Predicting Truck Crash Involvement

Recently, the American Transportation Research Institute released an updated study onAtri 2011 cover predicting truck crash involvement (their original study was released in October of 2005).  ATRI was asked to “…revisit the research to determine how driver behavior-crash relationships have fared as a result of recent changes to the regulatory environment, industry safety practices and the dissemination of proven enforcement and carrier countermeasures identified in the 2005 report.”

This analysis of data revealed that driving behaviors (measured as violations, convictions and historical crashes linked to specific drivers) are linked to specifically measurable increased risk of becoming involved in a crash.  Perhaps more notable is the conclusion that;

“By becoming aware of problem behaviors, carriers and enforcement agencies are able to address those issues prior to them leading to serious consequences. The converse is also true, however, as lower priority behaviors, if ignored, may begin to play an increasing role in crash involvement.” 

In simpler terms, if you take the time to look for behavioral issues and do something about them, you can directly influence your crash rates.  Similarly, if you ignore behaviors deemed to be “low priority” such as failing to use turn signals, these habits can develop into an increasing role in crash involvement.

Many of our clients get Motorist Observation Reports about failure to use turn signals.  In some cases, it’s one of the Top Five behaviors consistently reported.  Is this critical to crash rates?  The 2011 study states;

“The analysis shows that a failure to use/improper signal conviction was the leading conviction associated with an increased likelihood of a future crash. When a truck driver was convicted of this offense, the driver’s likelihood of a future crash increased 96 percent.”  

Wow – that’s gotta get some supervisors thinking about the relative value of those Motorist Observation Reports (MORs) – after all, it is far less punitive to the driver to get an MOR than to get a ticket from a police officer.

Other issues raised included improper passing – which is another of our “most common” behavior types.  The study states; “In relation to driver violations, an improper passing violation had the strongest association with crash involvement. Drivers with this violation were 88 percent more likely than their peers to be involved in a crash.”

Other Findings?

  • Erratic lane changes (aka “Weaving In Traffic”) = 80% more likely to have a crash
  • Failure to Obey Traffic Sign (aka “running stop sign”) = 68%
  • Speeding More than 15 MPH over Limit (aka “Excessive Speed”) = 67%
  • Reckless/Careless/Inattentive/Negligent Driving (aka “Cell Phone/Text”) = 64%
  • Driving Too Fast for Conditions = 56%
  • Following Too Closely = 41%

If you’re already a client of our Driver Safety Hotline (aka “Safety Is My Goal” program, or the “blue sticker program”) you’ll probably want to revisit your monthly activity reports such as the Rolling 12 Review or any of our latest trending reports. 

Other Considerations

Now, it’s important to look at the relationships between the 2005 data and the 2011 data.  There was a less compelling relationship between the predictive data and the crash results for several reasons.  There were far fewer crashes (especially fatalities) between then and now.  There were (likely) far greater tickets issued over the past three years as states were looking to increase revenues to offset other losses in the down turned economy. 

ATRI also considered “effective enforcement countermeasures” – namely those states that issued more tickets got fewer crashes.  It makes sense to consider that states who are “tough” on enforcement would get fewer crashes.  It’s also tough on those drivers who are being pushed by dispatch or managers to “bend rules” to increase productivity.

ATRI considered how the safety programs within individual motor carriers contribute to this relationship between violations and crash risk.  Anecdotal information was gathered by interviews with “top tier” fleets and suggest that there’s been a shift from 2005 to 2011: 

“Most relevant to the 2011 safety improvements, however, are the elaborate descriptions of company responses to negative driver behaviors and events. Each of the carriers emphasized during the interview process that proactive safety measures, such as initial and “sustainment” training, are the lynchpins to ensuring that negative safety incidents do not occur in the first place. The value of these safety programs, however, must be complemented by remedial safety training programs that mitigate a problem driver behavior after a negative safety incident has occurred.” [Italics added for emphasis] 

Additionally, the report states; “Safety directors indicated that all negative events required interdiction to ‘cut them off at the pass.’”

Clearly, it’s important to have a strong, well rounded safety program, but even the most progressive fleet safety directors recognize that monitoring and managing driver behavior is equally important. 

In reviewing the study’s Appendix H (which provided a list of carrier-identified countermeasures mapped to each problematic driver behavior from the analysis) I found several common comments/themes that would be ideal to consider in the event that a driver received a Motorist Observation Report through our hotline program:

  • “The driver is required to participate in a 15-45 minute road test.”
  • “The instructor typically provides a significant amount of feedback during the road test to keep the driver’s mind focused on “cause-and-effect.”
  • “The driver is required to attend the company’s remedial training program”
  • For almost every category of violation, several carriers mentioned that these events would “…trigger an entire driver review which would result in a one-on-one discussion with the safety director.” (kind of like the coaching sessions we encourage through our training program).
  • In fewer cases, some stated that “This event would also count as a strike on the “three strikes you’re out” policy.”

Study Relevance to FMCSA’s CSA Program?

