- Image source: JJ Keller

Image source: JJ Keller

The past few years have challenged safety professionals like never before. In response, the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights conducted back-to back surveys to identify and trend challenges and root causes. The hope is to spur industry discussions that support and advance the role of fleet managers. These surveys confirm fleet managers’ work ethic and unwavering safety commitment, along with frustrations that cause stress.

The survey provides details on the top fleet management stressors and can help leaders consider ways to prevent fleet manager attrition. These include support of safety programs, adherence to established policies and procedures, and leveraging technology, especially electronic fleet management systems (FMS), to manage their many areas of responsibility.

Stressors include ones that are within and outside of fleet manager’s control. These contribute to a sense of powerlessness to achieve and advance safety goals and meet expectations. They include:

  • Struggles to stay FMCSA compliant
  • Not having leader support and buy-in for safety and drivers
  • Managing overall safety

FMCSA COMPLIANCE — “IT’S OVERWHELMING.”

Fleet managers are stressed. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of those surveyed expressed that their job was “moderately” to “extremely challenging”, with 48% identifying it as “extremely” and “very challenging”. It’s not surprising.

Proper fleet management involves consistent detection and correction of non-compliant and unsafe behaviors to minimize potential liability, violations, and out-of-service orders. That means fleet managers bear responsibility for hours of service (HOS), driver qualification, vehicle maintenance, fleet legalization, and more. One fleet manager surveyed commented that there are “not enough hours in the day to cover each task completely.” Another stated simply, “It’s overwhelming.”

J. J. Keller Industry Business Advisor Josh Lovan empathizes. “There are a lot of moving

 - Image source: JJ Keller

Image source: JJ Keller

parts to managing a fleet. You’re not just looking at paper. You’re evaluating a 3-D puzzle that’s in constant motion, trying to make all the pieces work with an eye towards staying safe and in the black.”

Three core FMCSA compliance areas emerged in the survey results:

  1. Recordkeeping — having all files in one place, accurate, and organized
  2. Visibility — ensuring drivers are complying with the correct HOS limits, and knowing when and which drivers are non-compliant
  3. Knowledge — staying up to date with regulatory changes and understanding how those changes impact the business

Lovan suggests mitigating these stressors with a fleet management system (FMS). “These systems ensure compliance through the automation of fleet processes and systems. They don't make decisions for you. Instead, they provide data and visibility to what's happening in your fleet so that you can make good operational decisions as swiftly as possible. Paper files and spreadsheets can’t alert you to expired credentials or drivers who are over their hours.”

Tony Naro, Operations Manager at Naro Enterprises, Covington Township, PA, shared his

Image source: JJ Keller -

Image source: JJ Keller

struggles before moving to a fleet management system. “We were using old school techniques … There were always gaps or something that was overlooked. Areas that were driving up our CSA scores.” When Tony moved to an FMS in 2015, he was able to get his Fatigued Driving BASIC under the threshold. “I save an hour every morning, plus I don't have the stress of worrying that I've overlooked any critical compliance requirements for a driver or unit.”

If you’re running a smaller fleet, you’re likely to have more stress around compliance and operations due to less resources and time. Of those surveyed by the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights, 81% work in fleets with less than 100 trucks, and 50% have less than 25 trucks.

Lovan states that fleet manager recordkeeping and compliance stress is warranted. “Research shows that at least 65% of all critical violations found during 2021 audits involve recordkeeping, including 7 out of the top 10. And of those fleets audited, 83% have 20 or fewer vehicles. These enforcement stats can stress even the most competent fleet manager.”1

In 2021, FMCSA collected $18.4 million in fines.
The average settlement was $6,626. 2

LEADERSHIP THAT VALUES SAFETY

Fleet managers in the study cited their leaders’ actions as significant influencers on their ability to succeed at their job (Figure 1). One expressed his challenge as "Keeping upper management engaged in safety. Putting safety before production."

Lovan agreed that top-down support is essential for middle managers. “Leaders who pay lip service to safety but then financially reward or refuse to penalize non-compliant behavior are active saboteurs of fleet management strategies. They cannot coexist for long.” In situations like these, Lovan suggests that fleet managers in this situation could find success if they leverage the indisputable stats related to risk mitigation and ROI in their conversations with leaders.

A safety program is designed to keep drivers and the motoring public safe and minimize the risk to the company. The use and trending of safety and performance management processes are central to that mission and can be easily captured via telematics data (advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), electronic logging devices (ELDs), dash cameras, and company-provided driver cell-phone records). Data is the muscle that fleet managers need for leader buy-in.

“Make your case to leadership with industry and company data that presents the benefits of prioritizing safety and correcting unsafe behaviors. Your efforts can help protect a healthy bottom line through reduced safety-related and operational costs, minimized potential liability, and the impact of litigation if a major crash occurs,” urges Lovan. “If you don’t convince them, a plaintiff’s attorney could — and that could put you and your co-workers out of a job.”

Image source: J.J. Keller -

Image source: J.J. Keller

DRIVERS, DRIVERS, DRIVERS

Avoiding distracted driving maintained the top spot for the second year as the most critical skill fleet managers want their drivers to have. Ranked as #11 in the 2021 American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry3 report, success in this area helps fleets control risk and avoid accidents and nuclear verdicts. 

Fleet managers were also concerned with helping drivers (Figure 2):

  • Avoid injury while working and driving
  • Understand how the FMCSA regulations apply to them
  • Safely operate their vehicles
  • Comply with HOS and use ELDs properly
  • Respond appropriately if in an accident
Image source: J.J. Keller -

Image source: J.J. Keller

“IT’S POSSIBLE.”

Every day, fleet managers achieve tremendous feats with few resources. But the reality is that their work life could be made easier with additional support and a few changes to how they work.

“Reducing fleet manager stress is an important goal for the industry, particularly with driver shortages, supply chain issues, and limited parts availability for ongoing vehicle maintenance. These managers are experts at keeping drivers and freight moving,” shares Lovan. “It’s possible to reduce their stress by providing the support and technology they need.”

For more insights, download the Insights on Today's Fleet Manager Report here.

1 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. FY2021 data. Retrieved February 2022 from https://ai.fmcsa.dot. gov/SafetyProgram/spRptReview.aspx?rpt=RVFS.
2 https://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/SafetyProgram/spRptEnforcement.aspx?rpt=CLOSE
3 Critical Issues In The Trucking Industry – 2021, The American Transportation Research Institute, October 2021

J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights

The J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights is the collaborative research arm of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The center originated in 2019 with a focus on sharing with the public trends and insights from an abundance of safety and compliance data gathered by J. J. Keller over decades serving more than 500,000 customers across the United States.

Through historical data, new proprietary studies, and partnerships with reputable, research-focused third-party organizations, the center publishes ongoing reports to spur discussion and advancements in safe, respectful workplaces, job sites, and highways.

To contact the J. J. Keller Center for Market Insights, email Susan Baranczyk at sbaranczyk@jjkeller.com.