Driver Record Monitoring: Why should it be important to every district?


Author: Colleen Shaw (Courtesy of the EmergencyGrapevine.com)

INTRODUCTION: Fire Departments have had their share of bad press surrounding alcohol in the last year. While individual fire districts determine whether alcohol on their premises is permissible, a growing accountability is being fostered in stations nationwide. Firefighters with DWI/DUI arrests are of concern to every fire district. Management is often not aware of past convictions, or arrests, and can be unpleasantly surprised when a departmental accident occurs.

Recent newspaper accounts show that alcohol is a significant problem both on, and off, the job. In the first 6 months of 2004, New York Firefighters have logged 26 DWI/DUI arrests, compared to the prior year&rsquos total of 27.

There is one very important reason to request that your firefighters have clean driving records and that is liability.  Imagine that a firefighter with a past history of DWI drives a company vehicle or fire truck, and is responsible for a fatal accident. To complete the police report, the firefighter driver&rsquos license record is requested and shows two previous DWI convictions. It is not hard to imagine the negligent liability claims, the publicity targeting the District management, the Fire Commission Board, and the cost of the legal awards.

Public Embarrassment
Last December, the mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico stood before the press and addressed the public disclosure of a firefighter with 11 DWI arrests. Publicly embarrassed, the mayor announced a zero-tolerance policy and an annual background check for all public safety employees &ndash the Fire Department, Police Department, and the City Department of Corrections. Once hired, employees were asked to report any citations or law enforcement arrests to management. In this case, the employee had only reported two of his convictions to his manager. Though driving for the department was not a part of his employment, the two convictions signaled a problem to management. Upon closer review of his current driving record, the other arrests were discovered and the story went public. If current news is an indication of the trend, some firefighters are not reporting arrests and convictions &ndash thereby putting management, city staff, Fire District Boards, and the community in very precarious positions. Ongoing driver record monitoring can be a critical additional service for departments to consider. Protecting employees, volunteers, the city, county, or state is a serious responsibility for Fire management and left unattended can lead to grave consequences.

Could Your Agency/Management be Found &ldquoNegligent&rdquo?
In a recent case, the Bureau of Indian Affairs was found guilty of negligence. A government employee was in a work vehicle, had consumed 2x the state alcohol limit, and crashed into oncoming interstate traffic, resulting in 4 fatalities. The final awards were based on &ldquomanagement negligence&rdquo and cost the Bureau of Indian Affairs a total of 4 million dollars. Management was not aware that their employee had 9 previous DUI/DWI arrests.

The high-profile fatal accident in Newcastle, Wyoming highlights the need to monitor every employee. A volunteer firefighter, with an unknown recent DWI, responded to a call. He was the driver of the fire truck and was intoxicated at 2X the alcohol state limit. A rollover occurred and a 16 year-old intern firefighter was killed. In December 2003, that volunteer firefighter was sentenced to 14-18 years in prison. Could the department management be found negligent?

Hiring practices for employees and volunteers
Fire departments vary in their hiring practices. Larger departments with dedicated human resource personnel will do full background checks on applicants. Smaller departments often require a minimum check of a current driver&rsquos license record and a Department of Justice criminal record. These processes are not standardized and departments vary in their efforts and budgets are always a consideration. Based on the hiring discrepancies between agencies, liability exposure can be significant. Add a volunteer pool of firefighters, with no background reviews, and the department could have serious liability exposure.

Monthly Monitoring of Driving Records
Ongoing employee driving record monitoring ensures the additional protection against negligent claims. By reviewing driving records more frequently, you can take action &ndash before serious accidents occur. Monthly monitoring, combined with a concise Human Resource personnel policy that clearly defines the action managers must take when employees have serious driving infractions and DWI convictions, reduces legal exposure.

Is Governmental Immunity Guaranteed?
In the past, government departments have been immune from legal liability. Not so anymore. Current trials clearly indicate that government agencies are now being held accountable, and governmental immunity is not guaranteed. The National Association for Security Dealers quotes that since 1994, plaintiff claims have increased 266%, and punitive damage claims 360%. Multimillion-dollar settlements are being awarded because government employees are being found negligent in the management of their employees.
Are you responsible to &ldquoknow&rdquo the driving status of your employees?
If you ask an employee, or volunteer, to drive a vehicle (company/government-owned, or a personal vehicle on company business), you must exercise reasonably prudent care to check their driver&rsquos license.  Do you think an initial hiring review of your firefighters driving record is adequate? Do you have veteran firefighters that have not had their records checked since initial employment? Do you think an annual review gives you adequate protection? It is important to know the current license status of your employees and volunteers.

SAMBA FleetWatch&trade: Driver record monitoring
FleetWatch is a monthly online driver monitoring service. The reports highlight invalid drivers, recent citation activity, and drivers that have current and upcoming license renewals.  Each month management automatically receives the FleetWatch report delivered straight to the desktop. Reports include a monthly summary of citation activity and are quick and easy to read. The streamlined reports show only drivers with record activity. All other drivers are hidden from view.

The SAMBA FleetWatch Report includes:

* INVALID DRIVER REPORT: lists revoked, suspended and cancelled licenses
* CITATION REPORT: lists all new driver activity for every driver in your fleet
* RENEWAL REPORT: lists current and license renewal dates

If you see an employee with a questionable citation, or you need more information to evaluate your employee, the full Motor Vehicle Record can be immediately purchased, from your desktop, through the FleetWatch MVR Manager. SAMBA provides 90 day free archiving for all reports and records for easy access and quick retrieval. Extended archiving is available.

The schedule of reports is based on state record availability. For more information on the driver monitoring service available in your state, please call (505) 797.2622, press option 3, or email sales@sambasafety.com.

SAMBA has delivered millions of motor vehicle records to hundreds of leading businesses and government agencies.

What do you think?


ABOUT THE WRITER: Colleen Shaw is the Marketing Director for SAMBA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is committed to changing DWI statistics through education and awareness. Through her writing she reinforces the belief that knowledge is power and through education, significant change can be made. Collen can be reached by email: cshaw@samba.biz