Editor's note: This practice is illegal in some states, check with your company's legal department to see if your state is affected.
Preventable accidents can occur at any time. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a preventable accident as “one which occurs because the driver fails to act in a reasonably expected manner to prevent it.”
Fleet managers have a tough decision to make: whether or not to charge drivers the cost of a deductible should an accident occur.
There can be both pros and cons to charging employees for preventable accidents.
“From our experience, pros to charging for preventable accidents include a revenue stream for the fleet program and increased driver accountability,” according to Eliot Bensel, director, accident management & risk safety at Element Fleet Management.
Additionally, driver accountability largely plays into the success of such a program.
“Charging a driver a deductible may work for the very first incident and future incidents if there are actual consequences for noncompliance,” said Bob Martines, president at Corporate Claims Management (CCM).
Consequences must be clearly delineated and followed through on.
“We have witnessed clients with no control over their drivers accept three and four accidents go unreported as the driver knows there are no consequences. Charging an escalated deductible along with lost driving privileges, plus making the driver’s manager accountable, is a sure way of getting a head start in determining the true number of incidents that can be trained to avoid in the future,” Martines said.
While The CEI Group supports fleets that decide to require reimbursement for damages they’ve caused, Brian Kinniry, senior director, strategic services for The CEI Group, noted that “the data we’ve seen isn’t conclusive as to whether this has had any effect on their accident rates.”
And, while there may be additional revenue streams and driver accountability, there are some difficulties.
“The cons center on an administrative burden and morale, as such programs can have negative effects on employees and prospective employees. Also, state and federal laws vary so these must be clearly understood to avoid legal risk. We do not recommend instituting a deductible policy; however, if fleet managers are interested in this practice, they need to do their homework. Senior leadership and HR must also be involved in this process, which should include seeking out expert advice, conducting research, and concluding that it makes sense from a financial, administrative, and employee morale perspective,” said Bensel.
For fleets that have decided to charge for preventable accidents, being a proactive fleet manager and enforcing policy can go a long way toward success.
“I witness firsthand the difference with companies proactive with controlling a driver’s actions versus others that are not. Drivers who know their own company policy is not enforced by management will either not report the accident (or multiple accidents) at all or will report old damage as ‘parking lot, vandalism, or unknown’ when they are reporting an accident they know is not chargeable against them,” Martines of CCM continued.
Kinniry of The CEI Group also noted concern over driver accountability and distorted data. “One of our concerns with this practice is that it may distort accident data. For example, a driver who wants to avoid the reimbursement charge may change his description of the accident from one that was preventable to one that wasn’t in order to avoid having to pay the penalty,” he said.