With respect to safety, what are some of the the major issues fleets are confronting now?
There are two major safety issues that I see fleets dealing with. One has to do with the vehicle itself; the optimization of the vehicle and the optimization of the driver in that vehicle — how safely the vehicle is being driven. The second, clearly, has to do with the cell phone – probably the biggest issue that all fleets and really all of us as drivers and consumers are dealing with. I would say that the cell phone is a national epidemic that is creating a big problem for all of us.
A number of fleet managers have told us that they merely advise their drivers to respect state law when it comes to using cell phones while driving. What is your position on that?
It is a very loaded question in terms of state laws – whether they address hand-held or hands-free devices, or a complete ban. I think if you look at most of the information and studies out there, they indicate that the device is not the issue. It is the fact that you are on a phone call and that your cognitive distraction is taking over, versus paying attention to driving. That is really the problem; it is not necessarily the device. My gut feeling tells me that we are seeing the progression of laws that first allowed hand-held, then hands-free, and eventually they will move to full cell phone bans.
Down the road, I think we will start to see even more technology that comes right out of the vehicle itself, as well as the cell phone, that really does control this. So, in other words, I am saying that technology got us into this problem; technology is likely to get us out of it.
Let’s talk about the technology that is going to get us out of this. Do you have a sense of what that is?
Right now there are a couple of things. There is cell phone blocking technology that will literally stop your phone from being utilized while you are driving. And there is such flexibility with these products that they can literally match it to your company policy. If it is only for hands-free, they can set it so it is only usable during hands-free. They can block all calls, they can block text messages, and block all emails. And then they can also white list these devices, as well, to allow only certain phone calls that you want to get through. Sometimes there is a need; I am not going to say there is not. What I would say is there is going to be a choice.
What is the cell phone policy for the LeasePlan drivers?
Our policy at LeasePlan is a complete cell phone ban. You are not allowed to use it for texting, for emailing, no inbound or outbound calls whatsoever while you are driving a company vehicle.
Can you tell us how the policy was received?
It was not an easy decision. A lot of us became dependent on our devices while we are driving. A lot of us saw it as an ability to fill in downtime. Well, driving is really not downtime. Driving requires you to pay attention. It is important enough when you see the number of fatalities and injuries and crashes that occur every year to know that driving really isn’t downtime. We spent a lot of time trying to educate our team on what that meant and how important their lives and safety really is. It is a slow adoption. What I would say to you is that our drivers make better decisions today.
Let’s talk about corporate safety policies. I have heard fleet managers say that they shy away from strict policies because of enforcement issues.
It is an interesting issue – should I have a safety policy, and if I do and then if I don’t follow it, will I be found to be more negligent than if I didn’t have a policy whatsoever? Certainly, it is a fine line. You can probably speak to a thousand attorneys and get a thousand different answers. The reality is that as a company we have an obligation to not only our employees but our employees’ families and to the general citizens on the road. My opinion is that you are better off having a policy and you should be doing everything you can to manage that policy. So, it is not just the written word, it is what you are doing then to adhere to it.
There are not enough safety policies out there still; there is not enough adherence, and I think there are a lot of people who have the passion to do it but just may not have the courage to do it yet. What I would say to all of those folks is to go right to the top of your organization – your CEO, your president, your CFO, other officers of your company — and help them to become more aware of what is happening on our roadways.