Assuring the safety and security of fleet drivers and vehicles a fleet is a crucial part of efficient management, and this responsibility is especially true in South America where the challenges are vast and numerous. Influenced by unfavorable economic conditions in some areas that impact infrastructure planning, one challenge in the region is dealing with precarious road conditions, which increases the incidence of fleet accidents. Another factor in South America is the threat of crime: vehicle and cargo theft, both of which affect drivers’ overall safety.
Strengthen Safety, Reduce Accidents
Worldwide, more than 1 million people die from traffic accidents, according to the World Health Organization, and this number could reach 2 million by 2025 if measures are not taken to curb risks. Ninety 90% of the deaths are in low to middle-income countries. In Brazil alone, some 35,000 traffic-related deaths and 300,000 incapacitating injuries occur every year. Although drivers are at fault in many of these cases, bad road conditions do influence the region’s number of incidents and injuries. According to local studies, countries with the largest fleet markets—Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru—also feature the region’s worst road conditions. While improving road conditions is depends primarily on government willingness and better public policy development, a few other aspects of accident control fall directly in the hands of multinationals operating vehicle fleets in the region.
Among those factors are route optimization, driver training and the implementation of technology. In addition to considering road conditions when routing drivers, fleet managers should not create schedules that promote driver fatigue. Moreover, education and training are key elements of safety policies. Offer ongoing training courses to eliminate driver distraction and promote the importance of drivers’ on-the-road awareness.
Drivers must recognize their own bad habits, such as speeding, running tight corners, and even harsh braking. Although in-person classes are ideal, online courses are a helpful alternative today, especially with the lingering COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.
Companies providing these types of courses in South America include Brazil-based CEPA Safe Drive, PARAR, and Younder, as well as the U.S.-based multinational eDriving.
One way to further support a safety policy is with the implementation of technology. Besides installing telematics, which can monitor driving behavior, the use of sensors on fleet vehicles and the growing trend of video telematics to monitor activity are valuable safety-related tools.
Increase Security, Combat Theft
When it comes to car theft, Brazil leads the continent with more than 100 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants each year (more than 200,000 cases). Although the number of incidents is still less than what can be found in the U.S., many of these thefts (some 50% are carjackings, which can occur at gunpoint. Drivers must be prepared for such an incident.
In Brazil, nearly half of the thefts occur in the state of São Paulo, home to some 42 million residents. The vehicles most targeted include best-selling models and sedans. Many victims are drivers of mobile app ride-hailing companies. Advise fleet drivers to avoid getting caught in unfamiliar territories. In addition, be aware that crimes are often committed by pairs of criminals riding motorcycles. Sought-after vehicle models include the highly popular Chevrolet Onix, Hyundai HB20, and Volkswagen Gol subcompact hatches; compact sedans such as Volkswagen Voyage, Renault Logan, and Toyota Corolla; and mid-priced models such as the Honda HRV crossover and the Toyota Hilux pickup.
Would-be robbers sometimes target the vehicle’s cargo, not the vehicle itself. Urge drivers take all necessary precautionary measures.
A common strategy to deal with car theft is securing full-coverage vehicle and cargo insurance. For the car alone, this coverage could cost in the range of 5% of the vehicle’s value, depending on the vehicle type and the drivers profile and work activity. Some managers of large fleets focus less on insurance and depend more on telematics and vehicle tracking to cut loss expense. Telematics is not only key for vehicle and cargo theft deterrence but for monitoring driver behavior, fuel and maintenance management, and other fleet optimization tasks.
Companies from across the world provide such telematics services in South America. They include Webfleet Solutions (Holland), MiX Telematics (South Africa), Ituran (Israel) and Golsat (Brazil). Other major players in the region include Geotab (Canada) and Teletrac Navman (USA) but they focus primarily in the Mexican market.
Another tip to keep in mind is to plan your routes appropriately and that means knowing the city you are operating in. Avoid high risk roads and night deliveries, something that can be better accomplished through driver education as well.
Deploy Bullet-Proof Vehicles
Although a bullet-proof vehicle is commonly viewed as a luxury car for celebrities, professional athletes, and politicians, deploying one that protects corporate drivers from gunfire is more common in larger Latin American metropolises such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Bogota, and Caracas.
Brazil tops the list with the highest per-capita number of armored vehicles in the world, led by São Paulo, which produces approximately 10,000 new armored units per year (nearly 70% of the 15,000 or so nationwide).
