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July 30, 2014
Fleet safety: Don't be slow about addressing a leading vehicle safety issue--speeding

In the movies, it's exciting and glamorous: Ex-cop Brian O'Connor threads his tricked-out Nissan Skyline smoothly through the Southern California traffic at high speed on his way to a big-money illegal street race.

In the real world, though, actor Paul Walker (who played O'Connor in the Fast and Furious films) and his friend professional driver Roger Rodas were driving Rodas's Porsche Carrera GT at more than 100 miles per hour (mph) when the car spun out, crashed, and burned, killing both men.

Speed is deadly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), excessive speed is involved in 31 percent of the nation's fatal crashes. But rather than slowing down, Americans are driving ever faster, NHTSA's research revealed. From 2007 to 2009, the percentage of drivers speeding on U.S. highways increased from 48.3 percent to 71.1 percent, with 45 percent of drivers exceeding the speed limit by at least 5 mph (up from 28 percent in 2007).

Workers who are on the clock, driving company vehicles, are part of this trend, too. What can employers do to slow them down?

How fast is too fast?

Workers may recognize the standard white speed limit sign, and know they're going too fast if they exceed that, but make sure they also recognize:

  • Yellow advisory speed limits. Along some roads, workers will encounter yellow signs that give a lower speed based on a specific local hazard or condition—the presence of pedestrians, a sharp curve, or an area with limited visibility, for example. These "advisory" speed limits are not enforceable by law, but requiring your drivers to observe them will reduce accidents.
  • Orange override speed limits. In construction zones or work zones, drivers may encounter orange signs with posted speed limits that are lower than the ordinary limit for the road. Unlike the yellow advisory speed limit signs, these orange signs legally overrule the posted speed limit. Workers must slow down.

Although "speeding" is generally defined as "exceeding the speed limit," that's not the only time that employees may be driving too fast. Make sure workers know they're driving too fast if they:

  • Drive too fast for conditions. Some road conditions—fog, heavy rain, ice, and smoke, for example—warrant slowing down. Any time visibility is reduced or road conditions are slick, workers need to slow down.
  • Tailgate. Drivers should leave 3 seconds' distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front when driving below highway speeds in ideal conditions. At highway speed, or when conditions are poor (reduced visibility or slippery road conditions), they should leave 4 to 5 seconds' distance. In extremely dangerous conditions—snow and ice, for example?? to 8 seconds' following distance is needed.

What employers can do

The single most important thing you can do to discourage employees from driving too fast on the clock is to make sure they have adequate time to get where they're going.

Besides reducing the chance of an accident, driving at the speed limit and driving less aggressively can result in significant fuel-cost savings.

Just as you see that workers know they are not required to take work-related calls or text messages while driving, you need to see that they know they are not expected to exceed any posted speed limit as a part of their job and are not required to drive faster than conditions safely permit. This may mean adjusting their schedules so they have sufficient travel time.

You should also have a written policy in place covering speeding for workers who drive on the clock. Workers need to know that:

  • They must pay their own speeding tickets. Believe it or not, workers do not assume this. Put it in writing.
  • They must report speeding tickets to you. If workers receive speeding tickets while on the clock, require them to report it. It will affect your insurance and your overall risk of a work-related crash, so it's important that you know about workers who habitually drive too fast. You can get this information in other ways, of course, but it should also be your policy to require workers to 'fess up on their own.
  • You will be requesting reports from your insurer. Speeding tickets should be reported to your insurer, but your insurer may or may not automatically report them to you. Make a habit of asking for this information on a regular basis.
  • Speeding is subject to your disciplinary policy.
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