The process of vehicle recovery starts long before any vehicle is stolen – it’s a complicated maze of risk assessment, insurance, company policy, employee safety and responsibility, and staying up to date with industry best practice.
Dwayne Porter, Business Manager for GPS Solutions at EQSTRA Fleet Management, assists companies to find the best stolen vehicle recovery solutions for their specific fleets. Below are some of his key insights for anyone looking to optimise their stolen vehicle recovery system and policy.
1.You can never guarantee a recovery
According to Porter, it’s best to get the bad news out of the way first: no matter what systems you have in place, it is not a guarantee that a stolen vehicle can be recovered. Good tracking systems exponentially increase the chance that your vehicle will be recovered, and even lower the risk of theft in the first place as most ‘professional’ thieves know which systems to avoid, but in some cases even the best systems can be circumvented.
“Tracking systems are essential to recovering stolen vehicles and they make a huge difference in terms of fleet safety, but it’s important for fleet managers to remember that it’s not a guarantee so that they can put the right policies in place should a stolen vehicle not be recoverable,” he says.
2. Warning signs can make a difference
Many GPS-based tracking devices have certain triggers that will alert if a vehicle may have been stolen. For example:
If the vehicle is on the move, but there is no record of the engine being started (many monitoring systems track all engine activity).
Pressure sensors on seats can alert if there are more people in the vehicle than there should be.
Depending on predetermined routes, specific risk zones can trigger an alert – for example if a vehicle is crossing into an area that is not part of the planned route and a well-known escape route for hi-jackers, it will send out an alert.
Warning systems are fantastic for fleets that operate on strict schedules and with strict guidelines around whom should be in the vehicle and when and where it can stop. Any deviance from the schedule can be a valuable heads-up that a vehicle has been stolen or hijacked before an official notification comes in from the employee.
3. What to do if a vehicle is stolen
If a vehicle is stolen or hijacked, the driver’s first call should be to the vehicle recovery call centre (this situation assumes the driver has not been injured and is in a position to do so). Company policy should ensure that employees always have this number on hand, as well as any key codes or passwords if necessary.
With most stolen vehicles there is a very short window of time during which the vehicle can be recovered and if the theft is reported immediately it greatly increases the odds of the vehicle being found. Once the employee has notified their recovery supplier, they should follow the stipulated company procedure which usually includes notifying their direct superior or fleet manager, followed by the process of filing a police report and most likely an internal report as well. Ensuring you follow the correct admin process is vital for insurance purposes, and this is why it is so important to make sure employees know the procedure.
“Another important point”, says Porter, “is that employees or managers or anyone else at the company should never try to recover a vehicle themselves. Fleet managers often have access to the GPS tracking system and it might be tempting to try if they can see where the vehicle is, but it is a huge risk. We make sure all our clients understand these risks and leave recovery to the people who have training and experience in these situations.”
4. Hijacking is always a concern
The fact that signs reading ‘Hijack Hotspot’ are littered around SA’s rounds is a clear indication that the situation is out of control, and that anyone who gets behind the wheel is at risk.
Companies that operate fleets (whether it’s a vehicle allowance or an allocated vehicle) should make anti-hijacking training a priority. These courses are beneficial as they make drivers aware of what to look out for and make the best choices to avoid being hijacked. They also teach employees how to best deal with a hijacking in the event that it can’t be avoided.
In such cases the employee’s safety comes first – it’s all about staying calm and remembering that the thieves are after the vehicle, not you, so you give them what they want in order to keep yourself as safe as possible. According to Dwayne “we’ve found that additions such as panic buttons are actually a risk once you’re in the middle of a hijacking. Hijackers are well aware of these and will use force (potentially deadly) to stop drivers from hitting a panic button. In many cases the hijackers might also think you’re reaching for a weapon, which places you in even more danger. We encourage all businesses to regularly do training around hijackings to reduce the risk to employees in such situations.”
5. Staying ahead of the game
Vehicle theft is unfortunately a very lucrative crime, especially for ‘professional’ syndicates. This means they are constantly researching the latest anti-theft technology and finding ways to outsmart or neutralise the systems. For this reason it makes sense for companies to partner with experienced fleet management providers, as it’s their job to ensure they stay on top of the latest vehicle protection technology.
“To put it bluntly, it’s a rat race”, says Porter, “We do regular updates to existing systems, or migrate to improved systems in order to stay one step ahead. We customise solutions for every client in order to ensure they have the best possible protection for their fleet. The only reason we can do this is because we’re experienced and make sure we know everything there is to know about changes in technology and how it can benefit certain fleets.”
6. The role of HR in the event a vehicle is stolen
HR often plays an important role in the event of stolen vehicles, as they often deal with the aftermath and insurance admin. If an employee can’t do their job due to a vehicle being stolen, HR is usually tasked with the process of finding a replacement vehicle and ensuring all the correct documentation is in place.
In the event of a hijacking, HR will be the department who handles trauma counselling and any additional support the employee needs. Depending on how the company is structured, HR will often help employees handle all the paperwork that needs to be completed according to company and insurance policies.
Every South African, and fleet managers especially, know that vehicle theft is a risk and a reality. Stolen vehicle recovery therefore comes down to mitigating this risk as much as possible through ensuring the correct processes are followed, that the best possible vehicle protection technology is installed, and that company policy includes everything from driver training to a step-by-step guide on how to deal with a stolen vehicle situation.
These measures are the only way to ensure you lower your risk as much as possible and stand the best chance of a successful stolen vehicle recovery should the worst-case scenario play out.
A company car policy is a very important part of any fleet. Make sure you have one in place.