Vehicle and Employee safety in Asian car policies
A Vietnamese technician is asked to drive to a client outside the city. It’s late at night and due to heavy rains the previous days, the employee decides to take a motorcycle and put his gear in his backpack. He knows that the roads that lead to the client’s location are not yet cleared from debris, broken off branches and mud; a car is not an option. On his way to the client, he hits a minibus that is driving without its headlights on. He doesn’t survive the accident.
A Japanese sales rep working for a medical company has to hurry to reach his visit objective for the day. He needs to visit 12 doctors and hospitals on daily basis. Driving back home in the middle of the night, he falls asleep in his car and hits a traffic light. He survives, but spends several months recovering from his injuries.
A Beijing based young girl is starting her career working for a Chinese company. She can’t afford to live close to the office and has to commute 4 hours a day from her studio to work and back. Public transport is overcrowded and from time to time she has to take a Didi or a taxi to be on time behind her desk. Her salary is not enough to pay for her apartment and her transport.
A different world
These are real-life examples of work situations in Asia. Too many things go wrong and can potentially impact the safety or, at least, the comfort of employees. Unfortunately, this is true not exclusively for local companies, but also for employees of international companies. Only, the global fleet manager is often unaware of local practices.
It’s impossible to reduce risk to zero, but here’s a baseline that fleet managers need to take into account prior to implementing safety policies in Asia.
Traffic regulations are cosmetic. Obviously we’re not talking of countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore or Korea, where the traffic codes are complete and reinforced. In many other countries however, drivers cannot count on the understanding and implementation of traffic rules. Consequently, navigating through traffic can be complex and dangerous.
The 9 to 5 workday is an illusion in the 24/7 economies that Asia is known for. People work hard and work a lot. Employers never say no to customers and employees will never say no to their employers. This leads to extremely stressful situations, such as the example of the Japanese medical rep above. Stress leads to bad concentration, which leads to more accidents
In general, traffic in Asian cities is congested but slow, which leads to a high number of accidents with few casualties. Most accidents are not reported and therefore don’t show up in statistics, but in reality, many cars are scratched and bumped. Nevertheless, intercity traffic is a combination of kilometres of fluid high-speed traffic, roadworks, broken down cars,… without clear traffic signalisation. The accidents that happen on these roads are often lethal.
Again, outside of the first world countries, It is still a challenge to find affordable vehicles with sufficient safety equipment. ABS, seatbelts and rear view mirrors have now become standard on most vehicles, but this is not the case for dual airbags, ESP, soft interior plastics, most often only available in high-end cars or the luxury versions of mid-end cars. Let’s not even mention features such as lane assist, blind spot control.
In addition, to avoid import taxation, many Asian cars are locally produced or assembled (from kit to car). Often the build quality is not at the same level as in the “home countries” and, more important, the standard equipment and option lists are not identical to those of the original vehicle.
It’s a running joke that a driver’s license in Vietnam can be picked up for about US$ 60. Regardless if this is an exaggeration or not, it is true that obtaining a license doesn’t provide the young driver with the necessary skills to drive in the conditions described above.
Tips for your Car Policy
A first tip is not to use the Western situation as a given baseline. Your Asian colleague encounters more risk than your European or American colleague. Act accordingly and implement high safety standards, as the gap between the baseline and safety is much bigger. Training is a strict minimum.
A second tip is to involve your Health and Safety colleagues, not only for the car policy, but also for work conditions. Mandate limitations of hours in the car or find less stressful solutions for the employees
A final tip is to invest in good cars. This is not only good for your employees, but also for your residual values. Make sure all safety features are present, but also that the car is equipped with a good A/C and a navigation system (or a good cradle to hold the mobile phone). Driving comfortably and being able to avoid difficult traffic is not only good for the employees’ safety, but also for their efficiency.
In conclusion, taking good care of employees will always support recruitment/retention. In Asia, it’s not only about R/R, it’s also about their lives.