The number of the UK’s company cars per se is unarguably reducing and stood at around a million vehicles at Lex Autolease’s most recent count, but the overall number of ‘fleet’ vehicles is growing and has likely exceeded fifteen million. This is primarily down to the trend in employees opting out of BIK-heavy company cars and either buying, financing or leasing personal vehicles or continuing to run their existing ‘grey fleet’ cars.

Mandatory car safety technology

We welcomed the news that emanated from Europe’s corridors of power earlier this spring, with various vehicle safety technologies such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), intelligent speed assistance (ISA) and an array of other detection systems very likely to be mandatorily fitted to new cars from 2022. Continuously raising the safety of all road users along with pedestrians is unquestionably vital for OEMs, legislators and other bodies to strive towards and hopefully the EU’s anticipation of 25,000 lives being saved yearly by 2038 as a result of such measures will indeed materialise.

Understandably, though, some drivers are not relishing ISA becoming a legal requirement, for example, as the technology combines GPS data and traffic sign recognition to essentially form a ‘speed limiter’ that some motorists perceive as excessively intrusive mollycoddling.

After all, IAM RoadSmart cites speeding as contributing to 14% of fatalities compared to driver error that is behind a much more significant 64%. But aside from the danger aspects, losing their licence could spell dismissal for many fleet drivers.

While car manufacturers including Ford and Nissan are increasingly fitting ISA to new models as standard, it will still be possible to override the system even if it does become a legal requirement by 2022.

We would rue corporate drivers opting out of brand new company cars and choosing older grey fleet vehicles in order to avoid driving a car with ISA, but effective education by fleet managers can help discourage this mind-set.

Cars increasingly incorporating advanced and sometimes semi-autonomous safety systems also places on vehicle logistics and delivery companies the need to update their handover procedures. Traditionally, a car’s primary controls such as its handbrake, lights, locks and seating adjustments have been the focus, but in today’s world, delivery drivers should be explaining on-board safety technology to business contract hire and personal leasing customers.

Otherwise, it’s feasible that a driver unfamiliar with a new lease vehicle may be perturbed when the steering wheel vibrates and physically turns as part of various lane departure and lane-keeping suites. It would also be worthwhile at least providing a description of how autonomous emergency braking and adaptive cruise control work, because so many models are fitted with such systems.

Should fleets introduce dash cams and what about GDPR?

Ironically, given some drivers’ aversion to themselves being monitored by technology like ISA, a GoCompare survey from Q4 2018 found that 32% of respondents would embrace compulsory fitment of dashcams to all new cars.

Unlike hardware and smartphone app-based telematics solutions, not all dash-cams monitor and report on driver behaviour, their primary attraction being that they can prove instrumental in identifying accident liability. However, some iterations combining video event data recording, tracking and telematics do exist, such as Street Angel from Camera Telematics, which is connected to the cloud and automatically sends a FNOL email to the insurer.

In addition to the obvious insurance advantages, dash cams also bring a road safety benefit to fleets. For instance, Nextbase’s second-generation camera incorporates an emergency SOS function that alerts emergency services automatically if the car’s driver doesn’t respond to the smartphone alert within 150 seconds. At the point of installation, drivers can choose how much information to enter into the camera system, which is an aspect over which fleet managers may do well to consider making some stipulations. Whether transmitted in an emergency or not, the driver’s data remains in the device and can’t be accessed by Nextbase or other parties.

Talking of data, all manner of organisations, quite rightly, have to place even greater emphasis on data handling, protection and security following the introduction of GDPR – which dams cams fall under.

Images and video containing one or more people is classed as personal data, so it’s important that managers of fleets small and large using dash cams should document and educate drivers and other relevant personnel on the definition, purpose and processing of personal data, along with how it is to be stored securely and for how long.

