New easy-to-use apps are giving fleet managers of light commercial vehicles the tools to verify the road worthiness of their vehicles on a daily basis.
While many businesses might insist that drivers carry out a ‘pre-flight’ check every morning before turning the keys in the ignition, guaranteeing that drivers actually comply with the instruction is difficult.
This issue will be the focus of a principal presentation at Fleet Live, by Mark Cartwright head of vans and light commercial vehicles at the Freight Transport Association and a champion of the FTA’s Van Excellence scheme.
“With so many changes taking place in the vans market, it is vital FTA keeps operators abreast of the latest compliance and operational issues which are covered by the Van Excellence scheme,” said Cartwright.
“Fleet Live gives us the chance to talk directly to van operators, answering their questions and ensuring that they can work to the highest possible standards – as well as showcasing the latest initiatives which we hope will make their operations run even more smoothly.”
Unlike the heavy goods arena, where most vehicles return to a depot at the end of the day, about 80% of vans go home with the driver.
This makes it harder to oversee vehicle inspections and prevents the paper-based system of HGV drivers from working (heavy truck drivers can tick off the elements of their inspection on paper and then hand their form in to the gatehouse as they leave for the day, ensuring the fleet meets its Operator Licence requirements).
But an app-based system enables van drivers to work their way around vehicles, prompting an inspection of all key areas, and the report can then be automatically sent to the fleet department. Some businesses will only release a driver’s work schedule for the day when they have received the vehicle inspection report.
“Any fleet operator should be confident of their vehicles’ roadworthiness and of their drivers’ qualifications, and the most efficient way of doing that is a daily sign on,” said Cartwright.
“Most drivers now have access to a smartphone or tablet, which makes pre-drive inspection apps a good idea.”
The FTA is to launch its own Van Excellence app imminently, and Cartwright said a pre-drive check should not be onerous on the driver.
Three to five minutes should be sufficient to check tyres, lights, the windscreen wash reservoir and to note any damage or pools of oil under the vehicle.
FTA engineers categorise a number of vehicle issues as ‘neglect faults’, which a driver should be expected to pick up.
For fleet managers looking to instigate a new van inspection regime, Cartwright advised that apps should integrate with the fleet management software. Alternatively, if the fleet relies on its own IT system to manage vehicles, the app needs to be able to report on a standalone basis.
“The biggest single message we would say is to use the data,” he said. “If there’s evidence in your system that something needs addressing, then address it.”
He also recommended that fleets implement some form of triage system for assessing the faults reported by apps and determining what happens next and which faults are a priority.
A minor dent, for example, could be left until a vehicle is due to come in for routine maintenance work, whereas a bald tyre demands immediate action.
“We would contend that that the pre-use defect check is a fundamental cornerstone of any proper operator’s due diligence before they let the drivers loose on the road.
"It’s not just about road traffic prosections, it’s about protecting the organisation and individuals within it, from health and safety prosecutions,” said Cartwright.
The FTA’s Van Excellence scheme is supporting Fleet Live, and Mark Cartwright will be speaking on October 10.