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LEGAL LINES - Your safe driving policy

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A safe driving policy is exactly that: a policy to help manage work-related road safety and to keep employees and vehicles safe on the road. It’s important to think carefully about what to include in your safe driving policy to achieve these goals. Some policies will be optional but there are aspects that are vital to having a robust, effective and efficient safe driving policy that will keep workers safe while saving businesses a lot of stress and money.

The NZ Transport Agency has helpfully published guidelines to assist in developing a safe driving policy. NZTA divides its list into two sections, the ‘must-haves’ and the ‘could-haves’. Before including any of these suggestions in your policy, you may wish to consult an employment lawyer to check them against the Employment Relations Act 2000 and your employees’ contracts, as they may require specific agreements to be written into contacts.

The ‘must-haves’
Choose vehicles with high safety ratings. These include features such as electronic stability control, four-star minimum ANCAP crash rating, head-protecting side or curtain airbags. When buying, hiring or equipping vehicles, choose easily visible colours such as red or white, speed warning devices, a cage to protect drivers from loose loads moving forward in a sudden stop, and automatic daytime running lights. A recent innovation is the installation of alcohol interlocks that prevent a vehicle being started if alcohol is detected when the driver blows into a breath-testing device.

Maintain company vehicles properly, as well-maintained vehicles use less fuel. Don’t risk being fined up to $2000 for operating an unsafe vehicle. The basics for vehicle maintenance include: following the manufacturer’s maintenance requirements and schedule, tyre checks, safety belt checks, rust checks, exhaust system checks, and special equipment such as fire extinguishers, first aid kit, torch, a reflective vest, and emergency triangle.

Address driver behaviour by having procedures in place to deal with poor driving behaviour. Incorporate the safe driving policy into the company’s health and safety policy and make it a vital part of the company’s code of conduct. Undertake disciplinary action when procedures aren’t followed, and consider a test to ensure employees can perform basic manoeuvres such as parallel parking and reversing.

Create safer drivers through training and education. There are many courses to consider, but overseas experience suggests companies should provide regular training sessions because they are more effective than one-off sessions. Internal courses can be tailored by having regular meetings to discuss driving issues. There are also corporate defensive driving courses, courses for special vehicles, first aid courses, or the NZTA can conduct a 40-minute driving assessment followed by a recommendation as to training requirements or suitable programmes.

Ensure all drivers are licensed and trained to operate the vehicles they drive. Employers are responsible for ensuring that drivers hold the right category of licence and that it is valid. To meet this obligation, operators can subscribe to the NZTA’s Driver Check (https://drivercheck.nzta.govt.nz/). Remember, the police can impound vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers, even if they are company vehicles.

Help to lower speed by making sure staff have enough time to travel between destinations; make staff responsible for their own speeding tickets; and ensure managers communicate that meeting deadlines is no excuse for speeding. Prohibit drinkdriving and other drugs, provide food and non-alcoholic drinks at functions, provide courtesy vans for work functions, and encourage the use of taxis and designated drivers.

Promote the use of safety belts and other safety features. Minimise driver distraction by encouraging staff to switch off mobile phones while driving; ensure windscreens and mirrors are clean; make sure that goods are properly secured; and if unfamiliar with a route, look at a map before commencing a journey.

Address driver weariness or exhaustion, otherwise known as fatigue. It affects a driver’s reactions by slowing them down, reducing their judgment of risk, and they take longer to understand what is happening on the road.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: even if a driver is within the maximum work time hours, they can still be fatigued. Compliance with the worktime rules might not be a defence for employers. The obligations in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 make it the employer’s responsibility to schedule drivers’ work so that they have time for rest breaks and recovery. So, watch out for staff who are not getting adequate, good-quality sleep, who show signs of stress created by family or personal circumstances, or who work shifts or extended hours. Most importantly, remember that the only cure for fatigue is quality sleep, not caffeine, winding down the window, or turning up the music.

The ‘could-haves’
The above list is not exhaustive and there is additional material that could be included to make the safe driving policy even more wide-ranging and thorough. This could include:
• Some focus on fuel efficiency. Although the link may not appear obvious, overseas studies have shown that there is a direct, positive connection between fuel-efficient driving and crash reduction.
• Employee incentives for safe driving behaviour and procedures to deal with poor driving behaviour.
• Encouraging employees to maintain a healthy diet, together with sleep, work and exercise habits that assist safe driving.

Overall, remember that what is put in the policy should address the problems identified specific to your business. Don’t forget to include your staff, especially when looking at how to raise awareness of driver safety and efficiency or fatigue.