence prompted the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue guidelines that included a request for Americans not to travel or have large gatherings for Thanksgiving celebrations. However, multiple reports indicated travelers largely ignored the guidelines, filling airports and roadways alike.
This presents concerns for employers, both with and without fleets. While it is too late to change outcomes from the Thanksgiving holiday, now is the time to consider how to plan for the equally busy Christmas/Hanukkah travel period.
Art Liggio, President/CEO at Driving Dynamics, Inc., has seen fleet operators responding to increased needs. “During the second half of 2020, (our company) has done more driver safety training during this period than we ever have in previous years.”
Liggio is getting feedback and insight regarding this increase in training requests from fleet and safety professionals, and these fall into two categories. “While miles-driven this year have dramatically decreased, there has been a significant uptick in risky behavior by drivers, specifically aggressive behaviors. Perhaps caused by the isolation, lack of social interaction, or the apparent anger so many people are experiencing because of the pandemic. NHTSA and other sources are reporting the dramatic increases in highway fatalities this year along with vehicle related injuries, so this is a real issue fleet operators are dealing with. They are cognizant of this behavioral change and are engaging training and coaching services to help mitigate this issue.”
The other side of the coin, Liggio says, is that fleet operators are recognizing that driver skills have diminished this year as a result of the limited time behind-the-wheel. “Just like professional sports players, if practice is inconsistent or missed altogether, the capabilities to perform well are undermined. Same applies to safe driving practices. While we are not yet back to pre-2020 work related driving activities, it is opening up once again and prudent fleet operators are requiring training before their drivers resume normal driving duties.”
Given the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays, fleets need a fast stopgap measure to help focus their drivers and help them deal with others. According to documentation from SafetyServe.com, the six most unsafe driving behaviors to look out for are:
2) Violating right of way
3) Driving left-of-center or “hugging the line”
4) Turning improperly
5) Passing improperly
6) Following too closely
Fleet managers should reiterate to vehicle operators the need to avoid all these behaviors, but also to be observant of the drivers around them who might be exhibiting these tendencies. Whenever possible, steer clear of them or let them pass.
Distracted driving remains a major issue on the road throughout the year. Your fleet may have a strong policy concerning cellphone usage in vehicles, but the average driver likely won’t have such as part of their personal code of conduct. Assume distraction on their part and attempt avoidance wherever possible.
The added attention drivers must devote to decoding potentially erratic driving of others, as well as increased traffic overall, could cause them to travel slower than normal. Keep these in mind where routing and timing are concerned. It is best to be tolerant during such high-traffic times than to risk crashes through inflexibility.
Bringing Back the Virus to the Workplace
Unfortunately, if individuals have contracted COVID-19 and are in a pre-symptomatic phase, there’s not much that can be done to reverse this, so it becomes imperative that individuals do not bring the virus into the workspace, be it to the office or the vehicles.
Guidelines from the World Health Organization can refresh action plans that might have been relaxed during less critical summer and fall periods. The WHO advises:
1) Comply with any local restrictions on travel, movement, or large gatherings
2) Promote regular teleworking wherever possible
3) Brief employees, contractors, and customers that if coronavirus is spreading in your community, anyone with even a mild cough or fever needs to stay at home
4) Provide masks and paper tissues in the workplace and ensure proper disposal of these after use
5) Promote regular and thorough hand washing (i/e three “happy birthdays” in warm, soapy water)
6) Surfaces and objects should be wiped with disinfectant regularly
7) Advise employees and contractors to consult national travel advice before going on business trips
Several states have invoked mandatory quarantine periods whenever crossing state lines. Know what quarantine requests are being made in the state you travel to, the state you return to, and build these into your overall travel plan.
Specific to fleet, vehicles should be thoroughly cleaned after each usage, and should be limited to only one driver if possible. If a vehicle needs to be shared among drivers, masks need to be used by each driver, hand sanitizer should be made available to each driver with frequent usage encouraged, and whenever possible, if a sneeze should happen, cover mouth and nose with a tissue and throw away in a cinch-top bag (to be disposed of at the earliest convenience).
Garage mechanics should maintain social distancing wherever possible and should not share tools with others. If that is unavoidable, the tools should be sprayed with a disinfectant and wiped down thoroughly before being made available to others. Minimize traditional paperwork as it will pass hand-to-hand. If you can transfer work orders digitally, use that method.
As the temperatures across the country get colder, keeping garage bays open becomes less of an option. Workers should use the standard mechanics-protective gear as well as paper masks.