Test Time

How to spec' to keep your drivers and vehicles safer.

"GM started releasing another feature a couple of years ago called Advanced Automatic Crash Notification," Beiermeister adds. "We put sensors all around the vehicle, so it doesn't have to have an airbag deployment in order to make that call."

While it might sound a little "big brother" at first, Beiermeister is quick to point out that GM does not monitor vehicle location at any time other than at the request of the driver, or in the event of a crash.

The Tire Priority

Richard Van Dyke, vice president of Tire Sentry, sees tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) as a great way to improve both tire life and overall vehicle safety. The TPMS has the ability to alert the driver when there is a problem in the inflation levels of any tire on the vehicle. Giving the driver a chance to address the inflation problem before it is too late can be critical to his or her safety.

According to Van Dyke, "The tire manufacturers tell us that all those alligators we see out there on the road are not just from retreads, but they're from new tires as well—a result, generally, of tires being under-inflated," he says. "When they're under-inflated it leads to excessive sidewall flexing which generates more heat than a tire can withstand. Pretty soon the tire starts to de-vulcanize and leads to what they call a 'zipper rupture,' and the tire just comes apart. That's all a result of a tire that's under-inflated."

Training: Is it Enough?

Of course, it goes without saying that a driver with all the safety systems in the world can still crash a car. But, according to IIHS's Zuby, there is another side to this too: don't rely too much on driver training to keep your vehicles and operators out of harm's way.

"The research that we know about driver training suggests that it doesn't, by itself, lead to lower crash rates among drivers," Zuby says. "Certainly some kind of training, with some level of monitoring and enforcement to make sure a driver is adhering to safe driving practices can be effective. But simply giving somebody training doesn't necessarily lead to that person being a safer driver."

Charting the Return

The payback on these types of safety features, of course, comes in the way of keeping your employees safe. Still, if you want numbers, think about cost avoidance.

With GM's OnStar, the safety features are coupled with other cost saving devices. "From a cost avoidance sort of thing— this is the most amazing number: we get involved in 50,000+ remote door unlocks in a month," Beiermeister says. The OnStar operators have the ability to electronically open the locks after receiving the call and relevant vehicle information. "We can get somebody back on the road in a couple of minutes where they might have had to wait a couple of hours. We've had people that have been able to make appointments because we've been able to help them. Fleets would tell you that the cost of sending somebody out to do a door unlock could be as high as $150."

Tire Sentry's Van Dyke suggests that a TPMS can also improve efficiency by reducing the number of necessary manual tire checks. "Electronic tire pressure monitoring could be a particularly useful tool in reducing the need for manual pressure checks having to be done on a regular basis. It also can free up some of the yard personnel for other tasks."

Hella's Snow maintains that when spec'ing a vehicle for safety, cost should not be the number one concern. "There's a lot of research we've done; price can't be the only consideration when you're talking about safety items," he says. "There has to be some consideration for the innovation and the effectiveness of it. That's what we can bring to the party."

A Little Help From Your Friends

If it seems like there is almost too much to choose from, you can always rely on IIHS to offer advice. Their website features an array of vehicle reviews and testing procedures, to ensure that you can know every thing possible to know about safety before the point of purchase.

"For people looking for recommendations, IIHS now does publish what we consider our top safety picks for cars," Zuby says.

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