The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted numerous aspects of the entire industry, and accident rates are no exception.
“Fortunately, in this case, the news is positive with accident rates declining noticeably as compared to previous years. As you can imagine, this decline can be largely attributed to a significant reduction in the number of miles driven and the number of vehicles on the road. This reduction is a result of various travel restrictions and a greater number of individuals working remotely,” said Rich Radi, director, product management for ARI.
Connie Brinkmann, assistant vice president of Risk Management for Enterprise Fleet Management, also noted the overall volume of claims is down so far for 2020.
“This decline is due to fewer vehicles being on the road and the COVID-19 pandemic being a contributing factor,” Brinkmann noted.
What is interesting, however, is that there is still a need for essential businesses to be operating to meet demand.
“More medium-duty vehicles are on the road compared to light-duty or private passenger vehicles. As a result, this has caused an increase in medium-duty vehicles being ordered to keep up with demand,” Brinkmann added.
And how are these trucks doing accident wise? “Based on CEI year-to-date data, our clients saw a 47% decrease in the number of medium-duty truck claims in 2020,” said Joe Kinniry, manager of reporting and analytics for The CEI Group.
While there has been a decline, there still have been accidents occurring.
“Most accidents I have found are happening in the customer’s lot where drivers are hitting other trucks in their delivery lots whether it is when backing up or pulling out,” said Stuart Braun, adjuster and maintenance manager for Fleet Response.
However, the decrease may not be seen in all industries.
“There was a slight increase in claims reported to us,” according to Robert Martines, CEO of CCM Services. “I believe the increase was due to increased pressure on drivers to be more productive each day, especially in the service and package delivery industries.”
Efforts in Preventing Accidents
One big aspect of accident management centers around preventability. Was the accident preventable by the driver? While we can’t control the general public, fleet drivers that can respond quickly to changing conditions can save a company from nuclear lawsuit verdicts.
“Similar to overall accident rates, there was a noticeable decline in the number of preventable incidents. Again, this is due in large part to a significant decline in miles driven and the overall number of vehicles on the road during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Radi of ARI.
Kinniry of The CEI Group also noted a decrease in the percentage of claims deemed preventable, specifically for medium-duty trucks in 2020.
“This trend, although influenced by the pandemic that caused emptier roads, included many fleets considered essential services whose professional drivers have a high skill level and are cognizant of the need for safety. We also saw more customers increase safety program communications and training to keep their drivers focused,” Kinniry added.
Chargeable incidents are due to a variety of reasons including inattentive drivers, misjudging distances or vehicle size (easily correctable with training), excessive speed, etc.
“The speeding incidents, in many cases, were in a specific industry, package delivery, where the time element for on time deliveries continues to be a big factor,” said Martines of CCM Services.
Influence of Technology
Advancements in technology occur daily. While no major breakthroughs have occurred in the past year, growth in more robust telematics solutions and the growing use of cameras are just two pieces of technology working to keep truck fleets safer.
“Generally speaking, a comprehensive telematics program combined with a multi-faceted driver training strategy is still the best option to help improve driver safety and, in turn, reduce accidents and we continue to see a growing number of fleet operators embrace telematics technology,” said Radi of ARI.
Specifically, OEM-embedded telematics devices are now available in a larger number of vehicles, making it even easier for fleet operators to get started with a telematics solution.
“With this powerful technology now factory-installed in many popular fleet models, two of the biggest roadblocks companies typically face when exploring a telematics strategy have been eliminated: installation costs and logistics along with the associated vehicle downtime,” Radi added.
Additionally, medium-duty trucks are starting to become bigger recipients of this technology.
“Telematics solutions are also being more readily adopted today for medium-duty vehicles, resulting in improved routing, service warnings, and driver and vehicle behavior,” said Brinkmann of Enterprise Fleet Management.
Telematics technology essentially puts you inside the vehicle with your drivers, allowing you to monitor performance and quickly identify high-risk behaviors such as harsh braking, rapid acceleration, and speeding.
