Eric Richardson delivered these words after accepting the 2023 Fleet Safety Award, at the 2023 Fleet Safety Conference, convened in conjunction with the Fleet Forward Conference in Santa Clara, California on Nov. 10. The award, presented by Automotive Fleet and sponsored by the American Automotive Leasing Association (AALA), is bestowed annually to a fleet or risk manager whose leadership and innovation have enhanced the safety of fleet drivers, their organizations, and the public.
On behalf of NYC Mayor Eric Adams, our NYC Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Dawn Pinnock, and our Deputy Commissioner and NYC Chief Fleet Officer Keith Kerman, thank you for this award.
The award is being handed to me, but this honor belongs to the entire DCAS Fleet team who works tirelessly towards making our fleet the safest in the nation.
Safety In Context
Before I share what we have been working on in NYC, I want to take a moment to recognize those we have lost on our roads. In the US in 2022, 42,975 people were killed as a result of traffic crashes, including 7,500 pedestrians. This makes it the deadliest year on the road since 2005. Every day, 20 people who head outside for a walk end up killed by a moving vehicle.
These aren’t just numbers. They are people. They are our community: friends and neighbors, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, grandparents, and grandchildren.
Tragically, they are often the youngest among us. Like 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein. Or nine-year-old Cooper Stock. And just two weeks ago, seven-year-old Kamari Hughes was killed on his walk to school. They’re only three of the many children killed on our roads over the last 10 years.
This award is meant to recognize achievements, but for me, it is more about them. It is about what actions we have taken in response to and as a result of each tragic loss. And all that we still need to accomplish to ensure as a global community, we never again have to add a name to the list of traffic fatalities.
Here’s what we know is working to make the New York City fleet and our roads safer:
Over the last six years, the city has installed via retrofits or purchased OEM, over 83,000 vehicle safety systems which include automatic braking, pedestrian collision alerts, surround cameras, lane departure warnings, back up alarms, and telematics.
When I first started in fleet operations, vehicle telematics were nothing like they are today. Our first system back in 2014 was basic AVL and collected just a few vehicle attributes with no live sharing of data.
Now, we have over 28,000 vehicles from all city agencies and private school buses connected with tens of thousands of data points per vehicle coming in live every day.
Using telematics with live alerts and reporting on unsafe driving behaviors, we have been able to focus our safety efforts on the specific drivers and vehicles that contribute to high- or medium-risk driving.
This includes a monthly safety scorecard which goes out to 55 agency commissioners and the owners of every school bus company showing the categorization of each vehicle and the specific risky driving behaviors.
Our telematics system also provides a robust, comprehensive, and longer span of data when it comes to collisions so we can better document the factors that led to the collision.
In 2014, hardly anyone in the U.S. knew what a truck sideguard was, let alone had trucks in their fleet with them installed. If you are unfamiliar with truck sideguards, see me later for an explainer.
New York City has changed the landscape of truck sideguards. We now have local laws that cover our city fleet, private waste haulers, and even those companies with city contracts that use trucks to deliver goods and services.
Sideguards are now also mandated or voluntarily installed on fleets in Boston, Chicago, Cambridge, Madison, and San Francisco.
When we first installed them on our vehicles, there were no manufacturers of sideguards in the U.S. Now there are six, and many truck manufacturers are doing them as part of the vehicle build.
Back in June of this year, there was a Frontline piece about sideguards that featured our Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi that I encourage you to check out.
We now have over 4,200 NYC-owned trucks with sideguards, tens of thousands on fleets across the country, and a national discussion on sideguard mandates on a federal scale. NYC is leading the sideguard way, we ask that you follow our lead by closing the gap between the front and rear wheels of your trucks.
NYC is also addressing the visual impairment drivers face when operating a large truck. In many cases, drivers cannot see the ground in front of them by 10, 15, or even 20 feet, which can lead to disaster. Particularly as we electrify, trucks no longer need the large straight hoods. In fact, most may not need the hood at all.
We have been working on addressing this for years and have finally started the process of acquiring trucks that are specifically designed for high vision.
For example, our new all-electric box truck will have a 70% improvement in direct vision over our current box truck. The difference between 11 feet of line-of-sight obstruction down to below 3 feet can and will save lives and prevent serious injuries.
As such, government and commercial fleets should insist that trucks are manufactured so that we are maximizing the driver’s direct vision. Join us in urging manufacturers to address this need.
Since Vision Zero started in NYC, we have required that all authorized drivers of city fleet vehicles take a city-provided defensive driving class either in person or online.
