Seven steps to successful fleet management

The AA

Keeping a fleet of cars, vans and trucks moving is crucial to the success of any business. With rising pressures on fleet managers to not only maintain a smoothly-run, economic fleet but also take into account ever-changing legislation and driver safety, it’s no wonder today’s managers are looking for ways in which to streamline processes.

The AA recognises that in today’s economic climate, fleet managers have a responsibility to both improving company performance and a duty of care towards employees. As the economic downturn continues, the AA made a bold move and invested its profits back into its services allowing customers, who are increasingly feeling the squeeze, to benefit from the most advanced technology available in the UK. In 2016 the AA invested £150m into its systems. A large proportion of this has gone into frontline services to improve its offer to fleet and SME customers.

Here, Stuart Thomas, head of fleet services at the AA, gives advice on how to effectively utilise technology to streamline process and improve efficiencies across fleets of all sizes.

1. Plan the direction of travel

There are numerous route planning tools on the market, from simple postcode maps to sophisticated time management software. However, they really pay dividends when it comes to plotting the best route from A to B. It might not always be clear as to how long a job is going to take, but taking a strategic approach to plotting appointments means mileage can be kept to a minimum, reducing the time spent on the road and allowing personnel to focus as much of the working day on fee-earning work.

The latest in-vehicle navigation systems from the AA all feature live traffic information, so blackspots can be avoided, while job updates can be sent straight to drivers on the road so they don’t have to keep returning to base between every appointment. With the latest fleet management and telematics technologies, managers can keep an eye on all vehicles and make sure that the most time effective route is taken.

Telemetry is one of the most effective and efficient ways of monitoring safety. The AA offers a breakdown and telematics service to fleets in conjunction with Trakm8, a leading supplier of telematics hardware. Historically used for basic vehicle-tracking, telematics systems are now helping companies to run their fleets more efficiently. This translates to cost savings and better use of vehicles and route planning, resulting in safer working conditions for employees.

2. Prevention is better than cure

Accident management is a key aspect in running and maintaining a safe and effective fleet. However, in order to increase efficiencies, it is vital that managers take an holistic approach to the overall management of their fleet. A proven way in which fleets and SMEs can do this is by becoming more risk aware and focusing on implementing changes to minimise risk and avoid needless downtime.

Recent changes to legislation saw the fixed penalty for being caught using a mobile phone or hand-held device while driving increase from £100 to £200* as well as adding six points on an offender’s licence.

New research for the AA shows that drivers consider texting while driving (71%) to be more than twice as risky as drink-driving (29%)**. And with the majority of fleet and SME motorists not driving as their primary job, it is vital that fleet managers make their employees aware of the changes to legislation immediately.

3. Responsible driving

As the government looks to increase driving penalties for offences including speeding, it is vital that drivers realise the implications of responsive and responsible driving.

Not only does poor driver behaviour increase the risk of an accident, an erratic driving style can reduce fuel economy and increase wear and tear on gears, brakes and tyres. Department for Transport figures state vehicles use up to 9% more fuel driving at 70mph than at 60mph, and up to 15% more fuel than driving at 50mph.

To keep motoring costs down, it is important to maintain a steady speed, accelerate and brake slowly, exploit stop and start technology to reduce idling time and switch off the engine when stuck in traffic. Many business vehicles come fitted with monitoring technology that provides real-time driver feedback in order see how well vehicles are performing against fuel consumption targets and smooth driving objectives. The secret to achieving a high mpg figure is driving at the lowest speed appropriate, safely, in the highest possible gear.

4. Pastoral care

Fleet managers across the UK widely believe the relationship they have with their drivers is key to the success of their fleet. But often the needs and aims of managers run at odds to those of drivers, and vice versa.

In the day-to-day running of a fleet, managers need to think about the aims of the business and balance this against the needs, preferences and welfare of their drivers, who are much more concerned with getting to their location on time and ensuring their vehicle is working effectively.

However, attitudes are changing, with fleet managers placing more importance on driver safety, environmental impact, fleet efficiency and health and safety legislation. This pastoral approach not only helps management comply with HR legislation regarding the duty of care for employees, but also helps create a more open route for employees to approach line managers about potential issues with driving and fleet.

The AA recently produced the Operational Fleet Insight Report in conjunction with BT Fleet. The report found that far from focusing on disciplining drivers, 33% of fleet managers primarily use monitoring technology to reduce accident rates, half are prioritising reducing unnecessary mileage and 29% are focusing on gathering evidence to reward their drivers.
The AA is seeing a changing trend with managers looking for ways to work more closely with their drivers. Using telematics to support employees is the ideal way to help improve driver behaviour through learning and developing vehicle standards.

Fleet managers who believe their drivers understand the reasons for safety policies, and take these on board, have advocated a softer, more advisory and maternal tone as the most effective approach to improving safety measures. Corroborating this, the report found 58% of drivers said they would be interested in free training days to improve their driving skills – something the AA is able to deliver.

5. Maintaining standards

Regular servicing might seem like a hassle, especially when staff just want to get on to the next job, but taking the time to make sure vehicles are in top condition can really pay off when it comes to preventing unnecessary downtime. Keeping tyres fully inflated, all fluid levels topped up and removing heavy objects when they are not needed can help save fuel as well as keeping the engine running reliably, helping to avoid preventable breakdowns.

Minimising the chances of preventable accidents through maintenance is another way in which managers can improve efficiencies. Vehicles that are regularly serviced are less likely to be involved in an accident. For example, 16.9% of callouts to the AA are for wheel and tyre issues. By making regular checks on tyre tread depth and pressure, drivers can help reduce the chance of an accident or breakdown relating to wheels and tyres. This results in a lower level of vehicle and employee downtime and reducing overall costs.

6. Get covered

Of course, no matter how much care is taken, there is always the chance of break down – usually at the most inconvenient moment. This unplanned downtime could mean jobs are missed, the chance to earn is lost and customers are dissatisfied. Not to mention that drivers are left hanging around at the side of the road. Communication is key and it is crucial that everyone taking a business vehicle out on the road understands what to do if anything goes wrong.

Best practice indicates companies should review their breakdown provider to ensure they have the correct level of cover for any eventuality in line with the changing requirements of the business. Depending on how vehicles are used will determine the policy needed and a quick call to your breakdown provider should be able to help. Just one breakdown on the motorway could cost a business more than £250, not including loss of earnings, whereas ongoing business breakdown cover would see repairs and parts covered on the spot.

7. Take charge of motoring costs

For staff keen to get on with the job at hand, unexpected motoring costs can prove to be a real distraction. Alongside the expected fuel and servicing costs, unplanned downtime and repair bills can have a significant impact on a business operations – whether that’s a fleet of hundreds or a single vehicle failing to make it to the appointment. A few key actions – route planning, driving style, regular maintenance and breakdown cover – can make all the difference when it comes to taking charge of motoring costs.

And finally…

The AA attends more than 3.4 million breakdowns per year – that’s equivalent to one every nine seconds. Our vans carry nearly 1800 parts, tools and consumables to help get customers on their way – all backed up by exclusive Bosch diagnostics technology. Our patrols fix eight out of ten vehicles at the roadside and complete all roadside repairs in just under half an hour, on average.

The AA’s award-winning business breakdown cover is available throughout the UK and in Europe and our commitment to customer service is well known. In August 2016, Which? re-awarded the AA ‘Recommended Provider’ status for breakdown cover, an accolade we have enjoyed for many years. Plus, in March 2017, the AA Fleet and SME division was awarded the Fleet News Award for Customer Service and was highly commended as the Fleet News Fleet Supplier of the Year 2017.

The AA is the UK's most popular breakdown cover provider. Trusted by millions, it provides 24/7, 365 day assistance to 65% of the top 20 fleets in the UK. The AA’s expert knowledge is backed by funding with a £44m investment drive in technology in 2016 alone. Plus, the AA is working closely with manufacturers and its clients to implement route management, driving training, risk management and operational vehicle technology to help reduce the risk drivers face on UK roads.

For more information on the AA’s services please visit our website or contact us.

* The fixed penalty for a CU80 hand-held mobile phone offence increases from £100 and 3 points to £200 and 6 points from 1 March 2017.

** Populus interviewed 17,575 AA members between 17-24 December in an on-line poll.  Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its code of conduct