Supply chains have been struggling. While COVID-19 forced an increase in online purchases and last-mile deliveries, the trucking industry as a whole is facing an ongoing (and seemingly never ending) driver shortage. Add to that supply chain strains caused by COVID shutdowns, trade disputes, and equipment shortages, and it’s clear that supply chains have seen better days.
All of this has increased accidents for last-mile delivery fleets. Here’s how — and what fleets can do about it:
Challenge #1: The Driver Shortage
The driver shortage isn’t new, but it is being heightened by the increase in online buying. According to reports, the industry will need to hire 110,000 drivers a year for the next 10 years — a total of 1.1 million drivers — to keep up with the increase in e-commerce.
As companies scramble to hire drivers to keep up with the demand, they’re often forced to bring on inexperienced drivers who simply aren’t used to operating large vehicles, and often in unfamiliar territory.
“When drivers are new to the industry, there is a larger margin for error,” said Adam May, VP of product implementation at Property Damage Appraisers, which provides independent insurance appraisals for insurance companies and the self-insured. “Transit vans and cargo vans don’t require CDLs — so if they’re operating a vehicle like that, it’s larger than what they’re used to, and drivers are put in situations where they’re operating in compact areas or aren’t used to the environment they’re driving in.”
Because inexperienced drivers aren’t used to operating bulky vehicles, accidents, though minor, are happening more frequently.
“Some of the physical damage we’re seeing is minor, like damage from backing into loading docks, not being able to judge the size of the unit they’re in, and running into mailboxes or light poles when backing out of a driveway,” May said.
Challenge #2: Rushed & Overwhelmed Drivers
Amid hiring challenges is a significant increase in orders. Online spending rose 42% in 2020 compared to 2019, for a total increase of $183 billion. In 2020, last-mile drivers serviced 20% more stops than in 2019. That’s a lot more deliveries, and a lot more pressure on drivers.
This trend is likely to continue. In the first two months of 2021, online spending was up 34% compared to the same period in 2020.
“The number of deliveries drivers need to perform on a daily basis is amplified,” May said. “With the increased demand for deliveries combined with the shortage of drivers, there are only so many hours they can put in — and they are trying to expedite as much as they can. Being in a rush is going to have an impact on careless situations.
4 Tips to Mitigate Driver Strain, Prevent Damage & Reduce Downtime
Supply chain crunches and the driver shortage may take a while to sort out, but fleets can still take actions to mitigate driver strain, prevent damage, and reduce the associated downtime in the meantime.
Tip #1: Accept a slower pace.
“The demand is strong and the expectations are high to hit certain metrics, but the best thing to do is slow down and be patient — even though that’s not really the goal of the industry,” May said. “It’s a tough dynamic and a ‘Catch 22,’ but slowing down and being vigilant about safety can help reduce accidents.”
Tip #2: Encourage drivers to assess their environment.
When drivers are inexperienced at operating larger trucks and vans, encourage them to simply assess their surroundings before they begin to drive. It only takes a moment, and it can prevent those “little” mistakes that damage vehicles, disrupt routes, and can increase repair and insurance costs.
Tip #3: Perform Damage Assessment by Interval, not Incident.
“Sometimes drivers and third-party partners have such a high collision rate, it makes sense to assess vehicles each quarter for damage,” May said. “When companies bring the fleet in to be assessed, we can document whether there are or aren’t damages — then they know if units can go out for dispatch into the field. They know from our inspections that vehicles are in full operating order so there aren’t issues in their supply chain management and they aren’t operating damaged vehicles that put a black eye on their brand. At the same time, some fleets can’t afford to take trucks off the road because of a six-inch scratch. We rate the damage so they can make the best decision for their company.”
Tip #4: Mitigate Repair Time.
May said appraisals can yield data that helps reduce repair time. For instance, if data show damage to the right mirror or left headlight are the most common incidents, Property Damage Appraisers informs client so their selected repair shops have those parts on hand, allowing trucks and vans to be repaired as soon as possible.
“We focus on expeditiously assessing the damages and accurately providing that data from our appraisals to give companies a percentage of what part or side of the vehicle is damaged the most so they can recover from damage quickly,” he said. “It’s all data, cycle time, and efficiency.”