Fleet safety – Legal regulations every fleet manager needs to know
Safety is one of the foremost concerns in fleet management. Whether it is a small fleet of a dozen vehicles or a large fleet of mixed vehicle types, ensuring safety is the priority of every fleet manager. Safety in the workplace is regulated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The goal is to shield employees from potential hazards whatever way possible. Failure to comply with these regulations can quickly result in severe penalties. In this post, we will explain the safety issues relevant to every fleet and what fleet managers need to pay attention to.
Safety affects all aspects of a fleet
A company vehicle is more than just a means of transport to get from point A to B, comfortably and quickly. It is often also a status symbol that reflects professional success. So, it is not uncommon for company vehicles to be given as a perk and/or to retain employees. For sales and field service employees, a company car also doubles as a mobile office. It is from here that e-mails are sent, appointments coordinated and customer meetings prepared. This means company vehicles are subject to strict and legally-compliant safety regulations, like any stationary workplace.
Vehicle safety in the fleet is complex and comprehensive because it affects the fleet manager, who is held responsible, but it directly impacts drivers and their vehicles. To ensure protection of all parties, lawmakers stipulate every vehicle fleet be managed by a competent individual already employed in the company or one who is recruited specifically for this position. It is important to keep in mind, when filling this position, that the candidate has experience managing fleets since many newcomers underestimate the diversity and complexity of the job. In addition to knowledge of the technical specs of his fleet, a fleet manager needs, above all, to be familiar with the myriad of safety regulations.
Safety issues of respondeat superior liability
Respondeat superior liability is one of the leading subjects in fleet management. According to §7 of the Road Traffic Act (StVG), vehicle owners are held responsible in the event of an accident, even if someone else was driving the vehicle at the time. As a rule, fleet managers are considered the vehicle owner, whose job is to ensure the cars are safe for use on the road and drivers are in possession of a valid driver’s license. Validating driver’s licenses is mandatory, regardless of the size of the fleet. This check must be conducted minimally once a year and documented in writing. If a driver with a non-valid driver’s license causes an accident, the fleet manager may be held liable.
Another aspect of respondeat superior is the annual UVV (Accident Insurance Regulation) driver instruction, which must be organized and documented by the fleet manager. UVV driver instruction ensures each company car driver is kept abreast of the latest regulations regarding road traffic and has been informed of all the safety aspects of the company vehicle. An indirect issue, but one that is just as much a part of respondeat superior liability, is statutory rest periods. Company car drivers who are on the road for long periods of time are required by law to take breaks so as to avoid possible accidents due to fatigue. If the owner neglects or ignores these statutes, they may face heavy fines and, in serious cases, incarceration.
Special case of transfer of obligation to the driver
Companies are not always willing or able to bear full responsibility in the event of an accident. Small fleets, in particular, can easily run into financial difficulties as a result of damage caused by an accident. In some fleets, a vehicle transfer agreement obligates drivers to perform regular vehicle checks and inspections on their own. At first glance, this might appear to release fleet managers of all liabilities, but, on closer inspection, it is a bit more complicated.
Even if all the rights and obligations of the driver are detailed in the transfer agreement, the fleet manager is held partially responsible in the event of a driver’s non-compliance with the agreement (the driver does not take the car in for regular inspections or deliberately misses the statutory driver instruction). The exact share of liability in the event of an accident, as well as the extent of private use of the company car, are specified in the contract.
In a nutshell: organization and safety go hand in hand
Fleet management means, first and foremost, organization. It is not only the vehicles themselves that need to be highly coordinated, but the drivers and statutory obligations require as much attention. Effort is called for, but it is worth it – a well-organized fleet is also a safe and economically sustainable fleet. In short, fleet managers are the first port of call when it comes to fleets and their safe operation; and they should also be the first point of contact in the event of an accident. Regular training, both for fleet managers and drivers, is a matter of course for any company with an in-house fleet. After all, only an efficient exchange of knowledge can ensure safe and flexible corporate mobility.