Working to reduce incidents with a never-ending goal for complete prevention is one of a fleet...

Working to reduce incidents with a never-ending goal for complete prevention is one of a fleet managers top safety goals. 

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Any fleet’s top accident management goal is to reduce the total number of preventable incidents to “zero.” While it may seem impossible, it’s still the goal to shoot for. And, to even come close to achieving this goal, fleet managers must work on reducing and then preventing accidents from occurring in the first place. 

How to Start Reducing Incidents 

The first step toward zero preventable incidents is working toward reducing the number and severity of incidents that currently occur in your fleet. 
“Today’s motor carriers are starting to take a professional, proactive approach to safety. The easiest way to reduce accident management costs is to reduce the number of accidents. By providing consistent, professional safety training, the motor carrier is demonstrating that safety is a priority. In the past, motor carriers would promote a ‘safety first’ mindset but fail to provide consistent safety messages and/or training due to an external customer service concern,” said Jerry Veres, certified director of safety for Fleet Response. 

Driver behavior is a key component in accident management and incident reduction. 

“It is important to review the motor vehicle record (MVR) of each employee that operates a vehicle and ensure ongoing driver monitoring, which is available in almost all states,” said Connie Brinkmann, assistant vice president of risk management for Enterprise Fleet Management. Driver monitoring automates the management of driver-related information. 

“It’s also important to capture real-time data on how the vehicle and driver are operating, which can be accomplished with a telematics product that can indicate location, performance and driving behavior prior to an incident. This allows the fleet manager to better coach an employee,” Brinkmann said. “A company should also make sure the violations being reviewed align with an enforced driver policy. Such policies include charging an ‘at-fault’ deductible to the employee (if allowed by state law) or assigning driver safety training.”

While telematics provides optics into driver behavior, the value of this insight can be lost without a multi-faceted driver safety program. 

According to Rich Radi, director, driver excellence for ARI, to improve performance, mitigate risk and reduce accident costs, a successful driver safety program should include the following elements:

  • Properly set expectations for driving performance with an online fleet safety policy.
  • A personalized onboarding program for new drivers with a driver skills assessment program to identify poor driving habits, as well as corrective training assigned before an incident occurs.
  • Continuous assessment of driver behavior using telematics and MVR monitored on a consistent, ongoing basis rather than annually.

“Once your safety program is well-established, you can also incorporate a scorecard to encourage friendly competition among drivers and reward your safest employees,” Radi added.

Once you’ve moved past the established fleet safety program, the only real way to reduce accidents and the related costs, noted Luann Dunkerley, northeast region sales manager for The CEI Group, is to fully embrace and promote the program you are using. 

“A fleet safety program is not something you can turn on and expect results — it takes long-term investments in culture, regular training and safety messaging, and a close eye on data to determine which drivers and types of preventable accidents are causing the most disruption to the fleet so that prescriptive measures can be taken,” Dunkerley said. 

And, some safety policies may be more impactful than others. Along with continued safety training and positive reinforcement regarding safe driving, companies that vigorously enforce a no-speeding policy experience fewer accidents, according to Bob Martines, CEO/founder of Corporate Claims Management (CCM). But the fleet vehicle and any cargo weight have an impact.

“Keep in mind a truck with additional weight for tools and/or equipment takes longer to slow down or stop. A driver traveling at 60-65 mph with a lightweight vehicle has more reaction time than a driver traveling in a vehicle with extra weight at 75 or 80 mph-plus, therefore the driver traveling at a lower speed can stop his or her vehicle in less time and distance. That additional time and distance can be the difference in not having an accident,” Martines explained.

While 2018 experienced an increase in losses reported and a reduction in preventable accidents, a reduction in overall collision costs in the range of around 4-6% was noted by Dan Shive, VP, business development, accident and safety products for Donlen.  

“Many best practices include more comprehensive policies and procedures within the hiring and onboarding process. The inclusion of advanced MVR services within continuous monitoring, driver training, and stricter consequences of major infractions within the workplace environment,” Shive said.

Helpful medium-duty driver safety training, according to Brinkmann, includes defensive backing, speeding, and drowsy driving. Additionally, drug testing following an at-fault loss is common in many company policies. 

Dunkerley added that, while there are plenty of general tips great for all drivers, medium-duty drivers face a different set of circumstances than typical passenger vehicles, or even long-haul trucks. 

“Straight-line truck operators must contend with narrow streets and loading areas, construction zones, daring and distracted passenger vehicles, pedestrians, and more to reach multiple delivery locations in one day. Utility fleet operators contend with sometimes unkept service roads in remote areas and operate machinery that requires a lot of knowledge to operate safely. These types of drivers need very specialized training. Make sure your safety provider has the right modules for your fleet or has set up partnerships with other training providers to cover any gaps in their training catalog,” Dunkerley said.

The best preventive measure is avoiding the accident in the first place. But, in the event of an accident, while it may seem counterintuitive, ensuring all accidents are reported can help reduce costs as well. 

“Having visibility to all accidents — even if repairs aren’t necessary —will give fleet managers a look at the full breadth of their potential risk and with that visibility, they may be able to leverage additional strategies to reduce accidents. Maybe there’s a better vehicle for an application, maybe the upfitting needs to be addressed, or tailored training is needed for a certain subset of vehicles. Whatever the case may be, if the accident isn’t reported, you lose the opportunity to learn from it,” said Sara Sweeney, senior product manager for Wheels.

Efforts in Prevention

Once you’ve worked to reduce the amount and severity of accidents, it’s time to focus on preventing them in the first place. While a lofty goal for sure, it’s the true goal for every fleet — preventing accidents from occurring. 

And, as the adage goes, “you can’t track what you don’t measure,” so a good first step is to establish and track some basic fleet accident management key performance indicators (KPIs). 

“The move from being reactive in dealing with accidents as they come to proactive accident prevention strategies includes monitoring trends, KPIs, and looking for outliers for risky driving behaviors. Once the key performance measures are established, trends and improvements can be made by recognizing good behaviors, as well as prescriptive action such as driver safety courses and additional corrective action where needed,” said Joseph Voors, client partnership manager – national for Mike Albert Fleet Solutions.

Another way to work toward preventing incidents is being clearly aware of how they most often occur. 

“Typically, the drivers of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are blamed for accidents simply because the mentality of most feel truckers are more aggressive and thus the cause of most incidents. This is not an accurate assessment. After an investigation of the actual accident/incident events, many truckers are found to be a more conscientious group as they have a different level of responsibility and greater exposure than a typical daily driver,” said Brian Colvin, VP of Operations for CCM.

Also, depending on the type of industry segment, the ratio of accidents increasing compared with mileage per day increases is not equal at some companies. 

“A key factor that cannot be dismissed is companies with set schedules and specific driving routes and mature workforces have had a lower stabilized percentage of accidents. Companies with extended schedules, increased routes, and high employee turnover experience accident rates of three or four times more than the stabilized group,” Colvin added.

Current statistics are also showing that preventable accidents are declining. 

“However, there are a significant number of comprehensive claims that may be reported incorrectly, thus skewing the overall figures. Animal strikes, potholes, and road debris are on the increase as well so it’s important to keep focused on the road conditions, construction zones, and geographical locations. More training in these specific areas should be considered,” said Shive of Donlen.

Driver training continues to play a large role in the reduction of preventable accidents. But, the keep in mind that at least for the current fleet manager, there is still a human being behind the wheel. 

“Even with all the proactive measures we take, we can’t forget that human error is the cause of more than 90% of all collisions. The most important thing is that there are documented policies and practices in place to best mitigate the losses,” said Michelle Lewis, manager, accident management services for Emkay.

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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