“When this telematics data is integrated into an advanced analytics platform, you can easily benchmark driving performance across your entire organization to pinpoint high-risk drivers and highlight opportunities to prescribe corrective training. By proactively identifying and training these high-risk drivers, you’re able to improve safety, prevent potential collisions, and better control accident costs,” Radi said.
Technology continues to monitor driver behavior and even affect change in real-time.
“Because of our focus on helping managers control costs and reduce risk, CEI is focused on collecting and analyzing the influx of disparate vehicle and driver data, including telematics, video, whatever. Data must be framed by the customer’s fleet operation and driver policy to be meaningful. Advances in data visualization and predictive analytics are driving fleet managers’ ability to make informed decisions,” said Kinniry of The CEI Group.
Today, camera systems are one of the biggest advancements utilized by medium-duty fleets.
“More vehicles are equipped with cameras, and companies are noticing the benefits, which include increased safety and accident prevention. Forward and rear cameras, in particular, allow medium-duty vehicle drivers to have a better understanding of following distance and available space. Auxiliary cameras have also become important in allowing for safer hook up of trailering equipment,” Brinkmann noted.
Other advancements are becoming standard features on medium-duty vehicles as manufacturers work to understand consumer demand for running safer and more efficient fleets.
“Features one might not think of that are having an impact on safety are advancements like improved hood designs, larger windshields, and better lighting in and around vehicles. These advancements have a positive impact by providing greater visibility for drivers, which can be helpful if they are driving through an unfamiliar area or navigating through tight spaces in largely populated cities,” Brinkmann said.
As the return on investment dictates, technological advances will continue to help offset the increased costs for labor and parts.
“Recessionary times will slow the rate, but increased costs for repairs are unavoidable. This fact is an important reason CEI continues to invest in driver safety programs. Control over repair costs, combined with a comprehensive safety program involving driver risk assessment, driver communications, and remediation, can significantly reduce collision costs,” Kinniry said.
Efforts in Truck Accident Reduction
Reducing the overall number of accidents is the goal of any safety program. To accomplish this goal, companies are relying more on GPS technology more than ever.
“Companies are relying on GPS technology to the point they are constantly tracking the speed, the handling, and the whereabouts so a vehicle in an effort to make sure each driver is in compliant with safety policy and the company’s ‘rules of the road,’ ” said Martines of CCM Services.
The continuous monitoring of employee driving records has become adopted by more fleets over the past few years.
“The continuous monitoring allows fleet managers to know almost immediately when a driver has a violation on their record. Additionally, many fleets are turning to fleet management companies that have experience in driver and vehicle compliance. When working with an FMC, it is important that they have an in-house representative and strong vendor partnerships to assist with compliance efforts,” said Brinkmann of Enterprise Fleet Management.
Make sure any safety program you adopt is meeting your specific fleet and driver needs. Train drivers often to help reduce incident rates.
“To help maximize driver engagement, training should be personalized to the driver’s needs rather than generic training such as a defensive driving course. For new hires, this means first assessing their skills and then providing targeted training to improve skills needing development. For tenured employees, this means monitoring their driving performance and providing immediate, personalized training to address high-risk behaviors. For example, if a driver incurs a speeding offense, a speed management training module should be immediately assigned to the driver,” recommended Radi of ARI.
Once your safety program is well-established, Radi suggested also to incorporate a scorecard to encourage friendly competition among drivers and reward your safest employees.
Remember, every time a driver gets behind the wheel, your organization is vulnerable to repercussions that go far beyond just repairing a vehicle if you’re not addressing safety and driver behavior.
“When you implement a comprehensive driver safety program that proactively identifies and trains your high-risk drivers, you have the potential to reduce your crash rates by 40-60% or more,” Radi explained.
Beyond telematics, but still incredibly safety-related are the use of LED headlights on medium-duty trucks, noted Braun of Fleet Response.
Also, due to the current state of the economy as a result of the pandemic, companies now have a larger pool of drivers to choose from; therefore, they can hire less risky drivers.
