Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Overall, the number of medium-duty truck accidents have seen a slight decrease or remained relatively flat over the past year, according to the consensus of several fleet management company subject-matter experts.

The overarching theme in the reduction of accidents in 2017 trends toward technology, both the increase in available tech and rise in overall adoption of tech by medium-duty truck fleets.

Use of Technology to Reduce Accidents

When talking about the No. 1 tech today that reduces accidents in truck fleets, the most-cited item was the use of telematics.

“There has been tremendous progress in the area of telematics and data analysis, which has given companies the ability to actively monitor and measure driver behavior. When implemented, a comprehensive telematics solution cannot only uncover bad driver behavior (such as speeding, rapid acceleration, sharp cornering, and hard braking), it can predict which drivers are most likely to be in a crash,” said Rich Radi, director, Driver Excellence for ARI.

Another technology that is assisting with the slight decrease in accident incidents is the use of backup sensors and other alerts.

“Backing sensors are being used to warn drivers when their vehicle is in danger of striking an object or person. The sensors are placed on the back bumper. Some new sensors speak to the driver to warn them of the danger. In addition, collision avoidance sensors can warn drivers when they are too close to the vehicle in front of them,” said Jerry Veres, certified director of safety for Fleet Response.

According to Harry Samp, senior quality & operational excellence specialist for Wheels Inc., technology is reducing accidents both as part of the spec of the truck as well as on the HR/driver side of the driving equation.

“Technology that is being used as part of the spec of the truck include audible backup alarms, anti-lock braking, roll-over stability controls, collision warning systems, radar sensing adaptive cruise control, and active braking systems,” Samp said. “In addition, simple technologies such as enhanced reflective graphics and long-lasting LED lighting for driving, brake, and marker lights are enhancing safety today.”

On the HR and driver side of the equation, Samp noted the use of dual-facing dash camera systems, additional mirrors (such as side convex, blind spot, fender, etc.), and rear-view camera systems are all making a significant impact on reducing accident occurrences.

And, while increasing in availability, fleet managers do not have to be dependent on factory-installed options for safety tech.

“Although factory-installed options are currently minimal, there are aftermarket options that are becoming more prevalent, ranging from individual components to monitor the perimeter of the vehicle up to semi-autonomous operation,” said Randy Denmyer, VP of accident management services for Element Fleet Management.

But, while technology does a lot to reduce the number of accidents in a truck fleet, it can also be a double-edged sword.

“Of course, mobile technology and the complexity of vehicle user interfaces have significantly contributed to driver distractions,” Radi added.

One way to ensure technology doesn’t backfire on the efforts of increasing fleet safety is through driver training.

“Safety awareness continues to increase year-over-year as fleets do whatever they can to reduce preventable accidents. These efforts come in the form of safety training, increased use of telematics to monitor driver behavior, and enhanced collision avoidance technology on vehicles,” said Michelle Lewis, manager, accident management services for EMKAY.

In addition, real-time monitoring and driver alerts can help immediately remedy an issue,

“Today, managers can get real-time alerts for broken thresholds to address with drivers immediately,” said Emily Candib, assistant director, product management for Merchants Fleet Management.

Overall, crash-avoidance technology is helping to reduce accidents.

“Accident avoidance equipment installed in medium-duty vehicles help to lessen accidents. Advanced driver aids are helping mitigate inattentive or distracted drivers. As we see more of these technologies become commonplace, fleets will continue to benefit from reduced accidents,” Denmyer said.

While a slight decrease in accidents is something to be proud of, the ultimate goal is to completely eliminate accidents, and to do so, we need dramatic decreases.

“I do believe that crash avoidance systems on vehicles today are making a difference. However, with too many older vehicles, poorly trained drivers, and too much pressure to make appointments combined with road rage, mean it will take a lot more time to truly see a dramatic decrease in accidents,” said Martines of CCM.

But, the discussion of more technology in a vehicle brings driver training back to the conversation.

“The crash-avoidance systems have helped avoid some accidents, but the missing element is the initial training needed for new drivers. For instance, if the new driver’s backup sensor is warning them about the fixed object (e.g., mailbox), but what if the driver could have proactively positioned their vehicle to avoid backing up? Companies need to put more time and money into changing their driver’s mindset and developing professional driving and parking habits,” Veres said.

Biggest Impact on Accident Management Costs

When an accident does occur, there is more to the cost than just the vehicle repair. Added technology on vehicles is increasing repair costs. Downtime is also a big concern in medium-duty fleets.

“Vehicle downtime for totaled or lengthy repairs, including the cost of the claim, repairs, potential product, and driver downtime can be quite an expense for fleets that do not have inventory to pull from in the medium-duty sector,” said Candib of Merchants.

The repair shop itself is also a part of the accident cost equation.

“Being that there are fewer shops that can repair medium-duty trucks, it’s becoming increasingly common for repair delays to add to the cost of replacement vehicles. Additionally, with fewer truck body shops, the lack of competition does impact the willingness of shops to be more competitive with repair prices,” said Lewis of EMKAY.

The expense of replacing the more expensive technology on today’s vehicle is also adding to repair costs.

“Regarding repair costs, the more technology we install in vehicles, the more costly the repairs. Mechanical and electronic components are going to fail at some point just from usage. If a $1,000 air bag system fails or a $3,000 wiring harness is compromised from an accident that cost just half of that a few years ago, what is a company to do? They bite the bullet and pay for the additional costs,” said Martines of CCM.

And, you can’t ignore the court-related costs, especially if there is an at-fault accident and a lawsuit is involved.

