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What are pre-trip inspections and why are they important for fleets?

What are pre-trip inspections and why are they important for fleets?

Pre-trip inspections involve a series of vehicle checks, carried out before the vehicle in question heads off to carry out its assigned tasks. They are important to fleets because they help fleet operators meet their duty of care responsibilities to drivers and can provide an effective way to implement preventative vehicle maintenance, helping to reduce unscheduled downtime and the disruption (as well as costs) associated with it.

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In order to be truly effective, pre-trip checks need to be carried out thoroughly and regularly to ensure that vehicle defects are identified and resolved before becoming a health and safety risk. The pre-trip inspection is often a key element of a business’ duty of care towards their staff, and having a rigorous and auditable process of capturing and resolving maintenance is a clear demonstration that a business is committed to ensuring that vehicles are fit for purpose. 

Q: How important are pre-trip checklists?

A: Pre-trip vehicle inspection checklists are vitally important for ensuring that mechanical issues are spotted before vehicles head out on the road. Provided these checklists are thorough and rigorous, and carried out to the letter, they should have an impact on reducing accident rates and enhancing driver safety as well as keeping unexpected downtime to a minimum. The point about driver and road safety is particularly important. Employers have a duty of care to their workforce and so have a responsibility to ensure that they take reasonable steps to ensure that their drivers are as safe as possible at work. This has to involve creating a culture of road safety throughout the organisation, and ensuring that regular, thorough pre-trip checks are made must be an integral part of this.
 

Q: How can technology assist with vehicle inspections and maintenance?

A: Telematics technology has drastically simplified the pre-trip inspections process, and provided managers with unprecedented visibility into it. The process of recording inspections is now much simpler and more efficient because of telematics; the time and effort of recording results on paper and then passing them on to managers has been cut out entirely. The use of forms on electronic devices provides a quick and auditable process for managing inspections which can also be integrated with maintenance scheduling software so that defects found during inspections are dealt with by upcoming scheduled maintenance, or (where necessary) the vehicle is immediately taken in for maintenance work.

Q: How do electronic driver vehicle inspection reports work?

A: Electronic driver vehicle inspection reports make it easy and quick for drivers to complete and submit the results of pre-trip and post-trip inspections via an in-vehicle device, which also automatically sends a copy of the digital report to fleet managers. This helps to ensure that potential safety and mechanical issues are diagnosed and dealt with sooner. It also simplifies compliance, by providing hard data in real time – thereby allowing business to quickly identify vehicles in need of maintenance – and drastically cut down on the paper trail, as the whole process is paper-free. It is also worth noting that these reports will also record recurring problems, which themselves may be an indication of an underlying issue. 

Q: How thorough should pre-trip inspections be?

A: Again, the thoroughness of pre-trip checks and the amount of time you need to spend on them will vary according to the vehicles involved and the nature of the checks being carried out. A lorry inspection, for instance, will take considerably longer than checking a van. Nevertheless, drivers should be prepared to spend at least half an hour before setting off carrying out whatever checks are required. Drivers must be made aware that rushing through a pre-trip inspection simply so they can get on the road quicker is a false economy. Rushed pre-trip checks are highly likely to mean that faults and problems go overlooked, which means a higher risk of breakdowns and faults which could result in breakdowns and disruption further along the line.

Q: How can fleets encourage drivers to carry out thorough pre-trip checks?

A: Fleets must ensure that they secure ‘buy-in’ from drivers for pre-trip inspections. Positive engagement with the driving workforce is particularly important here. Fleet managers must explain to drivers why these checks are so important, and they also need to make sure that drivers have enough time to carry out these inspections (they need to be given sufficient time to do so, rather than being pressured to go straight out on to the road). This should also be incorporated into driver training, which needs to underline the importance of regular preventative maintenance and checks to reduce the risk of unscheduled downtime. Positive engagement with drivers – and being prepared to listen to their feedback – should help to give them positive motivation to carry out regular and thorough pre-trip inspections. The requirement for daily pre-trip inspections also puts this responsibility in drivers’ hands, and incorporating it as a fundamental part of their jobs encourages ownership of this activity.

Q: What are grey fleets, and how do they affect pre-trip inspections?

A: The term ‘grey fleet’ refers to people who use their own vehicles for work purposes: in other words, vehicles which are not part of the main fleet and do not belong to the company, but are used for business travel and transport. Whether the fleet is owned or ‘grey’, the business concerned still has a responsibility for ensuring the vehicles used are fit for purpose. This includes the same duty of care and corporate manslaughter responsibilities applicable elsewhere. Pre-trip inspections should be completed across grey fleets, with maintenance requirements checked and minimum requirements set for grey fleet vehicles used for business purposes. There are a number of steps firms can take to ensure the responsible use of grey fleets, and their effective maintenance. Firstly, fleets must actively measure grey fleet usage, particularly through gathering hard data via telematics or mobile apps. Another important point to bear in mind is that ‘grey fleet’ vehicles tend to be older than those from the main fleet. According to a study from BVRLA, grey fleets have an average vehicle age of 8.2 years as opposed to 7.9 years generally. Being older, these vehicles also tend to lack many of the safety and efficiency features that newer vehicles have. Fleets must therefore impose certain basic standards on drivers of ‘grey fleet’ vehicles with regard to roadworthiness and safety, and must also remind these drivers of the need to undertake various checks before every journey – such as fuel, oil, windscreen (including wipers and fluids), tyres and mirrors.

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