“We have witnessed an increased interest in driver safety training as many company employees seem to have more time to manage drivers than they did in the past,” said Martines of CCM Services.
“While telematics provides optics into driver behavior, the value of this insight is lost without a multi-faceted driver safety program,” Radi added
To improve performance, mitigate risk, and reduce accident costs, Radi recommended that a successful driver safety program should include the following elements:
- Properly set expectations for driving performance with an online fleet safety policy.
- Establish a personalized onboarding program for new drivers that includes a driver skills assessment program to identify poor driving habits and assigns corrective training before an incident occurs.
- Continuously assess driver behavior using telematics and monitor MVRs on a consistent, on-going basis rather than just annually.
- Prescribe online training modules to match specific driver weaknesses to improve behavior.
Looking to The Future
As much as we wish we could accurately predict the future, no one predicted the insane year 2020 has been. But, it has shown us the importance of adjusting plans on the fly. We may not have a crystal ball to ask the future, but we can take a look at the past and current trends to analyze what we may have coming.
One thing is clear: the costs for repairs will continue to rise as a result of parts price increases from the manufacturers.
“I do not believe we will ever see a change where OEM prices for parts decrease. Companies do have some alternatives with aftermarket and used parts; however, those suppliers are astute businesspeople as well. As new parts increase, the secondary replacement parts will also increase, but not as much. The end-result is the consumer, whether a fleet client or a retail buyer, ultimately must pay for the price increase,” said Martines of CCM Services.
Rapidly evolving technology is giving companies real-time visibility into areas of driver behavior they couldn’t track even just a few years ago.
“It is now possible to combine a driver’s MVR, your corporate fleet policies, telematics data, driver risk scoring, and accident data into a consolidated view of what’s happening behind the wheel. As a result, more and more companies are adopting a proactive approach to fleet safety,” said Radi of ARI.
How we handle accidents is changing and will be changing in the future.
“Traditionally, an accident or driving infraction occurred, and then corrective training is prescribed. Today, truly effective safety programs are built on a foundation of monitoring driving behavior in real-time and fleet operators are empowered to address high-risk behavior to prevent collisions before they occur. For example, if a driver exceeds the speed limit frequently, safety training can be assigned to reduce his or her speeding habit before it results in an incident,” Radi said.
Additionally, the continued evolution of 5G wireless networks is an area ARI is monitoring closely.
“While 5G networks continue to impact the consumer space, specifically mobile phones, and become more widely available, the lifecycle of telematics devices in vehicles is much longer, putting the technology very much on the horizon for most fleets. However, as 5G networks and compatible devices become more widely available, this technology opens the door for new, innovative ways to monitor and manage driver performance,” Radi said.
Increased network speeds will likely make it viable and affordable to implement technology such as in-cab cameras to supplement traditional telematics data and provide further insight into driver performance.
“In-cab cameras with telematics integration are poised to offer significant potential to improve safety by analyzing driver behavior and identifying instances of distracted driving,” he added.
Brinkmann of Enterprise Fleet Management is interested to see if the severity of claims continues.
“As more claims are presented with higher price points, premiums will continue to increase in an already challenging insurance market. Some insurance carriers may pull out of certain risks or markets, making it more difficult for companies to place or reevaluate insurance needs for their fleets. As a result, it will be important for companies to solidify their driver training and the vehicle selection to operate a safer fleet,” Brinkmann said.
The impact on insurance costs is also on the future radar.
“Insurance underwriters will likely review loss data closely and be interested in what changes a fleet has made to reduce their risk exposure. For that reason, a partnership with a qualified broker who can find the right carrier to insure a fleet properly is crucial,” Brinkmann noted. “Companies should also make sure their fleets are fully protected at the right limit and refrain from lowering insurance limits, especially when the severity of claims is increasing. This might involve considering higher deductibles and retention levels to keep the premium cost as affordable as possible. Also, this may include closely reviewing where there may be a duplication in coverage that could be avoided and allow for a premium reduction.”