With health and safety (including ‘duty of care’) and environmental regulations to contend with – apart from the traditional and somewhat mundane tasks of selecting and acquiring vehicles, organising repairs and maintenance, and arranging for used vehicle disposal – fleet managers have now become an integral part of corporate governance. The penalties for falling foul of that governance will become even more punitive when the Corporate Manslaughter Bill reaches the statute book in around 12 months’ time.
Employers who fail to provide a written road safety policy, to implement road safety procedures including risk assessment, or to arrange for their employees to receive appropriate driver training and supervision will lay themselves open to fines and even imprisonment in the event of an employee being involved in a serious traffic accident while on company business.
Susan McDonald, fleet manager at communications company ntl, described work-related driver safety as “quite terrifying”. Critically, a fleet manager can’t merely ‘outsource’ duty of care. He or she is still responsible even if the fleet is managed by an outside agency, such as a specialist leasing group, and also if employees are using their own or rented vehicles.
At present, there is conflicting evidence over the impact of duty of care on the size and composition of fleets and their operation. Within the trade there are indications that some employees who took advantage of the ‘cash-for-car’ option are migrating back to a company-supplied vehicle. Receiving money in lieu of a company car seemed attractive at the time but it is clear that many private users miscalculated the true cost of operating a vehicle. Meanwhile, from an employer’s standpoint, the realisation that ultimate responsibility for road safety cannot be passed to a third party has made the retention of an in-house fleet all the more attractive due to the ability to establish better control over driver behaviour and vehicle maintenance and condition.
Lex Vehicle Leasing reports that fleets are disposing of pool cars “in their droves” because of concern over duty of care. To meet short term and seasonal fleet requirements the company introduced a flexible rental programme known as Flex3 which provides vehicles for a minimum of three months at a fixed cost to include servicing and breakdown recovery. Meanwhile, there are the routine challenges of managing a fleet. Chief among these are acquisition and remarketing – the more so as vehicle choice and options expand and depreciation levels rise. In particular, major leasing groups and independent fleets alike have been caught out by the higher than anticipated decline in used car prices. But with the abundance of data now available on whole life running costs, allied to services offered by fleet management and remarketing groups, there’s little excuse for not having an effective and cost efficient company car policy.
Take, for example, DaimlerChrysler Services Fleet Management which oversees an all-makes UK fleet of around 42,000 vehicles. The company, through its consulting division, offers industry research, fleet auditing and analysis. This in turn includes whole life cost comparisons, optimum funding methods, and budget and tax analysis.
GE Fleet Services has launched what it describes as “a monthly third party service feedback report” to provide details of performance in six key operating areas – accident management, glass services, rental services, roadside assistance, tyre services and new vehicle dealers.
Looking to the future, it is inevitable that duty of care will remain centre stage for some time, not least because of the uncertainty of its full implications. As one fleet manager noted, there are concerns over the precise implications of current and forthcoming legislation and people are waiting “until it strikes someone.”
Etch it and track it
At first glance, it might seem hard to imagine why fleet managers should concern themselves too much with vehicle security. After all, car crime has been falling and ever-more sophisticated alarms and immobilisers make cars very difficult to steal.
But the fact is that two cars are stolen every minute in the UK, and vehicle theft and fraud remains a major problem costing owners, insurers, finance companies and the police around £3.5 billion every year.
Recent research by Autoglass indicates that one in 10 fleet vehicles fell victim to car crime over the past year, with fleet managers estimating an average £2,536 annual cost of increased insurance premiums.
There’s no single, easy answer, but if you run Toyotas, Skodas, Mazdas, Saabs or even LDV commercials, you might have noticed that the glass carries discretely etched code numbers. These are among manufacturers who use the Retainagroup vehicle marking system and registration on the International Security Register (ISR). Police and insurance statistics show that a marked vehicle is 55 per cent less likely to be stolen. And if it is stolen, it has a 50 per cent better chance of being recovered.
What makes the Retainagroup system unique is the registration of vehicle and owner details on the ISR. Also etched on the glass is the 24 hour ISR phone number. This is used by the police, dealers, insurers and the public to check vehicle ownership and whether there is any police interest. That code number can be instantly linked to the correct VIN, engine number and registration number, as well as the rightful owner. The ISR also holds key and audio codes. A dealer, for example, can call the ISR if faced with a request for new keys from someone with an easy to obtain VIN number.
Quartix - which supports over 800 businesses with real-time tracking technology for around 5,500 vehicles - recently unveiled a partnership with Arriva Vehicle Rental for the installation of TrackTech on the company’s fleet of 12,000 cars and light commercial vehicles.
Quartix director Andy Kirk points out that vehicle tracking offers not only security benefits but also helps to encourage safer driving – which brings the fleet agenda back full circle to ‘duty of care’.