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Personal Risk Management

Driver Safety for Meal Delivery Operations

Paul Farrell | October 21, 2016

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Pizza delivery

More Americans are craving the simplicity of having dinner sent over from their favorite restaurant—and it's not just about pizza and sandwiches anymore.

Consider these cultural trend points.

  • Food delivery traffic, outside of pizza delivery, has grown by 33 percent since 2012, according to food service researcher NPD Group. 1
  • In 2013, 60 percent of all Americans ordered delivery food at least once a week. This trend is up from only 20 percent in 2011, and the demand has been increasing steadily with online ordering driving the behavior. 2, 3
  • According to the National Restaurant Association, "Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of millennials said they would order delivery from a table service restaurant if available, compared to 56 percent of all adults." 4
  • The National Restaurant Association estimates that 48 million Americans order takeout or delivery food from a restaurant while watching the Super Bowl. In comparison, 12 million are expected to visit a restaurant or bar to watch the big game. That's a 3-to-1 ratio of delivery to eating at an establishment. 5
  • Restaurants are increasingly relying on new delivery options, such as teaming up with third-party fleet services, like GrubHub or UberEATS.

If we include personalized home delivery of groceries and ready-to-prepare meals in a box, the number of cars, trucks, and nontraditional vehicles on the road increases even more.

Identifying Typical Risks and Controls

As a business that wants to grow revenue by offering delivery options, it's important to take stock of the risks posed by operating a fleet of cars, bikes, or other light-duty vehicles. Whether you own the vehicles, lease them, or require your drivers to use their personally owned vehicles, your business must take positive steps to increase safety effectiveness to cover the business auto exposure.

Here are some of the top risk factors to consider when asking employees to deliver meals to customers.


Drivers can become easily distracted as they search for the next delivery stop—often in unfamiliar neighborhoods or during low-light conditions after dusk. Electronic distractions from navigation systems, cell phones, or even tablet computers used as a personal digital assistant can take a driver's eyes off of the road, hands off of the wheel, and mind off of their driving duties. Remember, hands-free is not risk-free as cognitive distractions (mind focused on conversation or searching for a house number) can present the greatest risk of collision.

Distraction is one of the underlying causes of many types of collisions—especially those that incur high loss reserves, bodily injury, and invite litigation. Examples include forward collisions (also known as "rear-enders" from tailgating), hitting pedestrians or cyclists, and lane departures (i.e., sideswipes, run-off-of-road, head-on collisions).

Try not to overload your newest drivers on their first couple of trips. Make sure that they have time to "learn the ropes" and figure out the neighborhoods so that they can become focused and calm when making deliveries.

Institute a policy forbidding the use of hand-held devices and specifying when cradle mounted or in-dash navigation systems are permissible (so that drivers are not setting destinations while actually driving). Consider a ban on all calls while the vehicle is in motion. Insist that the driver finds a safe parking place before placing or returning any calls, including those from dispatchers or managers. Various apps and devices can be obtained to lock down cell phones while the vehicle is in motion. These typically allow for emergency overrides when warranted but may help curb driver temptation to make or take calls while driving.

When your company is supplying the vehicle (leased or owned), consider including advanced collision avoidance systems that monitor for specific threats, provide early warnings, and take control of the vehicle if necessary to avoid a serious collision. Notable examples include automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, and pedestrian collision detection. The availability of these systems is increasing, and the costs are decreasing as well.


Drivers who are physically impaired by fatigue, illness, over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, illicit substances, or alcohol typically find their judgment compromised, motor skills ineffectual, and concentration degraded. In some of these cases, the operation of the motor vehicle is illegal due to the nature of the impairment.

Consider a drug screening program for new hires and a random drug testing program for existing drivers. There's only one sure way to know your drivers are substance-free and that's through regular testing practices.

Vehicle Condition/Breakdown

Balding tires fail to grip the roadway surface in wet, snowy, or icing conditions. Underinflated tires waste fuel and decrease service life. Missed oil changes increase the risk of an engine seizing. Broken or failing lights, signals, and brittle windshield wipers contribute to poor visibility and make it harder to be seen by other motorists or pedestrians and cyclists.

The daily inspection and repair of critical systems is a must for safe operations and is typically required by law (that the vehicle is in safe operating condition). If your employees are supplying their own equipment, do you know if it's properly maintained or that employees carry their own insurance on the vehicle? Both unexpected breakdowns (from poor maintenance) and collisions from wheels falling off will interfere with your business operations and could endanger your employees and the public.

Institute a vehicle inspection program to assure that the most critical systems are addressed and will function properly (as designed) when needed. Vehicles that do not meet your local or state vehicle code should not be permitted as business-use vehicles until the deficiencies are corrected.

Avoid Driveways

Many home delivery operations have offered guidance or instituted policies against pulling into the customer's driveway. If your driver does pull into the drive, this creates a backing exposure at a location where your driver is unfamiliar with the roads and surroundings. Many firms feel that it is better to park on the street (with the engine off) and walk up the driveway to complete the delivery. This activity must be balanced against personal security concerns for the individual making the delivery as well.