“One of the larger impacts is the liability cost for at-fault accidents,” said Denmyer of Element.

There are also costs that are not related directly to the incident itself.

“The biggest factor in accident management costs for medium-duty truck fleets tends to be the cost that fleets aren’t factoring into their accident management costs — injuries in accidents,” noted Luann Dunkerley, Northeast region manager for The CEI Group. “When an employee is injured in an accident, the fleet incurs losses from workman’s compensation claims, loss of productivity, and medical bills which can easily dwarf the costs of the physical damage. In fact, NETS estimates that the true cost of an accident is more than $24,000 per accident. If a third party is injured, the costs begin to climb even higher when the fleet is found liable. Liability exposure has been a big talking point in the fleet world in recent years with huge losses for large corporations in punitive damage awards.”

Dunkerley added additional places to find savings include using LKQ parts when available, saving time through more efficient communications and approval processes, avoiding purely cosmetic repairs, and taking the time to find hidden damage before putting vehicles back on the road.

“But, the biggest impact on accident management costs are the number of accidents a fleet must deal with, and lowering the accident rate should be the primary goal,” she said.

Trends & Best Practices

To help reduce accident incidents in a medium-duty truck fleet, the overwhelming top best practice is a focus on driver training.

“Safety training tends to be on the forefront of best practices for medium- and heavy-duty fleets, leading with event-based training and refresher modules,” said Denmyer of Element.

And, safety training should be at the forefront of best practices.

“A robust and comprehensive safety program, aimed at reducing the total exposure and incident ratio, is the best practice to continually reduce the cost of accidents. For medium-duty trucks this includes online training, as well as regular safety meetings, classroom instruction, and road tests,” said Veres of Fleet Response.

Radi of ARI agreed. “Without question, one of the most important things an organization can do is implement a comprehensive driver safety program that properly sets expectations for driving performance, assesses driving skills as part of the onboarding process, continuously monitors driver behavior, and provides personalized training to help drivers improve skills in areas that need improvement,” Radi said.

In addition, one best practice fleet managers should embrace is related to data.

“A fleet can measure its performance by gathering all data points available for every accident, driver, and vehicle in the fleet. Still, there is a difference between raw data and actionable data, and fleet managers should have tools that help them analyze the available data to find trends and solutions that can impact both the accident and safety profile of the fleet,” said Dunkerley of The CEI Group.

A Look to the Future

The cost of repairs is not likely to decrease, making reducing overall incidents the main way to reduce related costs moving forward.

“As additional safety features are added to all vehicles, repair costs are expected to increase,” said Scott Brinker, senior management accident management, prevention & safety for Wheels Inc.

One way fleets can continue to accomplish reductions in accidents moving forward is to focus on the fleet’s purpose.

“Fleet managers should create tailored safety policies specific to vehicle application and customer policies,” said Candib of Merchants.

In addition, time spent on getting the safest drivers operating your vehicles will pay off in reducing future incidents. This can be done by performing further background reviews on drivers before they get behind the wheel, Candib noted.

To work toward a safer driver population, fleet managers can continue to turn to technology.

“Event-based training, MVR monitoring, telematics, and cell phone blocking devices are all proven technologies that continue to be improved and enhanced. Combined with vehicle crash avoidance, equipment fleets should continue to see a reduction in their accidents,” said Denmyer of Element.

Looking forward, Lewis of EMKAY also sees an increase in accident-related costs.

“There will be an increase in the need for medium-duty accident management programs, especially as more companies continue to outsource more and more fleet responsibilities. As with auto repairs, the newer technology and construction materials will continue to increase the cost of repairs,” Lewis said.

Larger advances in tech are also coming in the future.

“Vehicle technology will continue to accelerate rapidly in the years to come making vehicles safer and safer. The long-term prospects of autonomous vehicles and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication are very promising in significantly reducing, or perhaps eliminating, motor vehicle crashes. We’re already seeing the preliminary effects of simple technologies such as lane departure alerts and backup cameras,” said Radi of ARI.

In the meantime, Radi noted that driver behavior analytics will start being able to predict drivers who are likely to be in crashes and systems will automatically provide improvement actions that will be personalized to the driver.

“In short, not only will vehicles become more automated, so will driver safety programs,” said Radi of ARI.

Additionally, the future will see the merging of some programs.

“One big trend for medium-duty truck fleets is a merging of the accident and safety programs that measures, documents, and provides full visibility to the status of the fleet and its drivers. A formalized safety program must be proactive and reactive in order to lower accident rates and avoid liability. Putting safety at the forefront keeps accident costs lower by avoiding the accidents in the first place, and coupling your accident management and safety management programs helps elevate both programs simultaneously by providing more data to the safety program and avoiding accidents altogether,” said Dunkerley of The CEI Group.

Martines of CCM urges fleet managers to learn, research, and challenge the status quo.

“I do not ever see accident-related costs going down unless the economy suffers greatly. Even then, I do not see a significant drop. Every fleet manager, whether a traditional fleet of auto or medium- to heavy-duty trucks will continue to be burdened with trying to manage costs,” Martines said.

The best way to handle the burden of cost management? Continue your fleet education.

“Learn more about true fleet management and politely challenge suppliers to let them know there is a check-and-balance system that must be acknowledged. If no one ever checks the cost of a product or service, how do they know which price is proper?” Martines asked. “If a fleet manager treats every vehicle repair as if the money being spent was coming from his or her own pocket, more questions would be asked about costs and the automatic approvals for repairs and supplements would diminish.” 

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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