The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Public Sector Fleets:Focus on the Cause (the Driver), Not the Symptom (the Accident)

April 2007, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

Reducing the number of preventable accidents presents a huge opportunity to reduce fleet costs. The industry average cost to repair a fleet vehicle involved in an accident is $1,848. Nowadays, even the simplest fender bender costs $500 or more. When other accident costs are included, such as loss of use, liability, workers’ comp, and other indirect expenses, the total cost exceeds $10,000 per incident. In today’s fleet management world, few areas remain where such dramatic savings can be achieved simply by reducing the number of preventable accidents.

There are two cost components to fleet accidents. The first is the actual repair of the vehicle. The second is liability cost, which can run the gamut from tens of thousands of dollars to potentially millions in a high-profile incident. Government fleets are particularly vulnerable to these high-profile incidents. For instance, the City of Tampa was ordered March 30 to pay a nearly $18-million jury award to a man who collided with a city water department truck – the largest award ever against the city. The plaintiff’s attorney argued that the water department truck caused the crash by veering across three lanes of traffic. In another example, the City of Detroit, in two separate lawsuits, paid $5.5 million and $3.9 million for accidents involving water department vehicles.

Public Sector Fleet Accident Rates
No industry-wide statistics exist on the percentage of public sector vehicles annually involved in an accident. Therefore, it is difficult to identify the industry-wide percentage of preventable accidents. The reason for this paucity of data is that not all public sector fleets have systems in place to track accident types. In the absence of this data, it is necessary to use anecdotal, fleet-specific examples. When doing so, common factors emerge as to types of accidents experienced by public sector fleets. For instance, most fleet managers will tell you that public sector vehicles are hit more often than they hit other vehicles. Another common factor is that fleet managers will tell you that the majority of their accidents involve fleet vehicles hitting stationary objects. On average, public sector fleet vehicles, particularly those operated by municipalities, travel fewer than 10,000 miles per year. This makes them less vulnerable to accidents than their commercial fleet counterparts, which travel an average of 24,000 miles per year. On the other hand, municipal vehicles drive primarily in high-density urban traffic, increasing accident risk exposure. Although hard to quantify, every accident prevented represents dollars that go straight to the bottom line of your fleet budget.

Responsibility for fleet safety varies between political subdivisions. Driver safety may be the responsibility of the department supervisor, safety manager, or fleet manager. Regardless, a comprehensive fleet safety program should be in place to ensure all responsible individuals actively address driver safety and all are working from the same policy. There should be a strong safety program that is ongoing and not a once-a-year event.

According to Milton Reid, director of General Services for the City of Gainesville, Fla., fleet managers can implement a variety of programs to reduce preventable accidents:

  1. Develop and establish effective operator training programs to include incentives and penalties for safe and unsafe drivers.
  2. Standardize fleet, where possible, so users are familiar with vehicle/equipment operation.
  3. Establish and monitor a procedure whereby operators must do a “walk-around” check on vehicles before the beginning of each shift or work day.
  4. Develop specifications compatible with the vehicle and its application to allow for minimum blind spots by including the proper rear-view mirrors and cameras where needed.
  5. Prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Another city successfully implementing these strategies is Seattle. For the third straight year, the City of Seattle's claim and lawsuit settlement costs were down for accidents involving city vehicles. Officials credit the reduction in claims to improved driver safety programs implemented by City Light and Parks. All employees who drive as part of their jobs must take defensive driver training. The City of Seattle actively investigates all accidents, counsels and retrains employees involved in multiple accidents, obtains five-year driving records before making hiring decisions, and screens out drivers with bad driving records.

Focus on the Driver, Not the Asset
The goal of a driver risk management program is to prevent vehicles from colliding in the first place. In this vein, fleet managers need to view accidents from a different perspective than just repairing bent metal. The true cost savings are in accident prevention and not in accident repair cost reduction. To reduce accidents, fleet managers must focus on the cause (the driver) and not the symptom (the accident).

Let me know what you think.

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