From the study; “CSA uses an advanced Safety Measurement System (SMS) to assign normative scores to both carrier and driver performance in seven safety-related categories, or Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). If BASIC scores are found to be higher (worse) than a specified threshold, FMCSA is prepared to respond in a variety of ways, ranging from the issuance of preliminary warning letters to conducting comprehensive compliance reviews. In the middle of these two extremes, there are also other interventions that allow enforcement officials to tailor interventions to the specific BASIC(s) of concern (unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo-related and crash indicator). Given the importance of FMCSA’s CSA initiative to assessing carrier safety and crash risk, ATRI mapped the behavior-crash relationships from this study to their respective risk-weighted values in CSA’s SMS methodology…”

In several cases, the instance of a violation or conviction would influence both the driver’s crash risk and the BASIC score of the carrier.  Being able to identify the behavior without the incidence of a violation/conviction would be a benefit to both the driver and the carrier – use of telemetry and How’s My Driving data in a blended approach would provide that opportunity with few data gaps.


The study concludes with recommendations.  In section 2.5, it states;

“Conclusions that can be drawn as a result of these two studies are that measurable relationships exist between driver behaviors and future crash risk and those relationships are neither static nor unchangeable. That is, interventions and industry progress are capable of altering the magnitude and even the presence of the linkage between behaviors and future exposure to crashes. By becoming aware of problem behaviors, carriers and enforcement agencies are able to address those issues prior to them leading to serious consequences. The converse is also true, however, as lower priority behaviors, if ignored, may begin to play an increasing role in crash involvement. [Bold added for emphasis]  It is important that these documented relationships find their way into the public domain in order to influence action.”

If you’d like to get a copy of the study, it’s free.  We can send you a copy or you can get it from ATRI by filling out a request form at their web site.

If you work with a fleet of drivers, whether they drive big trucks, pickups, vans, ambulettes, paratransit shuttles or something else, you really ought to consider the adoption of a driver safety hotline like the one provided by SafetyFirst.  Admittedly, I’m biased, but 3800 other fleets and 70+ insurance providers have selected us as their preferred provider.  We’re not focused on glitz, and underwhelming bells and whistles which come at the expense of hidden nickles, dimes and dollars – instead we’re focused on helping you spot good drivers who need help to get rid of bad habits before something bad happens.  Our program works and is in tune with the findings of the ATRI study, the ANSI Z15 standard and industry best practices.  Give us a call at 1-888-603-6987 to enhance your existing safety program!

The Driver Safety Hotline

It is uncontested that 80% of all commercial drivers drive consistently well, but a small percentage have “bad habits” that contribute to the vast majority of crashes and “near-misses”. 

How do you identify these drivers so that you can effectively help them drive better tomorrow so that they:

  • Do go home to their families
  • Do make their deliveries on time
  • Do receive positive training, not punishment
  • Do understand that safety is serious
  • Do help protect the company’s image
  • Don’t have to sit through depositions
  • Don’t get hurt or killed
  • Don’t get a moving violation
  • Don’t have their personal insurance rates jump
  • Don’t reduce their “employability” due to tickets or accidents

The best way to identify these drivers is with a simple, low-cost, turn-key solution.  Our hotline program spots those drivers, who, if their behaviors were ignored, would end up with a violation or crash event. 

  1. We send you a report about specific incidents.  We also send Training Materials tied to the specifics of the incident.
  2. You talk with your driver – not to fix blame, but to help them fix any underlying safety problems.  Additionally to help them understand that the goal is safety – to avoid injury no matter who or what was the cause of the reported incident.
  3. You send us the completed report and we provide a monthly recap of progress and patterns in activity.
  4. We send a monthly training package to help ALL of your drivers with safety.

That’s it.  It is very simple and highly effective.

Driver-Management Communications Plans (Part 2)

Part Two – Translating Ideas into Practical Steps

I’d imagine that everyone has some form of communication plan that they practice with their drivers. Even if the plan is informal and limited to essential messages, I believe that minor changes could help attain better results. There are a series of “diagnostic questions” that can be asked to help uncover areas that need attention.

The first question is; “How much of your company’s dreams (aka “Goals” or “Expectations”) are shared with drivers?For instance, do you routinely share your company’s:

  • Mission Statement
  • Safety, Quality, Business Goals
  • General Expectations & Disappointments (in the company’s results, not individual driver performance)

 If drivers don’t know your company goals/expectations, they can hardly be expected to help you achieve them by doing anything more than their specific job duties (i.e. merely driving from point A to point B). 

For instance, if your quality team is struggling to reduce shipper complaints, drivers need to understand why that’s important and how they can directly help achieve the goal. Keeping them updated on improvements is one way to involve them further and to recognize their assistance.

The second question is directed at dispatchers, supervisors and administration personnel who deal with drivers on a daily basis. That question is; “How would you complete the following sentence: ‘If there was one thing I wish my drivers would do to help our company, it would be…’” It’s important to stress “our company” and not let them change the sentence to “how can they help ME” (which could be an additional diagnostic question). I am always amazed at how staff members complete that sentence.  In most cases, it uncovers some of the issues that cause tension or friction between “management” and “drivers”.  Equally amazing is the discussion that follows my question; “How many times and how many ways have you mentioned this to the drivers so that they understand how their help would help the company succeed?

