By Randy Shadley, CAFM
In the spirit of Halloween, let me share with you a very scary “Could-it-happen-to-you?” horror story.
A fleet had a written fleet safety policy in place. The policy was very comprehensive, with strict qualification standards for acceptable driving histories; it required signed Fleet Safety Policy Acknowledgements for all drivers; it mandated annual Motor Vehicle Record checks; and it required specific, targeted training when drivers had preventable crashes or serious MVR violations.
Sounds good, right?
Unfortunately, one of their fleet drivers was involved in a very serious crash, and when the attorney for the injured plaintiff demanded copies of the driver’s MVRs and training history, no records could be produced.
Attorneys for the defendant, fearing even more substantial penalties and possible punitive damages should the negligent entrustment case be decided by a sympathetic jury, accepted a multi-million dollar settlement. It’s likely this huge settlement could have been avoided, or at least greatly reduced, had the fleet been able to produce documentation of the actions its policy dictated.
The inability to provide documentation is an all-too-common, yet completely preventable, occurrence in negligent entrustment lawsuits.
A case can be made that DOT-regulated fleets have it (relatively) easy, as there are very specific record-keeping requirements that must be met in order to be compliant. But non-regulated fleets do not have similar stringent requirements, and therefore should follow “best practices guidelines,” such as those published by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z15.1 “Safe Practices for Motor Vehicle Operations” (Disclosure: I was on the panel that created and published ANSI Z15.1 – 2006).
Also, the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), in conjunction with OSHA and NHTSA, developed an excellent, free download titled “Guidelines for Employers to Reduce Motor Vehicle Crashes.” The guide is available on NETS’ website and OSHA’s website.
The OSHA website also includes information on another potentially relevant factor in fleet vehicle crashes: an employer’s obligations under the “General Duty Clause” of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. These obligations include the employer’s duty to “provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Employers can be cited for violating the General Duty Clause if there is a recognized hazard and they do not take reasonable steps to prevent or abate the hazard. It’s not hard to imagine how fleet vehicle crashes could be a “recognized workplace hazard,” thereby triggering possible OSHA sanctions.
It’s not enough to just have a fleet safety program in place. Unless you can document the program, agreements, MVRs, and the actions taken when problems are discovered – and most importantly, retrieve those documents when needed – in the eyes of the legal system you could find that, like a Halloween ghost trick-or-treating at your door, your program is merely an illusion.
Call or email me if you would like to discuss this, or any other fleet safety related issues. Phone (303) 472 – 2227 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Randy Shadley, CAFM, is a well-rounded fleet professional. He started his fleet career on the service provider side at US Fleet Leasing, moved to the other side of the desk to manage the fleet and travel program at Xerox Engineering Systems, developed and managed Nextel’s fleet program as it grew from 40 vehicles to 2000, then managed the fleet safety program for Sprint Nextel’s combined 4000 vehicles.
Coming full circle, Randy switched back to the service provider side as an Account Manager and Fleet Safety Specialist for Corporate Claims Management. He also is the Manager/Member for his company “ProFleet Solutions, LLC,” where he uses his “big fleet” expertise to help smaller companies improve their fleet and fleet safety programs.