More than 90,000 city employees have taken the class, and even with attrition, new hires, and turnover of staff, currently 90% of all drivers are being trained.
This is in addition to the specific training provided by agencies on different types of trucks at Sanitation, DOT, DEP, Parks, and emergency services such as NYPD and the Fire Department.
We have also banned hands free phone use. Handheld cell phone use is prohibited by state law, but we believe it to be a distraction, not the physical act of holding or not holding a phone, that contributes to collisions. Did you know that using a phone while driving, be it handheld or hands free, is like driving with a .05 BAC? Just like banning drinking and driving, banning phone use behind the wheel saves lives.
Current Projects and Future Improvements
I want to share my excitement over two projects that we are currently working on in our fleet vehicles:
We are collaborating with Together for Safer Roads on a Truck of the Future program that brings together in-cab driver alerts, surround cameras and sensors, telematics, and external turning alerts for vulnerable road users, all tied into AI, so that we don’t only track when collisions occur, but also have ways to identify and address “near misses.”
It is the first time that we have various components of safety tied into one system to evaluate what works, and the balance between providing more tools for a driver and any added distraction. This project is now looking into how camera systems can be tied to the vehicles ability to move or accelerate when an object in front is detected. So not only a vehicle that will tell a driver something is in front of them, but a vehicle that won’t let them move if there is.
The other project is our intelligent speed assistance pilot. When I was here last year, I spoke about the first 50 ISA (Intelligent Speed Assist) units that we had installed on city fleet vehicles.
I am happy to say that we are expanding that program. And after over 750,000 miles driven by vehicles that have ISA installed, we know that the technology works, and we are seeing results. Of the vehicles with ISA, we have seen a 99% compliance to the speed limit set on the vehicles and a 35% reduction in harsh braking.
We lose thousands of people on our roads each year due to speeding. New York City is proving that ISA is a viable safety solution for our public and commercial fleets.
Through our work and discussions with safety leaders, we know that ISA is a tool that can also protect kids when using their parent’s vehicles. Remember when there used to be parental controls for cable TV? ISA can be parental control for cars.
This is why NYC submitted an application for federal funding through the Safe Streets for All program to implement ISA on all 7,500 light and medium duty vehicles in the NYC fleet.
We will lead by example in finding ways to let the vehicle control your speed on our roads.
It is also why NYC Fleet is partnering with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on a best-practices guide on how to educate the public on ISA, and with America Walks and Families for Safe Streets on a Safe Fleets Challenge looking for 50 fleets to implement ISA pilots in 2024. If you are interested in joining us, please find me later.
We believe that our program of intelligent speed assist can move that technology similar to how we have moved the industry and fleet owners on sideguards.
Of course, any safety program must be evaluated to ensure it is effective. We believe ours is.
The city fleet has seen an almost 30% decrease in preventable collisions in the last five years. We have decreased excessive speeding by more than 50%, and we have improved seat belt compliance by city drivers.
In the last 6 months, there has been a 20% reduction in the number of high and medium risk drivers. Our results are something to be proud of. In accepting this award, I also want to recognize that there is an extraordinary group of people in the City of New York working together on road safety.
Our NYC Vision Zero Task Force, of which my agency was one of the founding members and on which I’ve had the pleasure of being for the last five years, is a beacon to others on how various stakeholders in each of the areas of the Safe System approach to road safety can collaborate, share best practices, and upon whom we can lean when we see people still dying on our roads.
Outreach and education, road redesign and bike lanes, automated enforcement, and monitoring health outcomes are all vital parts of improving road safety. And my motivation to move fleets towards safer operations is rooted in the work we all do together. In fact, right now as I give this speech the task force is hosting their biweekly meeting - though most of us talk to each other almost daily.
As NASCAR fan, I am excited that our NYC fleet team will be working with driver Ross Chastain and the NY Governors Traffic Safety Committee to bring their seat belt awareness campaign to NYC in 2024.
Ross actually taped the announcement for this program for our Vision Zero Safety Forum last Thursday and then he won the big race on Sunday.
Through technology, changes to vehicle design, outreach and education, New York City’s Fleet team is working to set the example for municipal, commercial, and private fleets across the country.
I hope you are able to take away with you today something I’ve mentioned that you might not be doing in your fleet operations, and that you can implement it, because as professional fleet operators we have a special role in fleet safety.
We still have much more work to do. For Sammy… for Cooper… for Kamari.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet