“Accidents happen” should not be a common adage within any company. While today’s trucks are inherently safer than a decade before, accidents are still occurring and with fatal consequences.
Work Truck dug into current accident management statistics within vocational work truck fleets and checked in with a few experts in the field. A bigger picture is starting to form, and fleets must keep identifying ways to decrease incidents and enhance safety.
“Companies need to find the right balance between achieving business growth and applying safety standards to reduce accident claims,” said Connie Brinkmann, vice president of Risk Management for Enterprise Fleet Management. As claims happen and liability verdicts rise, commercial trucking employers must also put a greater focus on their hiring, supervision, and training procedures. If negligent hiring, supervision, or training procedures are found to be a contributor to the accident, the auto liability policy could be on the hook having a downward impact on insurability, premium increases, and attaching points of excess insurance layers.”
Truck Accident Trends
Looking at trends this year, our subject-matter experts saw both increases and decreases in accident rates.
Overall, for the experts that saw a rise in year-over-year accident rates, one contributing factor they saw was increased driver distraction. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has skewed some year-over-year statistics.
More than ever before, you need to dig into the data to understand how accident rates are trending.
“Medium-duty accident rates are projected to spike by approximately 15% this year, and at first glance, that stat is extremely worrisome. However, when you examine that data as it relates to previous years, what we’re seeing is a bit of a correction to the norm. In 2020, there was a noticeable regression in accident rates, down nearly 8%, with fewer drivers on the road during the height of the pandemic. While a 15% increase this year appears dramatic, that data reflects a return to 2019, pre-pandemic levels,” said Kate Harland, manager, Driver Safety for ARI. “We’d like to see accident rates trending down, but as drivers returned to the roads as we emerged from pandemic lockdowns, an increase in accidents as compared to last year was certainly expected.”
Several noted a decrease in accidents due to several factors, including fewer vehicles on the road due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, they also reported an increase in severity and accident costs.
“There is an early indication of a decrease in medium-duty truck accidents in 2021, primarily because the overall frequency of claims is down with fewer vehicles on the roadway. However, the severity of these accidents is still a concern,” said Brinkmann of Enterprise Fleet Management.
CCM Services also did not see an increase in claims for any segment of vehicles/clients it services.
“The dramatic decrease in claims can be attributed to two factors: COVID-19 and simply fewer vehicles on the road. The one uptick related to claims is the cost increase which is two-fold: price increases for parts across the board from manufacturers, aftermarket suppliers, and salvage parts supplies. The second part of the uptick is there were fewer vehicles on the road, but damages were more severe, which we believe was attributed to higher rates of speed,” said Bob Martines, CEO of CCM Services.
Impact of COVID-19 on Accident Management
Looking further at one of the biggest disrupters to not only the 2020 and 2021 calendar years, not everyone agrees on whether it’s had a bit impact on accident rates.
“I don’t believe the pandemic impacted accident rates or trends to any significates as accidents rate only has a small increase of 6.25%,” said Mike Irey, senior claims adjuster at Fleet Response.
Agreeing with Irey was Martines of CCM Services, noting that “most clients we serve, except for essential service clients, furloughed drivers. We experienced a 60% decrease in claims in the first four months of 2021; therefore, overall numbers are skewed in our minds. I do not think anyone can pinpoint the actual percentage,” Martines shared.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates, the number of fatalities on roadways in 2020 was the highest in more than a decade.
“Unfortunately, with the pandemic continuing into most of 2021, there hasn’t been a significant change. In addition, there was a 13.2% reduction in miles traveled in 2020, yet the severity of claims was up considerably. The speed that vehicles traveled played into that increase as many roadways remain uncongested due to businesses not being completely open and many employees continuing to work remotely,” said Brinkmann of Enterprise Fleet Management.
Brinkmann noted today’s challenging insurance market, with increased insurance premiums and more restricted coverage offerings.
“Premiums are possibly the highest they’ve been in the past five years. Although rate increases were paused in the personal auto line for some markets, this was not the case overall for commercial auto insurance,” Brinkmann added.
She added that commercial premiums have increased due to rising accident-related medical costs, repair expenses, and liability verdicts.
“Many carriers are trying to return to underwriting profitability, which has been difficult. They’re also increasing deductibles, requiring higher attaching points on umbrella and excess policies, and working with their commercial clients in explaining varying coverage options. This makes it prudent for most commercial accounts to have an umbrella or excess policy over their other lines, including auto, given the possible accident exposures. With this being the case, commercial trucking fleets must embrace driver training and vehicle selections that include safety technology to keep loss history as low as possible,” Brinkmann said.
Seeing an impact is Harland of ARI.
