For many pest control professionals, their vehicle doubles as their desk, which means while at the wheel their mind can be on a dozen different things — and what’s happening on the road isn’t always first and foremost.

“His considerations include where he is going, any special strategies needed for dealing with unique issues and making sure everything in his vehicle is safe and secure,” said Steve Bojan, vice president of HUB International Risk Services. “The average driver makes 160 decisions per minute, a pest control driver is adding at least an extra 10 to 20.”

Between balancing work orders, thinking about product inventory and customer requests, and the sheer amount of time spent in the driver’s seat, it is easy to become complacent on the road. So how can managers ensure their fleets are staying safe? They can start by identifying dangerous habits before they become a problem.

“The most common mistake is being distracted while driving,” said Gary Shapiro, senior vice president, Weisburger Insurance Brokerage. “Drivers will often use their phones to check in with the office or contact their next stop while driving. The travel time between client locations is usually considered to be downtime when they can catch up.”

Drivers even may eat a snack or quick meal while on the road between stops, added Shapiro. “Multitasking is a myth; our brain does one thing at a time, just very quickly,” he said. “Adding additional tasks can cause the driver to lose focus and make a critical mistake. Vehicles are often not very forgiving when in motion.”

According to Linda Midyett, director of loss prevention for PestSure, distracted driving leads to speeding and an inadequate following distance. “Our industry sees 40 percent of our accidents occurring from running into the back of the vehicle in front of them,” she said.

TARGETED TESTING. To prevent fender benders — or something more serious — business owners and managers must vet each candidate’s driving record upon hiring, and plan to give a driving test of their own. This is true especially considering the only standardized driving tests for vehicle operators are state licensure exams.

“They take the position that they have a license,” said Bojan. “This is a very poor decision. A young person who has driven nothing larger than a subcompact is often not ready to drive a full-size pickup or service van without some training.”

 

He said it is simple to conduct a road test in-house, and that those tests should include driving in conditions similar to an average day on a route. “The tester needs to make sure that they keep a safe following distance, plan ahead for issues in the roadway and always use their signals,” said Bojan. “The National Safety Council has an excellent ‘train the trainer’ program for the safe operation of light duty vehicles.”

Testers also should look at the driver’s attitude, and how they will represent the company on the road. In addition to searching a candidate’s driving record for citations, Midyett suggests performing drug tests on prospective employees.

The training doesn’t end after finding a candidate who drives well today. “Driver training is never done,” said Midyett. “Safe driver messages need to be part of your weekly meetings. Safe driving language needs to be a part of your culture.”

Bojan recommends defensive driving refresher courses at least every 18 months, in addition to short safety discussions about changing seasons, recent accidents in the fleet and niche safety issues like backing a vehicle in, sharing the road with cyclists or inspecting a vehicle for safety.

He added that a “How’s My Driving” phone number and regular route observations also can remind operators they are representing a firm through their driving.

And when management can’t be on a route observation, there is technology to take their place in the passenger seat. “HUB International is a big proponent of telematics or driver tracking systems,” said Bojan. “These can monitor driver location, speed and even hard-braking incidents.”

What if a concern does occur? Midyett said it’s important to follow up with the driver. “Be sure to investigate every accident to the root cause, don’t assume the cause,” she said. “Once you determine the cause, fix something. Never allow accidents to become a cost of doing business.”

Laura Straub is a Cleveland-based freelancer.