For fleet managers, the control and management of your fleet begins with control and management of the keys that start the vehicles. For some, this critical task is left to a very basic – and incredibly low-tech – solution, such as hooks mounted on a pegboard with a notebook for signing vehicle keys in and out.

There are a number of shortcomings with this type of “system,” most notably that employees tend to ignore it altogether. With this type of honour system approach, there is no way to track keys, control who can use which vehicles or know who has a key at any given time. Further, as fleet manager you have no way to know if your mandated key policies are being followed; you are blind to overuse or misuse of certain vehicles, potential liabilities and many other problems.

Automated key management solutions

The unfortunate reality is that many fleet managers aren’t aware of these potential issues until it is too late. The fact that they haven’t had a problem may prevent them from taking action until they are actually faced with an issue. At that point, they will likely be motivated to investigate an automated key control and management system as an alternative to the very basic system they have in place.

Key management solutions offer a number of benefits, including cost savings, which can be achieved using a number of features and functionality to proactively address potential issues in several critical areas while also improving overall operations.

It’s important to note that
in fleet management, key control is not actually about the keys themselves; it’s all about the vehicles.

Managing vehicle usage

Within every fleet, there are newer or nicer vehicles that become favourites among employees and are therefore constantly in use. Meanwhile, other vehicles sit idle. This dwell time is big problem for fleet managers, with mileage and associated wear and tear piling up on some vehicles while other expensive assets gather dust.

An automated, networked key control system can eliminate this problem. It’s important to note that in fleet management, key control is not actually about the keys themselves; it’s all about the vehicles. With a key control system, certain users can be authorised to use only certain vehicles, such as late-model units, while others can be authorised to use newer units.

Reducing vehicle dwell time

For example, a trucking company recently implemented a key control solution for just this purpose. When a driver logs in, the system checks to see if his or her primary vehicle is available and if so, issues that key. If key isn’t available because the truck’s return has been delayed for one reason or another, the system identifies a similar vehicle based on the user’s profile and authorisation and issues the next available key. This ensures that vehicles are properly rotated to reduce dwell time and eliminate excess wear and tear on certain units.

A challenge around vehicle usage is making sure certain specialised vehicles are available when needed
Specialised vehicles could include delivery trucks with lift gates, police cars equipped with riot gear, or limousines with certain seating capacity

Another challenge around vehicle usage is making sure certain specialised vehicles are available when needed. These could be delivery trucks with lift gates, police cars equipped with riot gear, limousines with certain seating capacity and others.

Whether because these vehicles are newer or because drivers aren’t aware of their specialised nature, they are often out in the field when someone needs their specific specialisation. This is not only inconvenient, but in the case of a specially equipped police car, it can significantly impact public safety.

Misuse and misappropriation of vehicles

Therefore, being able to control who is able to access the key for these specialised units is a primary concern. Key management systems provide this functionality, as well as the ability for users to request and reserve certain units to ensure it will be available when necessary. By more effectively managing their fleet to ensure mileage and wear and tear are evenly distributed, organisations can also lower their operating costs and grow their bottom line. In some cases, a key control system can make fleet management so efficient that fewer vehicles may be needed because of the increased utilisation.

Whether intentional or unintentional, employee misuse and misappropriation of fleet vehicles is another major challenge for fleet managers. It can be tempting for an employee to simply take a vehicle home for the weekend – or longer – rather than signing it in on Friday and back out again on Monday.

Imagine for a moment that someone takes a company car home and uses it as a personal vehicle over the weekend. Should that person be involved in an accident, DUI or other criminal incident, police could seize the vehicle, forcing the company to put a lot of time and energy into getting their property returned.

Automated networked key management

So while this may sound very basic, it’s extremely important for fleet managers to be able to know who has – or had – a unit at any given time, and to know in real time if a particular vehicle is not returned when it is supposed to be. Automated networked key management systems make this possible by issuing an alert if a unit is overdue for return. With these solutions, if something happens to a unit an employee kept over a weekend, the organisation will know exactly who should be accountable and can take whatever necessary actions.

Using a key management system ensures that no matter whether your vehicles are being managed by a long-time employee or someone you brought on board last week, policies will be followed correctly.

Liability and licences

Ensuring that drivers have valid licences is crucial for companies because drivers with expired licences are no longer covered by insurance. So if an unlicensed driver were to gets into an accident, the company would be liable for any damage.

Key management solutions allow fleet managers to input users’ driver’s licence information into the system
Users with expired licences can be locked out of the system to prevent them from checking out a vehicle until they have renewed their licence

Key management solutions allow fleet managers to input users’ driver’s licence information into the system. When an individual’s expiration date arrives, they can verify that the licence has been renewed and update the information. Users with expired licences can be locked out of the system to prevent them from checking out a vehicle until they have renewed their licence.

This may seem like a minor feature, but it is extremely important for a fleet manager to manage that data on a daily basis to determine whether a driver is eligible to check out a vehicle. If that has to be done manually, it can be overwhelming, particularly for large fleets. Therefore, having the system perform that task automatically is a major benefit for fleet managers.

Additionally, there are a number of regulations that place caps on how many hours a day truck drivers are permitted to be on the road. With key management solutions, a company can view and track in real time how many hours its drivers have put in each day to ensure compliance with these regulations. These regulations can also be programmed into the system to alert fleet managers if and when a driver exceeds those limits, which can have important legal implications. In these situations, knowing how many hours their drivers are actually logging is critical for fleet managers.

Ensuring that drivers have valid licences is crucial for companies because drivers with expired licences are no longer covered by insurance

Flexibility of vehicle location

Another important function of key management systems is the ability to check out a vehicle key from one location and return it to another. For example, a trucking company may have drivers pick up a vehicle at a central distribution center and drop it off at a remote warehouse for the next driver to use. With a peg-and-notebook system, there is no way for a fleet manager to verify that the key has been returned, but a networked solution will track that automatically. If for some reason the driver forgets to return the key, the system will issue an alert immediately, allowing the fleet manager to proactively ensure that it will be available when needed.

Real-time vehicle maintenance

Reporting is another main feature of key management systems, but reports only tell a story after the fact. Where these solutions really shine is by providing real-time notifications that allow for immediate action rather than relying on historical data to determine reaction.

For example, if a driver experiences an issue with the brakes on a vehicle, he or she can use the key management system to report it immediately. The system will notify the fleet manager and remove the vehicle from service for maintenance. Without this feature, the manager might now be aware of the problem until receiving a report. In the meantime, someone else could sign out the vehicle without knowing about the problem, which may have worsened. In these cases, there are few, if any, positive potential outcomes.

Clearly, basic methods of key management do not ensure that fleet vehicles will be properly controlled. Automated solutions, on the other hand, allow fleet managers to control and track vehicle usage to reduce wear and tear while improving accountability and avoiding liability issues. These key management solutions deliver a high level of flexibility and real-time awareness fleet managers need to ensure the most effective and efficient use of their vehicles to streamline operations and, perhaps most importantly, reduce overall costs.

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