“The pandemic has certainly had a profound impact on our entire industry, and accident rates are no exception. Throughout 2020, economic uncertainty, travel restrictions, and a significant number of businesses transitioning to remote work scenarios resulted in far fewer vehicles on the road and a dramatic decrease in miles driven. As a result, accident rates dropped substantially during the height of the pandemic. Still, this year, several factors have rates – and other associated challenges – trending in the other direction,” Harland shared.
As pandemic restrictions lifted and the economy stabilized, a significant number of individuals returned to the roads after months of minimal (if any) driving.
“Frankly, basic driving skills were rusty for many, contributing to a spike in accident rates. This increase in accidents along with well-documented supply chain constraints due to the lingering impact of the pandemic are hampering accident repairs as well,” Harland added.
She also noted that vehicle repairs, rentals, and replacements present a challenge due to ongoing supply chain disruptions.
“Today, many repair facilities are still struggling with parts and/or labor shortages. Add to that a much smaller pool of rental cars available (as many rental companies liquidated their inventory during the pandemic) along with the general lack of new vehicle inventory, and you can quickly see the perfect storm this creates,” Harland said.
Additionally, she shared that many fleet operators are forced to repair vehicles they’d traditionally replace without rentals or new vehicles readily available.
And now, part and labor shortages are making these accident repairs much more of a challenge, increasing downtime.
Reducing Accidents & Managing Costs
As always, the No. 1 goal for vocational fleet managers in relation to accidents focuses on reducing numbers and overall severity. There are many ways that fleets can accomplish this.
“We have seen fleet managers more open to the utilization of aftermarket parts to reduce cost versus OE parts. Over the past 12 months, we have seen an increase in backorders within OE space, so in addition to the cost-savings of aftermarket parts, there are fewer procurement issues, thus minimizing overall downtime,” said Irey of Fleet Response.
Additionally, to help maximize driver engagement, Rich Radi, director, product management for ARI, recommended focusing on personalizing training to driver 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. This also means monitoring driving performance and providing immediate, personalized training to address high-risk behaviors for tenured employees. For example, if a driver incurs a speeding offense, a speed management training module should be immediately assigned to the driver,” Radi added.
Once your safety program is well established, Radi shared that fleets can also 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 said.
Driver distraction is also still a huge problem.
“A simple continued best practice for any commercial driver would be refraining from using a handheld mobile device while driving. Commercial drivers are prohibited legally from using these devices, but many drivers may still do so. Unfortunately, there is not as much regulation on passenger vehicles. There are only 25 states where it’s illegal for all drivers, including passenger vehicles, to utilize handheld devices. This is important to note as more than 60% of fatal crashes involving a large truck and private passenger vehicle are initiated by a private passenger vehicle,” said Brinkmann of Enterprise Fleet Management.
More companies are focusing on and investing in safety.
“We have seen a more dedicated effort from some clients to spend more on driver training and safety. Finally, some companies are realizing the real costs of accidents and are investing more in safety. With more tools available now, such as virtual training to go along with online modules, drivers can be trained in the comfort of their home with fewer distractions,” said Martines of CCM Services.
Future of Accident Management
While we may not have a crystal ball that allows us to see what the future holds, a few trends on the horizon help paint a picture of what the future could hold.
“As new accident-avoidance technologies continue to migrate to the medium-duty truck space and fleets begin to turn over the fleet to new models, we believe that there will be fewer accidents. But, repair costs have the potential to increase the average repair ticket to these newer models,” said Irey of Fleet Response.
Rapidly evolving technology gives 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 information 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.
Additionally, as wireless 5G networks become more widely available and 5G-compatible devices become more common, Radi of ARI is beginning to see new, innovative ways to monitor and manage driver behavior.
“For example, the increased speeds of 5G make it viable to implement technology such as in-cab cameras as a means to supplement traditional telematics data and provide further insight into driver performance. These devices can help analyze driver behavior, identify distracted driving, and, in some cases, deliver real-time feedback/notifications to the driver to begin to curtail these high-risk habits,” Radi added.
Traditionally, fleet operators rely on a reactive approach to driver safety; an accident or driving infraction occurs, 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,” Radi said.
CCM Services expects costs to continue to rise beyond the usual 2% or 3% upticks to well over 15% or more.
“As experienced over the past few months, when the cost of a used vehicle equals its retail price after eight months of usage, there is a serious problem. That type of ridiculous increase is felt throughout the industry. Today, buying a used door can cost $3,000 compared to buying one a year ago for $1,250. How can any fleet manager budget for that type of increase? Added that new vehicles are still not readily available, clients are spending upwards of 80% ACV, which is driving average costs up significantly,” said Sam Vallango, senior adjuster for CCM Services.
Along with repair price increases, Martines of CCM Services noted that the downtime has increased due to parts unavailability/delays, thus causing increased replacement rental costs.