According to Brazil’s armored vehicle association Abrablin, more than 200,000 civilian armored cars are used in the country. Meanwhile, Colombia-based manufacturers have been using their expertise to export significant numbers of these vehicles, and Venezuela also has a considerable-sized fleet.
In general, the number of bullet-proof vehicles in South American countries aligns closely with the number of homicides committed per year on the continent. Venezuela leads with 37 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants and followed by Brazil with 27 cases and Colombia with twenty-five.
Other of the region’s countries record far fewer cases per 100,000 inhabitants: Peru, eight; Ecuador, six; Argentina, five; and Chile with only four homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to a global study by the United Nations.
In most cases, civilian drivers will not face an armed robber, but it does happen from time to time, so being prepared is essential, especially for high-profile executives. These encounters could result in kidnappings so fleet managers are wise to prepare their teams properly.
Among the models most commonly armored are luxury SUVs and sedans, such as those manufactured by Volvo, Land Rover, BMW, and Audi, but also lower-priced models such as Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen T-Cross.
Insuring vehicles, planning driver routes carefully, and educating drivers on safety-priority behavior in carjacking or kidnapping incidents are all highly recommended safety measures. Another way to ensure full-rounded security is to deploy bullet-proof vehicles that can withstand shots from pistols and automatic weapons.
Standard protection involves proofing the vehicle from caliber 22, 38, 44, 357, and even 9 mm shots, with protection usually measured in ballistic ratings (BR) from B4 to B7, with the latter being the top rating. Transforming a fleet car, however, costs time and money. In addition to the vehicle-modification costs—$15,000-$20,000—the extra weight of some 200 kilograms (440 lbs.) of ballistic glass, multilayered aramid fiber, stainless steel and other fortifying materials will increase the expense.
Because armored vehicles require slightly larger motors, fuel and maintenance costs will also increase. Other “red-tape” considerations with adding these vehicles to a fleet may include criminal record checks on drivers and extra fees.
Finally, while other vehicle safety equipment can reduce the cost of insurance, bullet-proofing a fleet vehicle may increase insurance costs by some 20%. The entire process, including the armoring itself, could take approximately six weeks.
In the end, buying or leasing a bullet-proof vehicle or finding a company to modify a fleet vehicle adequately is not a difficult process in the region. Some companies offering these services in South America are Carbon Blindados and Autostar in Brazil as well as Blindex in Colombia.
Despite these extra costly factors, in the end, assuring drivers safety is of utmost importance. Can a price really be put on a life? With that said, get out a pen and paper, measure costs, determine your risks, then decide whether bullet-proof vehicles are necessary for the fleet.
Eye on Mexico
Although Mexico is located in North America, it is included in this South America study as a Latin American country and only one ranking behind Brazil in terms of national fleet size.
While road conditions in Mexico generally are in better shape than those South American countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, or Peru, the country is also known for vehicle theft problems. Annually, approximately 70 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants occur (some 80,000 cases), and as in Brazil, the type of incidents to be prepared for are gunpoint carjackings. Most models targeted are from the best-selling brand in the country -- Nissan. The Nissan NP300 (Frontier) pickup and compact sedans Versa and Tsuru are particularly targeted as well as the Chevrolet Aveo. Carjackers are attracted by mid-priced models such as Kia Sportage and Mazda CX5 crossovers and expensive luxury brands such as Land Rover, and BMW.
Mexico produces an estimated 4,000 armored vehicles per year, approximately half the number of units per capita produced in Brazil. However, according to the Mexican Automotive Armor Association, the practice of bullet-proofing civilian vehicles is on the rise in the face of increasing violence in the country. While some of these fortified vehicles in Mexico include the same European luxury SUVs and sedans mentioned in South America countries, large American SUV models, e.g., the Chevrolet Suburban and Jeep Grand Cherokee, and the GMC Sierra and Dodge Ram pickups, are also common bullet proofed vehicles in Mexico.
In another similarity to South American countries, the number of armored vehicles manufactured in Mexico correlates closely with the number of homicides committed per year. In fact, Mexico has recently surpassed Brazil in homicide rates, currently reporting approximately 29 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants annually, according to the United Nations. The only countries with higher numbers on the Latin America continent are Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize.
Finally, the many Mexican vehicle-armoring companies that customize vehicles for private citizens and corporate fleets include Blindajes Global Armor, Centigon, and Blindajes Alemanes.