NO MATTER HOW pretty its plates or chic its chairs, a party rental company is measured by its ability to get on the road and deliver the goods. Employing drivers who don't drive safely can make an entire operation crash.
Most party rental operators agree that the first step is hiring the right driver. With more than 70 trucks among its five locations, Culver City, Calif.-based Classic Party Rentals deals only with drivers it knows well.
“Most of our hiring is done by a referral from an existing employee, and most of our drivers are promoted from within the company,” explains general manager Albert Funfstuck. Would-be drivers must clear a reference check and present a clean driving record before they are allowed behind the wheel. New drivers must prove themselves with small trucks before they take larger trucks out. Although most safety training takes place at the time of hire, Classic conducts additional training, including first-aid training, as needed on an ongoing basis.
“As Classic has grown so has our need to grow our safety program,” Funfstuck says. “We have an active safety committee that meets monthly to discuss safety issues with the goal of reducing the number of preventable accidents and injuries.”
WATCH THE NEW GUY
Similarly, Niles, Ill.-based Hall's Rental Service requires driver candidates to bring in a clean driving record; new hires are on probation status and must drive with a supervisor or senior driver.
New hires are watched most closely “because you will have the most accidents with them,” says company president Jack Luft. “The longer someone has been with you, the more important the job is to them. They don't take it lightly.”
Even so, Hall's recently began going a step further, sending each of its 35 drivers for a half-day session in a truck simulator. “It's like what pilots go through,” Luft explains.
Although the cost for the simulator is about $250 per person, Luft says it's well worth it. “We've never had a lot of accidents, but even the little ones are costly,” he explains. “It doesn't take much these days to have $20,000 and $30,000 accidents.”
MAKE YOUR OWN RULES
A slight up tick in his traditionally low accident record prompted John Crabbe, head of Vermont Tent and Event in South Burlington, Vt., to kick off an ongoing safety-training program for his 20 drivers. Also, “just recently we sent four drivers to a defensive driving seminar put on by the National Safety Council,” he notes.
The company has pinpointed backing up as a particularly risky maneuver. To cut down on accidents, Vermont Tent and Event requires its drivers to have their assistants get out of the truck and help guide the driver to back up safely.
Aztec Tents & Events, based in Torrance, Calif., has built extra safety into its operations by specifying automatic — rather than manual — transmissions for its 25-truck fleet. Not only do the automatic transmissions give the drivers “one less thing they have to pay attention to,” notes operations manager Mike Schwabe, but the automatics mean the drivers “don't have the inclination to drive the trucks like they're sports cars, which saves on brakes and transmissions.”
And in a more subtle example of built-in safety, the Aztec logo and phone number are prominently displayed on the company's fleet. “People do pick up the phone and call that 800 number,” Schwabe says. “We take some of those calls with a grain of salt, but if my driver is doing something wrong, I'll call him on the radio and tell him to knock it off.” The logo also serves as a rolling billboard: “It's also great advertising,” Schwabe says. “People call us from the freeway and ask if they can rent from us.”
Most operators interviewed team with their insurer to reward safe driving. “If we've gone a period of time without an accident, our insurance agent comes out and gives the drivers doughnuts or pizza,” Luft notes.
START AT THE TOP
Most operators agree that the best way to make drivers care about safe driving is to demonstrate that management cares about safe driving. “If a driver knows that if he knocks a mirror off the truck, he will have to sit down and explain it to management, then he will start to be more careful,” Luft says.
Aztec Tents & Events, 310/328-5060; Classic Party Rentals, 310/202-0011; Hall's Rental Service, 847/929-2222; Vermont Tent and Event, 802/863-6107
KEEP ON TRUCKING — SAFELY
- NO ONE IN THE ‘NO ZONE.’
One third of all crashes between large trucks and cars take place in the “no zone” — the blind spots where truck drivers can't see cars — according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Washington. Train drivers to be vigilant about checking these danger areas.
- SLOW DOWN IN WORK AREAS
Highway construction is high-risk for trucks; almost one-third of all fatal crashes in work zones involve large trucks, the FMCSA says. Train drivers to slow down in work zones, watch for personnel and equipment, and leave plenty of clearance.
- KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
The vehicle that hits another from behind is generally considered at fault, so train drivers to take advantage of their high vantage point and anticipate the need to brake.
- MAKE NICE
Two-thirds of all traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving behavior, the FMCSA says. Urge drivers to keep their cool and let the hotheads drive by. Remind them that they are the professionals on the road.
- DON'T JUMP!
Jumping from a truck without using grab rails and steps puts commercial truck drivers at risk of injuring their ankles, knees and lower back, because jumping can create impact forces as high as 12 times a person's body weight, according to the Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health in Hopkinton, Mass.