As Canada continues to endure various restrictions, protocols and limitations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing is becoming abundantly clear. Canadians, it seems, are quite content to trade any number of freedoms once considered sacrosanct, for the safety promised by the curtailment of them. If you put any stock in polls, a recent Ipsos survey reported that 78% of respondents are in favour of them and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce agrees vaccine passports are the tool required for businesses to resume normal operations, whatever normal means today. Whether or not you agree with this is a moot point for the purposes of this editorial. Given this new zeitgeist, I suggest that fleet operators, owners and managers, seize the opportunity that this prevailing attitude has created and implement any vehicle command and control policies and procedures that may have, in the not so distant but completely obliterated past, been stuck on issues of privacy. The first thing you should do is adopt a telematics system. They have been proven to be very effective for asset control, route optimization, driver behaviour and more. Don’t stop there, dashcams that record both the driver and the windshield view are a must, given the uptick in staged accidents and contested incidents. Speed limiters might want to be added, to ensure no driver is tempted to drive above the posted limit. With the rise in distracted driving, driven in no small part by texting while at the wheel. Cell phone suppression systems need to be included in your calculations for optimum safety. This makes up only a selection of in vehicle systems that can be used to drive down risk.
At this point, some may think the job is done but wait, there’s more, much more. It seems it is time to move beyond the vehicle to the vehicle operator. If you have ever considered adding drug and alcohol testing to your fleet policies, now’s the time to move forward on that initiative. After all, anytime anyone gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, they potentially put themselves and others in harm’s way. Regardless of the size of the risk, to paraphrase a meme in common parlance today, “no one’s safe until we are all safe.” In addition to regular testing, fleet managers may want to increase the frequency and scope of MVR checks to ensure that nothing is slipping through the cracks. As society gets more and more comfortable with greater intrusion into their personal information, updating driver records on a quarterly or monthly basis will help reduce liability risk. I am confident that the technology to do checks in real time exists and can tie government driving record databases to smartphones, where as part of one’s “safety passport” that information is readily available for the appropriate authorities to examine on demand. Adding MVR checks for any members of a driver’s family who potentially may get behind the wheel will also help manage that risk. For that matter, the drug and alcohol testing policy should be extended to them as well. Indeed, advances in OEM vehicle telematics technology can disable a vehicle on demand, making it inoperable outside of approved business hours. Of course, for those approved times, interlock devices that prevent a vehicle from starting if the drivers blood alcohol level, as measured by a breathalyzer, is over the legal limit (but to help reduce risk, that limit can be set to zero). It is fairly well known, that in Canada heart and cerebrovascular diseases are leading causes of death annually. While not all are a result of lifestyle choices, enough are that mounting a robust defence in support of monitoring any driver’s diet, exercise, smoking and other behaviour to encourage actions that reduce the risk of getting any of these diseases is warranted. This of course would be extended to any member of a driver’s family who may have the opportunity to drive the vehicle as well.
Warming to the task, fleet managers can move to the next rational step, removing the driver completely from the operation of the vehicle. After all, the safest driver is the one who never gets behind the wheel. As it stands today, there are numerous pilots and beta tests of autonomous vehicles on public roads logging millions of kilometres demonstrating their superior safety to human controlled vehicles. Along with the advances in virtual meeting technologies and the changes in business behaviour Covid-19 has wrought regarding in person contact, it could be argued that many functions carried out by the sales force could be accomplished virtually, with only modest impact to generated revenue, whose decline, if any, would certainly be offset by the savings in not supplying a vehicle, fuel, maintenance, insurance etc. That still leaves the challenge and associated risk of the service or vocational fleet driver but hopefully some of the above suggestions can mitigate some of the most glaring.
A careful reader has probably noticed that I fell victim to the logical fallacy of reductio Ad Absurdum in my previous paragraphs. I wonder though if many readers might acknowledge that much of what is occurring around the world these days is a result of too many people falling prey to the fallacy of Argumentum Ad Baculum as well as Ad Populum and Ad Verecundiam. All I know is that the current zeitgeist is a huge distraction from some of the very real challenges that fleet operators are going to face in the coming years. If these and others are to be addressed in a manner consistent with the goal of optimizing human flourishing, I pray more people dare to look through the telescope.