Whether you run an interstate trucking company, a plumbing company, a pizza delivery company, or a single food truck, if your business owns any motor vehicles operated by employees, your business is at risk of liability in the event of an accident. A well-drafted fleet policy, sometimes called a vehicle maintenance and safe driving policy, can help mitigate your liability. Just as an employee handbook is a useful means of consolidating and disseminating employee policies, a fleet policy can help organize your company’s various procedures and requirements when it comes to cars, trucks and other vehicles in use by your business. General counsel, HR, and safety managers should all be involved in crafting appropriate policies. It may also be a good idea to consult with your insurance carrier and broker to determine the appropriate steps in developing a company fleet policy in Minnesota. A comprehensive fleet policy should comply with Minnesota transportation law and DOT guidelines, and potentially address the topics discussed below.
Scope and Intent of Policy
Fleet policies can cover many topics and should be custom-tailored to the business. The policy should define and list what a “company vehicle” is. A company vehicle typically includes vehicles in use by the company including, but not limited to, trucks, delivery trucks, automobiles used by outside sales persons, vans, tractor-trailers, and semi-trucks. Within a fleet policy, most companies will also want to address topics such as leased vehicles, employee use of rental cars, employee use of personal vehicles for company business, vehicle acquisition, and vehicle disposal.
You should know if your company operates “commercial vehicles.” A vehicle may still be a classified as a commercial vehicle even if a “commercial driver’s license” (“CDL”) isn’t required to operate the vehicle. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (the “FMCSA”), an agency of the DOT, has several definitions to for determining what qualifies as a commercial vehicle. One definition, discussed below, is used primarily for the purpose of drug testing. The other definition of a commercial vehicle is described by 49 C.F.R. § 390.5. This definition is used more broadly and applies to a majority of other contexts. 49 C.F.R. § 390.5 defines commercial vehicle to mean any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight in excess of 10,000 lbs., or is designed or used to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation, or is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers (including the driver) and is not used to transport passengers for compensation, or is used in transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding under the FMCSA regulations.
Commercial Vehicles and Drug Testing
A commercial driver must be drug‑free in order to be qualified to drive a motor vehicle, and businesses who own and operate vehicles are required by law to conduct certain forms of drug and alcohol testing for commercial drivers. Defined by the DOT for the purpose of drug testing, a commercial vehicle means any of the following:
- A vehicle having a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 or more pounds
- A vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver
- A vehicle designed to transport 11 or more passengers, including the driver, and used to transport students under the age twenty-one years of age to and from school
- Any vehicle transporting hazardous materials which is required to be placarded.
Drivers of commercial vehicles under this definition must have a CDL and are subject to mandatory drug testing and regular medical examinations.
The policy should re-affirm that drivers of company vehicles are employed at-will. It should also address independent contractors. Drivers should be vetted for proper licensure and certification and are subject to regular driver education and training. The policy might cover dress code, uniforms, and company branding for employees who are in the field. Other topics covered by a well drafted policy include driver eligibility, background checks, licensure requirements, maintenance of driver qualification files, medical exams and DOT medical cards, safety performance history, state and federal drug testing, review of motor vehicle records, disqualifying driving infractions, and insurance coverage requirements. A fleet policy should be consistent with your employee handbook, not contradictory.
The policy should address acceptable forms of vehicle use and operation. Specifically, the policy should address topics such as: personal use of company vehicles, approval for non-work use of vehicles, use of personal vehicles for company business, passengers, road safety, texting and phone use, smoking policies, willful or wanton misconduct, reckless driving, and traffic violations. Many companies have driver log requirements and new federal Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Rules became mandatory for most commercial drivers as of December 18, 2017, with full compliance required by December 16, 2019. For privacy reasons, use of GPS vehicle or fleet-tracking devices and monitoring technology should be disclosed.
Other topics that should be addressed by a fleet policy are record keeping requirements, which may include license plate renewal, title and registration, proof of insurance, proof of financial responsibility, driver qualification files, drug and alcohol testing records, records of duty status and supporting documents, driver vehicle inspection reports, vehicle maintenance reports, hazardous materials records, and taxes and fees. Proper record keeping should also include maintaining accident registers and retaining copies of all accident reports, as required by the state as well as other governmental entities or insurers.
Safety and Maintenance
Safety and proper maintenance are a critical purpose for having a fleet policy. Safety and maintenance issues include vehicle inspections, maintenance schedules, preventative maintenance procedures such as regular oil changes, tire replacement, repairs, seasonal tires and equipment, emergency equipment, road repairs, washing and cleaning, loading and unloading procedures, cargo restraints, and use of the company credit/fuel card. A fleet policy may also address safe driving requirements, such as defensive driving guidelines and safe driver award programs.
Defensive Driving Guidelines
In addition to requiring that employees or agents operating a company vehicle remain law abiding while on the road, comprehensive fleet policies may include on-the-road safety guidelines for employees and agents to follow. Guidelines may include things such as requiring that the vehicle’s operator maintain a recommended distance from other vehicles in adverse weather conditions and reduce vehicle speed while driving in rain and snow.
A well-drafted fleet policy should include address procedures for reporting accidents to emergency services and first responders, driver conduct at the accident scene, the accident investigation process, actual or suspected driving under the influence, post-accident drug testing, tendering to insurance, and employment consequences.
Who is Responsible?
Ultimately the policy should be clear as to who is responsible for reporting requirements, (internal and external), record keeping, maintenance, training, background checks, drug testing, accidents and collisions, disqualifying infractions, vehicle inspections, licensure and certifications, vehicle inspections, insurance, updated compliance, and who to contact with questions. The policy should also require an acknowledgement of receipt by every employee.
Making sure your employees are properly vetted, insured, and trained to safely operate company vehicles is a complicated undertaking, but a well-drafted fleet policy can save time, money and potentially save lives. Good policies emphasize safety and proper maintenance. They also help assure compliance with state and federal regulations, identify compliance gaps, provide guidance to employees and supervisors, and demonstrate that the company has undertaken best practices if an accident does occur.
If you are interested in having an attorney review, update or draft a fleet policy or drug testing policy for your business, contact the transportation law attorneys at Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A.
About the Author:
Minnesota transportation law attorney Craig W. Trepanier has experience representing transportation companies including household goods movers, motor carriers, third party logistics (3PL) companies, freight brokers, and delivery companies. Craig may be reached at 612.455.0502 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Trepanier MacGillis Battina P.A. is a Minnesota transportation law firm located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.