Preventing auto accidents can be difficult without the right measures in place. For companies with large fleets, there is a lot of exposure for losses to occur. Reducing the risk of auto losses to occur should be a priority for any company that has a fleet. Implementing proactive safety practices can improve your company’s fleet safety program.
This post will discuss why it is important to improve your fleet safety program as well as actionable tips that are proven to reduce the risk of auto accidents.
Why it is Important to Improve Your Fleet Safety Program
There is a myriad of reasons why a company should strive to ensure they are improving their fleet safety program. A few major reasons:
- Ensure employees make it home safe. The end goal of any safety effort is to reduce the risk of employees getting injured on the job. As mentioned below, vehicle accidents are the number one cause of fatality on the job.
- Ensure other motorists are not hurt. Employees who drive any type of vehicle as part of their job should consider themselves professional drivers. It is the responsibility of a professional driver to operate their vehicle safely so that they are uninjured as well as others on the roadways. By taking part in risky driving behaviors, other motorists can be severely injured or killed.
- Reduce insurance costs. Auto liability and auto physical damage policies are often the most expensive insurance policy a company has if they have a fleet. Even for companies that manage risk well and have few losses, the cost of insurance increases each year. For companies that do not manage risk well, these cost increases can be shocking year over year.
- Reduce the risk of lawsuits and litigation. As mentioned below, the commercial transportation industry is plagued by lawsuits and settlements. Plaintiff attorneys and now the general public are aware that commercial motor carriers carry a large insurance policy. In the event of accidents, even minor ones, attorneys will aggressively pursue lawsuits against carriers, which often result in large settlements.
The number of auto accidents in the United States is staggering. Motorists both on and off of the job are hurt or killed every single day. Below are a few vital statistics when it comes to these losses.
- A total of 38,824 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2020. (IIHS)
- A total of 54,272 vehicles were involved in crashes in 2020. (IIHS)
- A total of 1,778 employees died on the job due to motor vehicle crashes in 2020. (BLS)
- Motor vehicle crashes were responsible for 37% of all workplace fatalities in 2020. (BLS)
Anyone who has managed a fleet safety program for more than a few years should be aware that even minor accidents can result in lawsuits. Plaintiff attorneys spend millions and millions of dollars each year to advertise their services for individuals who have been involved in an auto accident involving a commercial motor vehicle.
Companies that have fleets are always fighting a losing battle when it comes to fighting lawsuits. Attorneys know that most motor carriers have an insurance policy of at least one million dollars and many motor carriers have five-million-dollar policies. The attorneys use their marketing efforts to persuade the general public to take legal action any time they are involved in an accident with a commercial motor vehicle.
The majority of lawsuits are settled before they go to court, but these settlements can far exceed the cost of the physical damage done to a vehicle as a result of the accident. For lawsuits that make it to court, these cases can result in seven and eight-figure payouts for the claimant. A verdict that results in the jury awarding more than $10 million dollars is considered a nuclear verdict.
According to truckingresearch.org, the average size of jury awards increased by 1,000%, rising from $2.3 million dollars to $22.3 million dollars.
Plaintiff attorneys will target every facet of a company’s safety program to poke holes in their practices to try to paint a motor carrier as the bad guy on the roadway. These attorneys will use what is called the Reptile Theory to appeal to the juries’ fear and anger in order to cause dislike for the defendant so strongly that they will award the plaintiff an excessive amount of money.
The most effective way to not be the next defendant that loses a nuclear verdict is to prevent losses from occurring in the first place. Another effective way to not be a part of these cases is to have a consistent and proactive safety program that limits your liability in the event of an accident.
The tips provided below can assist a company in preventing losses and reducing liability in the event of an accident.
Six Tips to Improve Your Fleet Safety Program
There are many different risk management strategies that can be implemented to improve your fleet safety program. These strategies depend on factors such as the type of vehicles you have, what you haul, the type of drivers you employ, the areas you operate in, etc.
This post will not cover every single possible best practice, and not all of the tips below will apply to your operation, but these six tips are some of the most effective items that can improve your program.
Track Loss Trends to Understand What to Improve On
Before diving into the other tips listed below, it is vital to understand where opportunities are to improve your specific fleet safety program. All of the actions below can improve the safety of your fleet, but some items will be more impactful than others. Additionally, due to limited resources that can be dedicated to a company’s safety program, it is crucial to implement best practices that will have the most significant impact on the end result of preventing accidents and reducing liability.
If your company is not already tracking loss trends, you should begin now. By analyzing what is contributing to losses, you can make more informed decisions regarding what processes need to be changed or what investments should be made into the fleet safety program.
If you are not already tracking trends in losses, you can look back at previous years’ losses to identify trends. Some ideas for factors you can look at when evaluating loss trends include:
- Driver tenure
- Driver experience
- Type of vehicle
- What was being hauled
- Weather conditions
- Was a citation issued
- Costs of losses
- Types of losses
- Type of roadway
- Condition of vehicle
The list can go on and on. While it can be time-consuming to track trends accurately, doing so is vital to ensure you know what is driving losses. As improvements are made, you can better attribute a reduction in the severity and frequency of losses to specific actions the company has taken.
