Phil Clifford argues that inspirational memes are all well and good but if fleet managers want to improve and safeguard their operations they need to be aware of the letter of the law and take their responsibilities seriously.

Like many I have embraced social media, and a recent trend I have observed is the proliferation of motivational messages that seem to clog up my feed. Some are inspirational, many are downright patronising, some are 'tasters' aimed at getting you to sign up with management training consultants, and many more are just quotes that people like and repost to their own followers.

Some of these messages are aimed at improving our people management skills ' and let's face it, most of us could do with some improvement. One such message we have probably all seen is the quote attributed to the late Steve Jobs: 'It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do'.

This is stirring stuff to be sure, but like the other quotes what it fails to do is provide any actual advice on how to improve either yourself or your management skills and processes. And when it comes to managing fleets, inspirational quotes on their own simply aren't enough. What fleet operators need is concrete, practical advice on how to do things better, and that's what I'm going to give you now.

Now, I appreciate that many of you won't be operating heavy trucks or buses, so the strictures of the Operator's Licensing system may not be at the forefront of your mind, but I am going to advise you all anyway to visit or re-visit the undertakings required of an operator when applying for, or renewing, an 'O' licence.

Basically, there are, for 'O' licence operators, 11 undertakings that you effectively promise to adhere to when applying for the licence. For 'O' licence operators, the nominated transport manager will be a signatory to these undertakings and it will be his/her role to ensure they are followed to the letter. In theory, this means that those of us running trucks or buses will have a tight rein on the operation of those vehicles.

Now, even for those of you who do not run vehicles requiring an operator's licence, I would suggest that the first seven of the undertakings should still apply to your operation, you just won't need to promise the traffic commissioner that you will adhere to them.

So, what are these first seven undertakings?

  • That the laws relating to the driving and operation of vehicles are observed;
  • That the rules on drivers' hours and tachographs (where appropriate) are observed and proper records are kept;
  • To ensure vehicles and trailers are not overloaded;
  • That all vehicles operate within the speed limits;
  • To ensure drivers promptly report any defects that could prevent the safe operation of the vehicle or trailer and that all defects are recorded in writing;
  • To ensure that all vehicles and trailers, including hired vehicles and trailers, are kept in a fit and serviceable condition;
  • To ensure you are keeping full records for a 15-month period for all driver reports of defects, safety inspections, routine maintenance, and repairs to vehicles.

The remaining undertakings, numbered 8 to 11, relate specifically to 'O' licence applicants and refer to the defined operating centres and statutory notifications to the traffic commissioners.

The list above may not look too onerous but beware of number one. This is a short sentence, but it encompasses a lot of legislation that will need to be considered.

My advice to you would be to create a tick sheet using these seven undertakings and, each month, carry out a desktop exercise to see if you meet all these targets. If you find that you don't meet them, or are lacking in some areas, it's time to be the 'smart person' in the Steve Jobs' quote and raise the issue with senior management to ensure that the resources required to bring the operation into line are made available. Do not ignore the issue. The one inspirational quote that I do like is attributed to Mahatma Gandhi and says: 'If you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth'.

By all means, take inspiration from motivational messages, but if you operate vehicles and fail to observe the seven basic rules listed above, you are leaving yourself wide open to prosecution and, heaven forbid, the risk of a serious accident involving one of your vehicles or drivers.

Phil Clifford is the former fleet manager for Forest Heath District and St Edmundsbury Borough councils, operating under the West Suffolk brand. His specialisms include fleet procurement, use of vehicle telematics, and the development and use of fleet management software systems. He is an advocate for sharing best practice and benchmarking. He is also the founder and board manager of the Public Authority Transport Network, member of the Freight Transport Association, East of England Freight Council, and committee member of BSI working group B/508/01(Waste containers and associated lifting devices on refuse collection vehicles). Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @thefleetman.