Fleet Safety directors live in a constant balancing act: Get drivers to destinations on time; encourage safe driving habits; demand nothing but the highest standards of performance from each and every driver; and handle the reality of human error that is inevitable.
When considering the number of hours an over-the-road truck driver spends behind the wheel, it stands to reason that these drivers would be more likely than any other to receive a traffic violation. And while it may seem counter-intuitive to the old “Safety First” adage, some safety managers are looking to legal solutions to enhance their safety programs.
Such services assist drivers in locating legal assistance if and when they are accused of a traffic violation. Typically, these programs are subscription-based, with weekly or monthly membership fees applied to the driver.
However, companies have taken notice of the corporate advantages of legal referral programs as well. For one thing, some programs can help a fleet spot safety-issue trends.
“Carrier members of our plan receive management reports on a monthly basis that detail open violations (moving or non-moving) for drivers within the company,” said Jake Sitler, general manager of Open Road Drivers Plan. “The reports include the dates and locations of the incidents, and the status of the citation.”
The Overland Park, Kansas-based company provides legal referrals and bail bonds to drivers in the event of legal trouble, and assists carriers in keeping their drivers on the road and out of the courthouse.
“Managers utilize management reports in any number of ways,” Sitler said. “A manager may need to call a specific driver in for additional one-on-one training, or adjust the training program to tackle specific safety issues within the fleet.”
John Hiscox, a member of the Safety Council for the Truckload Carriers Association, has utilized pre-paid legal plans as well as legal referral plans within his safety programs at Koch Companies, Q-Carriers, and Asche Transfer. Several years ago, he was able to spot a peculiar trend within the management report he received from Open Road.
“Several of our drivers had been ticketed in the same town, by the same officer on multiple occasions - to the extent that we felt our drivers were being taken advantage of,” Hiscox said.
In this case, he was able to contact the right people within the town to resolve the issue directly. “We haven't had an issue there since.
“This was a case that goes to show, you don't have to be guilty to be cited,” he noted.
Beyond the direct safety benefits of the program, legal solutions programs can help management reduce overhead because it provides the company, as well as the driver, with legal representation in the event of a citation, said Sitler. It also reduces instances of driver rerouting to and from the citation area for court appearances, and stabilizes the number of available drivers by working to protect their CDLs.
Additionally, companies can use programs such as Open Road as a tool for driver recruitment, training, and retention. They work to attract new drivers as part of an appealing benefits package, and reduce the time and expense drivers need to spend searching for a competent attorney. That increases their time on the road, bringing in an income.
What's more, legal referral programs demonstrate a carrier's commitment to protect their drivers' CDLs and livelihood, Sitler said. “To that fact, I think it's important to recognize that even the best drivers are going to make a mistake. So it's important to provide those drivers with a fair shake when the time comes.”
Multi Service Corporation established Open Road Drivers Plan legal referral service for professional drivers in 1989 as a safety and retention tool for fleet owners. The service connects local, licensed attorneys with drivers, whenever and wherever they are needed.
In most cases, drivers never need appear in court, keeping a fleet's drivers on the road and in the workforce.
The program runs at no cost to the carrier. Open Road facilitates the orientation process for the program and processes all of the paperwork and reporting.
Typically, fees are collected via payroll deduction on the carrier side. However, Open Road also provides a rebate to the carrier for each driver on the payroll program in order to minimize administrative costs to the company.