Implement Defensive Driving Training
Defensive driving is essentially driving in a manner that utilizes safe driving strategies to enable motorists to address identified hazards in a predictable manner. Defensive driving is proven effective in promoting safe driving behaviors, thus reducing the risk of accidents.
Implementing defensive driving training can assist in reinforcing safe driving behaviors, which can lead to a reduced risk of accidents. A quick Google search will produce dozens of reputable and relatively low-cost options that employees can complete online. The courses offered by the National Safety Council are some of the most popular online courses available.
The online courses often require less time and resources to implement, but when possible, companies should implement a program that also includes in-person behind-the-wheel training. The Smith System defensive driving training course is an example of a training program that includes both classroom and behind-the-wheel training.
Implement an Automatic Event Recorder System (AERs)
AERs are small video cameras that capture events, both in front of the vehicle and inside it, such as rapid acceleration, hard brakes, swerving, and collisions. These systems differ from traditional cameras due to the functionality of alerting company management to unsafe driving behaviors and accidents in almost real-time across a fleet. AERs also provide the ability for a company to monitor driver performance over time.
When properly implemented, AERs are one of the most effective best practices a company can invest in to improve a fleet safety program. Yes, the camera footage can help to prove an accident was not at the fault of your driver, but this benefit is not the only benefit to consider.
These systems can accurately track each individual driver’s performance which can be used to coach drivers when needed as well as to reward them for safe performance. Without this kind of data, a company has no way to truly know how its drivers are performing. As a result, the management at a company may not understand what is contributing to their losses or which drivers may be their next accident waiting to happen.
Implement a Proactive Safety Incentive Program
A safety incentive program is a reward-based program used to encourage employees to meet or exceed safety goals in the workplace. Safety incentive programs promote worker safety when done correctly.
A company should strive to have a proactive safety incentive program in place. Some safety incentive programs for company drivers are rate-based or reactive, which involve a company rewarding employees if no accidents were reported for a specific period. This type of “lagging indicator” program can result in accidents being unreported because the employee involved in an accident does not want to be the person to ruin the incentive for the month if the entire group of drivers is rewarded together. The same is true for programs that reward drivers individually.
It can be difficult to implement a proactive safety incentive program for your drivers if you do not have a telematics system or automatic event recorders installed in the vehicles. If you do not have these systems, you will most likely have to rely on drivers not having violations or accidents as your measure to reward them with a bonus.
If you do have these systems installed, you have real-time data on driving performance that you can base the incentive program on. As mentioned above, AERs are a powerful tool for monitoring driver performance and allowing companies to coach drivers when needed.
An example of a proactive safety incentive program that can be effective in reducing the risk of accidents is a program that rewards drivers on a monthly basis that hit a certain safety score for the month. This program encourages drivers to practice safe driving behaviors so that they keep their safety score high to get the bonus. By rewarding safe driving behaviors, you are targeting the end goal of reducing the risks of accidents occurring.
Safety Communication Should Be Ongoing
Employees get complacent. It is human nature. Driving is a common task, which all-too-often we do not consider the risks of. It is very easy for drivers to get comfortable and not be as vigilant when it comes to safety on the road as they once were.
Ongoing training and communication are essential to a fleet safety program. Drivers need to be reminded of the importance of driving safely, as well as what actions they need to take in order to do so. Training and communication can assist in reinforcing safe behaviors.
Being proactive in your communication and training program is also vital in regard to reducing liability in the event of an accident. As the employer, you want to be able to prove that you educate your drivers on safety topics. Documenting safety communication and safety training efforts can go a long way in protecting your company in a courtroom.
Take Advantage of Your Insurance Company’s Loss Control Services
If your company has a larger fleet, then you may have been a part of a loss control (or risk management) visit with an insurance carrier. A loss control visit is a meeting where a representative from the insurance company will evaluate the risks and exposures your company may have as an operation. Compliance with regulations and the company’s safety practices are also evaluated.
The goal for the insurance company is to better understand the businesses that they are underwriting, so they can help to ensure that a profit is made on the insurance premiums for the policies written.
Another goal for many insurance companies is to work with the insured to identify areas for improvement in the company’s fleet safety program. The loss control representative will often provide feedback and resources to help prevent losses and reduce liability in the event of a loss.
If you have a dedicated loss control representative through your auto policy, make the most out of any loss control meeting. If you do not have a dedicated loss control representative, there may still be resources or services that are available to you. Contact your insurance broker to inquire about what resources they have as well as the actual insurance company your policy is through.
It is common for these organizations to have safety training resources as well as discounts for third-party safety vendors.
It is not easy to prevent auto accidents, but it is possible to reduce the risk of losses. There are many different safety best practices that can be implemented to prevent losses and to reduce liability. A combination of the best practices mentioned here and others not in this post can have a significant positive impact on your company’s fleet safety program.
Continue to evaluate your company’s fleet safety program for opportunities for improvement. The safety improvement process is never complete. It is vital that a company has a proactive approach when it comes to fleet safety.
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