The third diagnostic question for the management team is; “Do you know your driver’s expectations or goals?” If you’re assuming you know, you may be sabotaging your results.

The best way to address this is to make the time to talk with drivers one-on-one. A survey may provide a quicker result, but it is impersonal and could mask their real interests. It will take time to get drivers to open up, but it can make a tremendous difference in results.

One way to get your drivers to open up is to ask them to complete the following sentence; “If there was one thing I wish the management team would realize it would be…” Variations work equally well (i.e. “If there were one thing the company could do to really help me be more productive, it would be…” etc.)

As you collect information from drivers you’ll want to see if there are similarities or “shared dreams/concerns/hopes”. When you find patterns, it will help you to address these common concerns openly and with urgency.

Finally, the manner in which drivers relate their expectations and past disappointments will help surface any communication failures or gaps: are they angry and upset or depressed and defeated? If they are expressing anger and frustration, an apology may be part of getting them to listen to your message (i.e. I am sorry that you feel so frustrated, and let me assure you that we are listening). If they are depressed, they may need reassurance to believe that “this time will actually be different”.

Ways to Listen & Be Heard

Getting insight into your company’s perceptions and the driver’s perceptions gives you something to do and talk about that really matters. Structuring opportunities to discuss these issues and attempt to improve operations can be a big task.  

The question you must answer to yourself is; “Am I really better off NOT knowing what’s going on with my drivers, or is the potential reward worth putting in the effort needed to carry off this plan?”  Be honest with yourself – if you’re not going to carry through, you may be better off not starting a plan that will further disappoint your drivers.

Some tips from our clients on getting started:

  • The best communication is face to face, but may not be practical unless the message is URGENT. Scheduling meetings with drivers may be part of the plan, but don’t waste anyone’s time by being ill-prepared.
  • The Orientation/On-Boarding process may present an opportunity to communicate the company mission and goals. It’s also a time to ask questions about their concerns starting at a new company and what they would have changed (if they could have) about their last job.  Just remember, a new hire’s concerns may be very different than those expressed by a driver who has been with your firm for ten or twenty years.
  • Safety training sessions are focused on training, but there may be an opportunity at the start of the session to have a senior manager make introductions and reinforce the company goals and how things are progressing. This can be done in ten minutes or less.
  • Some companies start with a small group of drivers as an informal “committee” to test these ideas and get feedback without involving all drivers initially. Of course, it would be important to set clear expectations that the “group” isn’t setting policy (i.e. acting as management team) but merely offering recommendations
  • Sometimes communication is used to “maintain” relationships: to build on existing messages; to build consistency in message (repeat, repeat, repeat); and to catch message “errors” (misperceptions, misunderstandings) before they spread out to the entire team.
  • Scheduled letter to drivers about progress towards goals (dream fulfillment)
  • Take time to solicit feedback and actually consider the feedback when provided (be sincere). The time you put into listening will encourage drivers.

Topics to Cover?

Once you’ve invested the time to talk with your drivers and learned about their concerns, dreams and goals, you’ll have plenty to talk about. The key is to maintain a balance between talking about your goals (the company’s needs and concerns) and the hopes of the drivers.

Some of the most common topics we’ve heard that combine the concerns of both the company and the drivers:

  • Learning from losses to prevent future ones – expressing compassion towards driver welfare, and highlighting concerns about company costs/disruptions
  • Learning from customer complaints — drivers don’t want to be held responsible for anything out of their control so sharing feedback may lead to creative solutions and ways to satisfy customers. C
  • Compliance with regulations – it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part to comply with DOT, but sometimes each group forgets how they have to work together to schedule medical reviews in a timely fashion, or how roadside inspections are driving the company’s BASICs under CSA.
  • Achieving annual revenue goal – the company must grow to be able to grant raises in rates to drivers, but drivers often hold the key to attracting/retaining profitable customers
  • Upgrading fleet equipment – better equipment can cut maintenance and fuel costs, but drivers may need to help “make things work” with the older equipment before the company can upgrade.


Implementing a communications plan isn’t necessarily about publishing a company newsletter or emailing updates to drivers once a quarter (although those may become part of a larger plan).

A communications plan that helps you achieve goals starts with asking questions and sharing expectations. The plan comes into full effect when both groups decide to work together to achieve these goals by working together, and sharing progress updates on a regular basis.

Remember to keep communications clear and to the point. No one has a lot of time to write or read lengthy articles, and it’s important to “keep it simple” – make the point and move on.

Your drivers represent a tremendous resource. They can help your firm achieve its goals or merely collect a check. You have to decide whether to enlist their help to grow your business.

SafetyFirst Systems, LLC specializes in driver/fleet safety issues.  We work with more than 75 insurance providers and most of the Nation’s top fleet operations in a wide range of industries.  We provide monthly driver training packages to our clients and help them reduce their unsafe driving metrics in a measurable, tangible way.  Call or email us to learn how we can help your fleet, too! 1-888-603-6987 or (“Contact Us” button).