Consider Computer-Aided Dispatching

GPS-linked dispatch and delivery optimization programs have been expanding in number and options while prices have been coming down. Many organizations have been able to leverage technology to increase efficiency, decrease wasted trip legs, and move more food to more customers in less time. These systems can also optimize compliance with safety rules, such as minimizing left turns across traffic, etc.

Risk Transfer

When you require your employees to use their own vehicles to make deliveries, it remains questionable whether you can really shift the risk management exposure to their personal auto policies. In many cases, the personal lines insurer may attach a business use exclusion to the policy, or the policy limits may be so low that it covers very little of a claim that involves serious injuries or fatalities.

If you are going to insist on your employees operating their own vehicles, then you should gather information about the status of their own insurance coverage (i.e., limits of coverage and the policy expiration dates so you can monitor to confirm that a renewal is completed).

Wait, There's More!

Besides reacting to the most common risks associated with delivery drivers, it's important to build a solid foundation of safety within your business. Here are some critical tips for your team to address.

  • Fleet Safety Program—To have a positive impact on your fleet operations, construct a written safety program that outlines the responsibilities of management and drivers to minimize the chance of a crash happening. It should be communicated to all new hires and reviewed with existing employees on a periodic basis so that they have opportunities to ask questions and gain a clearer understanding of the expectations provided in the policy statements governing approved operation of company vehicles or personal vehicles used on company business. Many organizations require that both managers and line staff who will be driving sign an acknowledgment form showing that they have reviewed it and had opportunities to ask questions.
  • Specific Policy Statements—Communicate your management expectations to your operators through clearly worded, specific statements that address your most critical safety concerns (i.e., no use of cell while driving, always uses seatbelts, no passengers, etc.).
  • Driver Qualification—Hiring the right driver is critical. Drivers who have very little driving experience tend to make mistakes in judging following distance, making turns, navigating tight clearances, and keeping their bearings (location) straight. Drivers who have more experience tend to be calmer and more dependable in following directions, showing up on time for shifts, and behaving responsibly when interacting with your client.
    • a. Establish minimum expectations when hiring a driver.
    • b. Validate each candidate's driving credentials.
    • c. Establish criteria for evaluating the history of violations/crashes to set a threshold beyond which a driver is no longer qualified. Drivers with histories of risk-taking tend to continue in that mode.
  • Driver Education—Not only do your drivers need to learn about your explicit expectations for the safe operation of the company vehicle, but they also need to be reminded of traffic safety basics. Each driver who applies for a job will have a different baseline understanding of traffic rules. They may also bring so-called "bad habits" to the job. Offering refresher training through online portals, self-study booklets, or even short videos can help offset these conditions.
  • Driver Monitoring—As drivers work from day to day, it's important to have a feedback mechanism to monitor their performance. Some fleets use toll-free hotline systems to receive motorist feedback on risky driving and others use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) or telematics to track their drivers. One of the benefits of GPS is that you'll know the status and location of each delivery driver, and you can optimize their routing and delivery schedules. Some systems are now available as a downloadable app for smart phones instead of a hard-wire option that must be installed in the vehicle itself.


The ongoing growth in people's interest in the home delivery of meals suggests that more restaurants and delivery services will take a step toward operating a fleet of vehicles. This can be done efficiently and safely with proper planning, commitment, and resources. It's critical to manage the operation very closely as a single crash could mean negative publicity for the operation and loss of customer goodwill. Furthermore, each vehicle collision has the potential to involve multiple claimants with both property damage and possibly bodily injuries. Often, the injuries from vehicle collisions take longer to fully present themselves and can be very costly, depending on the nature, location, and severity.

It's not hard to imagine that, while slips and falls, burns, cuts, and other mishaps common to restaurants may someday be eclipsed by motor vehicle crash costs, each restaurant's faithful execution of safety programs for vehicles is critical to avoiding claims and potential litigation over crashes. Perhaps someday we'll have automated drones (flying or driving) to handle the deliveries. In fact, the National Restaurant Association states that more than 25 percent of customers surveyed stated that they'd like to try having their food delivered by drone. Additionally, a publicity stunt in 2013 in the United Kingdom delivered pizzas by flying drones in a suburb of London. The pizzas arrived in insulated bags (in perfect condition) and only took about 10 minutes to get there. 6 One enterprising drone delivery program is preparing to launch at a pair of college campuses in Virginia—students will be able to order burritos from Chipotle Mexican Grill and have them "dropped" on their doorstep from the air. 7

We can't know the future with certainty, but your team can plan and execute a strong business auto safety program to assure that delivering meals to customers goes smoothly. Nationwide has tailored resources available for restaurants planning to expand into meal delivery operations. Even if you're not insured by Nationwide, there are great, free resources available from a range of nonprofit safety organizations and governmental agencies. Here are some examples:

  • Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS)—
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC)— 8

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.


3 "One-fifth of Americans to order takeout, delivery on Halloween," National Restaurant Association, October 25, 2011.
4 "8 ways to build delivery sales," National Restaurant Association.
5 "Delivery on the menu for 48 million on Feb. 5," National Restaurant Association, January 24, 2012.
6 "Look, up in the sky: It's a bird; It's a plane; it's … pizza?" National Restaurant Association, February 29, 2016.
7 Bryan Lynn, "Drones to Deliver Fast Food to Virginia Tech University," VOA Learning English, September 13, 2016.