The mandating of dash cam installation in privately owned or leased ‘grey fleet’ vehicles may feel like a step too far for some fleet managers, but it’s worth bearing in mind that just like smartphone app-based telematics solutions such as Appy Fleet which can be switched off during personal journeys, cameras can also be deactivated when not driving on business.

Fleet vehicle downtime

For company car and grey fleet drivers with few or no alternative transport methods available to them, for high-mileage business drivers such as sales representatives and account managers, and indeed for users of light commercial vehicles that may have been customised with racking and other modifications, maximising vehicle uptime is a crucial aspect of fleet management.

The effects of downtime can’t be underestimated, which is why it often proves so beneficial for smaller organisations without a dedicated full-time fleet manager to outsource the role.

Drivers themselves can play a part in minimising downtime by checking their car or van regularly, each day ideally, for low fluid levels, tyre or bodywork damage, broken or blown lights and other reasonably apparent issues.

While not all fleets have access to garage ramp facilities for thoroughly inspecting their vehicles on a regular ‘formal’ basis, small steps can go a long way, such as by requesting that whichever dealership or other garage has been booked to undertake a service, MoT or other task will do so promptly, ideally as the first job of the day. Advance planning helps enormously.

Gamifying safe and smooth driver behaviour can even play a part in contributing to car and van uptime, because efficient driving reduces wear and tear on a vehicle’s components and tyres, plus lessens its exposure to potential at-fault accidents.

Clean air zones

Improving air quality in the UK’s cities and towns is certainly an aim we welcome and although some fleet operators have expressed significant concern over the effect that clean air zones could have on their organisations, the real-world impact is likely to remain limited for the majority, providing some reassurance.

In April, London’s T-Charge was replaced by the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which operates across the same geographic area as the Congestion Charge, but on a 24/7 basis. While it’s true that certain cars, vans and other vehicles are faced with an additional £12.50 daily fee on top of the Congestion Charge, it’s fair to say that nearly if not all cars and light commercial vehicles that fleets lease on business contract hire, and indeed those leased on PCH, are not liable to pay the ULEZ tariff because they meet the Euro 6 emissions standards for diesel and Euro 4 for petrol cars and vans. This is one of the primary advantages of leasing – driving the newest and therefore most technologically and environmentally advanced and clean engines.

Fleets in the London area and the south of England are admittedly the most exposed to potential ULEZ charges, but only if they run older, more polluting vehicles, so it’s encouraging that growing numbers are switching to plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and fully electric vehicles (EV).

Five other UK cities – Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton – were tipped to introduce clean air zones (CAZ), but these plans are again not something for fleets to overly worry about. Although any such moves can change direction, it currently looks like Derby, Nottingham and Southampton won’t be incorporating road user charging as part of their pollution-combatting strategies.

Similarly, Leeds’ CAZ looks set to be categorised as Class B, meaning that cars and LCVs/LGVs won’t be affected, the focus being on buses, coaches, taxis and other private hire vehicles plus heavy goods waggons/lorries.

The CAZ to watch is Birmingham, which will fall into Class D and therefore encompass cars and vans, but because it will operate similarly to London’s ULEZ it will only impact vehicles that aren’t Euro 6 and Euro 4 compliant respectively. Additionally, Birmingham’s CAZ will be introduced next year in 2020, meaning that many fleets’ lease renewal cycles will mean that their vehicles are suitable – so it’s chiefly organisations relying on formal or informal contract hire extensions that may need to assess their cars more keenly. Van manufacturers have been slower to upgrade various models to meet new EU emissions standards, but with any concerns being limited to individuals and organisations driving into central Birmingham, CAZ fees will only impact a small number of fleets for a year or two at the most, until their next van renewal cycles.

Brexit is arguably the main threat to fleets and businesses in general as, unlike safety systems, GDPR and clean air initiatives, its effects simply can’t be accurately forecast. However, with BCH and PCH remaining as popular as ever amongst the UK’s private drivers and fleets, and with European brands still dominating, it’s hoped that the landscape post October will be ‘business as usual’.