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Three Ways to Boost Vehicle Safety
Oct 1, 2022 | This article was originally published on Government Fleet by Shelley Mika.
Creating a safer environment for drivers is always an ongoing effort. But if your safety program is feeling a little stagnant, these examples of how people, technology, and equipment are boosting safety may provide the inspiration you need to kickstart new driver safety tactics.
People: Boca Raton’s Collaborative Approach to Safety
The City of Boca Raton, Florida, fleet team takes a multi-pronged approach to driver safety. With the help of telematics and required defensive driver training, staff members coach drivers toward safer behavior on roadways. The fleet team also places a focus on timely preventive maintenance, and its ASE-certified technicians perform repair inspections to make sure vehicles are safe for drivers. The shop’s commitment to safety has helped it earn the ASE Blue Seal of Excellence for 14 years in a row.
But perhaps the most unique part of the city’s comprehensive plan is its approach to vehicle acquisition and training.
When a user department requests a new type of equipment, Fleet Maintenance collaborates with it to properly spec the vehicle. Then, Fleet Maintenance brings in vendors to perform demos of vehicles that meet those specs. The end users attend these demos so they can do test drives and provide feedback on which vehicle is the best fit for their needs.
“You have to get to know your customers,” said Su Breslow Brown, the city’s fleet contract administrator. “You have to know what they’re doing in the field and understand their business. You have to listen to what their needs and issues are, then figure out how to find the best and safest fit. But you have to do it together as a team, working with one another so they feel supported. Then it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Once the team selects the safest vehicle for the job, the city opts for all of the available safety features — things like blind spot information systems, back-up cameras, and safety lighting. If a vehicle doesn’t come with the necessary safety equipment, the city upfits it accordingly.
Vehicle training is collaborative, too. Fleet management offers end users one-on-one and group training on vehicles and includes training as part of its purchasing agreement with vendors. For replacement units like backhoes and garbage trucks, the city provides hands-on, one-on-one training to the users to make sure they’re comfortable operating them. This applies to new equipment types and replacement units.
“Our safety officer provides individual feedback on what training to implement in order to ensure driver safety,” Breslow Brown said. “If he determines additional training is necessary, he works with each division to put on unique safety training that is personalized to the task.”
Breslow Brown said the City of Boca Raton promotes working together as a team, keeping everyone safe, and supporting each other.
Technology: Leveraging Grant Money, Existing Contract to Get Telematics
At the University of California, Davis, the Risk Management Services department offers grant funding for initiatives that seek to improve safety on campus and help faculty, staff, and students strategically manage their risk exposures. When Dan McCann, former director for fleet services at UC Davis, saw the grant opportunity, focusing on driver safety seemed like the perfect fit.
So he put together a proposal and requested funds to pilot and evaluate a telematics system, with the goal of assessing (and eventually improving) driver safety through the use of telematics.
Normally, negotiating a purchase like this would require the involvement of the Purchasing Department, which would put out its own request for proposal to telematics providers. But since the State of California had already negotiated a contract with Geotab for telematics used by other agencies, UC Davis Fleet Services was able to leverage that contract for its purposes. “We are able to piggyback onto the state contract, which streamlines the process through our purchasing department,” said Fred Gallardo, CAFM, interim director for fleet services at UC Davis.
Thanks to the existing contract, Fleet Services was able to clearly lay out the cost of the telematics devices, the cost to install the hardware, and monthly software charges.
Fleet Services was able to secure $47,000 in grant funding to expand its telematics program to the full fleet. The grant included $13,000 for equipment, but because the cost of the hardware was included in the state contract, those dollars didn’t end up being necessary. Although it has the dollars, the department is now facing a few speed bumps.
“Fleet is looking to roll out telematics in all our vehicles over the next year; however, we have had supply issues that have caused some delays,” Gallardo said.
In addition to supply chain challenges, unions have expressed reservations about using the safety features of the telematics solution. “We are currently going through noticing and discussions with a couple unions,” Gallardo said. “The major concerns have revolved around who has access to the data and what will be done with the data. We are currently negotiating these items.”
