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More than 90 people are killed in a work-related roadway crash each year, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS, www.trafficsafety.org). Research indicates driver distraction is a contributing factor in 25-50 percent of all crashes, causing an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 traffic crashes each day.
Driver distractions come in many forms, from talking or texting on a cell phone to reading (maps, directions, etc.), and directly impact fleet costs.
Cell Phone Use Impacts Accident Costs
Driver cell phone use has decreased slightly from 2006-2008; however, these accidents can cost companies big. In December 2007, International Paper Co. agreed to pay a $5.2 million settlement to a Georgia woman who was rear-ended by a company employee. The employee was driving a company car while talking on a company cell phone at the time of the accident.
According to the Governor's Highway Safety Association (www.state highwaysafety.org), current state cell phone driving laws include:
- Handheld Cell Phone Bans for All Drivers: California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington. The District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands also prohibit all drivers from talking on handheld cell phones while driving. With the exception of the State of Washington, these laws are all primary enforcement - an officer may ticket a driver for using a handheld cell phone while driving without a citation for another traffic offense.
- Text Messaging: 13 states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging for all drivers.
Seat belt use at the time of a crash incident has increased slightly between 2006-2008. Mandating seat belt use is an inexpensive and effective way for employers to reduce occupational deaths and injuries.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates using seat belts reduces the risk of death among front-seat occupants in passenger vehicles by about 45 percent; the risk reductions among occupants of pickup trucks are estimated at 60 to 65 percent.
Driver Monitoring & Training Helps Save Fleets Money
Monitoring driver behavior, using motor vehicle record (MVR) checks and providing driver training are tools fleets can employ to enhance risk management.
"We have seen more fleets making the move to comprehensive risk management solutions that combine an effective accident management and MVR program with a full-service risk management solution that includes driver risk profiling, manager involvement, and driver training," said Vincent Brigidi, director of commercial operations for The CEI Group.
According to Brigidi, training alone doesn't provide the efficacy of a fully integrated solution that manages a driver's complete performance with automation and customization to the specific needs of each customer.
"For our sales fleets, the management of the authorization process and ongoing performance of the authorized household members of the employees (spouses, domestic partners, etc.) is a developing trend."
Bob Martines, president/CEO, of Corporate Claims Management (CCM) noted the most obvious proactive trend in fleet and risk management is safety management. "The emphasis on accident avoidance and containing liability exposure as well as keeping drivers safe is more prevalent today than in the past few years," noted Martines. "Many senior managers have finally embraced the concept of the true cost of an accident and the residual damages. They realize how much additional income is required to offset the true costs; therefore, if they could avoid the accident entirely, their financial bottom line will (or has) improve dramatically."
Driver influence on risk management is significant. "If a driver receives a DUI, he or she is putting the company at risk," said Pam Walinski, vice president, PHH Vehicle Accident Services. She suggests company policy should state, "If you receive a violation, you will be required to attend training, are subject to termination, etc." Behavior won't change if companies excuse drivers from accountability and consequences due to a "plea-down" of the actual offense, she added.
Fleets can reduce the incidence of preventable accidents by being proactive, creating solid policies that aim to reduce driver distractions, and have the cooperation of fleet, risk, and HR to address driver issues, according to Dave Vance, director of Safety Services, Fleet Response. "The best recommendations we can make are to perform pre-hire and regular MVRs, eliminate distractions, and offer driver training and/or counseling. Even more important is reviewing the results of MVRs and accident history to take action so the driver and management are aware of potential preventable incidents."
One key component of targeting preventable accidents is to identify recurring accident causes and assign targeted training to those drivers, said Vance. Accident history data collection and reporting, driver by driver, is crucial to the tracking and avoidance of preventable accidents.
Another way to increase the effectiveness of a driver safety program is to actively involve the driver's manager if it makes sense within the context of a fleet's corporate structure and culture, noted Brigidi. "Generally, if something is important to your boss, it's important to you. Involving managers in a way that is efficient and doesn't interfere with their primary responsibilities can provide a critical component to a driver safety program. It delivers a level of oversight and driver accountability that is more immediate and personal to the driver."