Should these negotiations prove successful, Gallardo hopes to monitor things like speed, acceleration, braking, idling, seatbelt use, hard cornering, g-force while parked, and key off, which could be indicators of an accident or vehicle break-in.
“We would like to develop a feedback mechanism where supervisors are automatically alerted when a vehicle goes beyond the set threshold of one of these safety measures,” Gallardo said.
Equipment: Equip Refuse Trucks with the Most Effective Safety Features
According to the “Safe Fleet Transition Plan: Private Vehicle Crashes and Vehicle Safety Technology” report published in December 2021, fatalities involving refuse collection trucks across the United States increased 40% between 2012 and 2017, rising from 77 to 107. The number of injuries and major crashes rose as well.
The report, prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation Volpe Center for the New York City Business Integrity Commission (BIC), provides an analysis of vehicle design factors and safety technologies that may help to drive that number down.
The report was developed for the New York BIC and analyzes the 43 reported fatalities and hundreds of injury crashes New York City private waste vehicles were involved in between January 2010 through May 2019, but these three takeaways can be applicable for any fleet operating refuse trucks. While refuse truck operator safety isn’t as great as the risk to pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, these technologies can keep drivers safe from causing injuries or fatalities.
Improve Start-Stop Visibility
› The finding: The Volpe Center’s analysis found start-stop visibility was the cause of 10 of the 43 reported fatal crashes. Of these 10, all involved conventional cab vehicles, and none involved cabover trucks.
› What it implies: The high incidence of fatalities due to start-stop visibility means drivers need to be able to have better vision directly in front of them to see vulnerable road users (e.g., pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists).
› What can be done: In the near-term, fleets should assess whether aftermarket add-ons are obstructing a driver’s line of sight and take steps to remove them. This can include bug deflectors, sun visors, and objects hanging in the cab.
In the longer term, the report suggests that replacing conventional truck cabs with high vision truck cabs when purchasing new units will reduce the likelihood of a fatal crash. That’s because cabover trucks don’t have the long cab nose of a conventional cab, which can provide increased visibility and situational awareness. Although the 10 start-stop visibility-related fatalities involved conventional cabs, the report stated that additional data and research are needed to determine whether certain types of cabover trucks have a lower overall crash risk compared to conventional trucks.
Equip Trucks with Side Guards
› The finding: Analysis also showed equipping vehicles with side guards (also known as lateral protection devices, or LPDs) can reduce the severity of crashes. Fatal crashes and injury crashes involving a truck without side guards had a 17.2% fatality rate, whereas crashes involving a side guard-equipped truck had a fatality rate of 12.9%. These data suggest equipping trucks with side guards can reduce the number of fatal crashes by 25%.
› What it implies: The presence of a side guard decreases the severity of crashes.
› What can be done: Spec new trucks to include LPDs or consider aftermarket truck side guards to keep pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists from being struck by a large truck’s rear wheels in a side-impact collision.
Employ Safety Technology
› The finding: In 2017, Volpe reviewed and prioritized applicable safety technologies for city-owned vehicles. The result was the original Safe Fleet Transition Plan, which formalized a set of NYC fleet technology and vehicle requirements and best practices to help prevent and mitigate crashes. The December 2021 analysis reports that these technologies could address the largest fraction of the 43 analyzed fatal crashes. When looking at potentially addressable reported fatal crashes, 19 of the technologies could have assisted in preventing at least one.
› What it implies: Adopting safety technology can help reduce the likelihood of a fatal crash for waste trucks.
› What can be done: Based on their relevance to the largest number of fatal crashes, the top three technologies were safety lights, high-vision truck cabs, and pedestrian automatic emergency braking, suggesting these could be the most promising safety technology solutions.
For fleets seeking aftermarket solutions for existing trucks, the study reports that safety lights, pedestrian collision warning systems, surround cameras, and additional mirrors ranked highest.
Interestingly, backup alarms and backup cameras rated relatively low, even though trade waste trucks were reported to back up often during collection routes. Just four of the 43 fatal crashes involved a reversing truck.
The report also acknowledges other strategies that could be effective but couldn’t be assessed using the methodology are telematics and driver training.