Commercial Vehicle Insurance

SafetyFirstAn interesting article titled “Insurance: You Can’t Avoid Risk” appears in the September 2014 issue of FleetOwner.

This article caught my attention at the second paragraph:

Crashes involving trucks and the resulting insurance claims can grab quite a chunk from the bottom line of any motor carrier [or any company operating a fleet of vehicles – SF]. According to data compiled several years ago by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the cost of a crash involving one Class 8 tractor pulling a single 53-ft. trailer runs to $172,292.  If just one person gets injured in such a crash, the average cost balloons to $334,892.  And if a fatality occurs in such a crash, the average cost skyrockets to over $7.6 million.

The article also comments that insurance costs to cover premiums and out of pocket costs can be as much as 4% of the total cost of operation (TCO).

PoliceFleets looking to reduce their costs can ask for discounts and creative payment plans, but in order to materially reduce insurance expense, the only long-term solution is to earnestly work to reduce their risk of loss through aggressive and tailored crash-avoidance strategies.

Naturally, we can’t control how the general public drives on any given day, but as transportation safety professionals, fleet management teams can work with their commercial drivers, insurers, and current safety vendors to increase results.

Ideas to consider:

  1. Smash through the most common barrier to results: complacency. Many fleet teams think they’ve done all that they can and sometimes it can be hard to re-evaluate and re-tool programs to get better results.  “We’ve always done it this way” and “don’t fix what isn’t broken” are dangerous phrases if you’re sincere about enhancing risk results. It’s easy to assume that everything is working well and focus on trying “new stuff” just because it’s new and trendy, but sometimes it’s the underlying (un-sexy) tasks that are slipping through the cracks.  Be honest in evaluating what’s working and what could work better.
  2. Increase vigilance and safety awareness – just as consciously scanning the road ahead for possible hazards and motorists who may cut off trucks is critical to safe driving, management teams also have a responsibility to forecast ways to increase safety in their operations and processes.  Careful analysis of past crashes and understanding what might have contributed to them happening from a process and systems standpoint may uncover opportunities to improve your management strategy.
  3. Develop an even stronger communication strategy with drivers – not just talking at them or demanding more from them, but also learning to listen carefully to their feedback about what’s working and what’s failing to work as well as it could or should. Understanding what processes and systems keep drivers from excelling at their job and helping them with appropriate assistance could be an area to leverage.
  4. Integrate technology where it will help the most.  Technology can be applied in most fleet operations to help deliver insights into ways to increase efficiency or improve safety factors.  The trouble is that for most fleets technology can be disruptive as well. There’s a learning curve to adopting new systems and there must be vigilance in translating these data packets into meaningful management action.  If the follow up isn’t helpful to drivers or other team members, then it may not be worth the effort. One example could be adopting an online education program to refresh drivers on basic safety issues.  If the program is difficult to access, or the videos are tedious, too long, boring or poorly executed then drivers won’t pay attention or change habits.  Investing in a system that is easy to use and has interesting, short programs may be a better course of action.
  5. Actively monitor / manage your CSA scores.  While the CSA score isn’t the best indicator of operational excellence, your team shouldn’t ignore this score, either.  The Bookend BASICS have been discussed elsewhere on this blog — Unsafe Driving and Crash Rate.  When the bookends are firmly managed, the stuff in the middle tends to sort itself out, too.
  6. Don’t be shy in asking for help from your insurer.  Most insurers offer loss control support in various ways — consultants, technical bulletins, and other resources are available but only if you ask for them.  Agents can review your current policies to make sure you have appropriate coverage, and help you navigate the service offerings that come with your policy to be certain you’re getting the maximum benefit for the cost you’ve already agreed to pay.
  7. Leverage your existing safety vendor relationships. Many fleets already work with safety support vendors on issue ranging from log auditing to DQF maintenance.
    1. Are you using the most current service offering from each vendor?
    2. Are there new benefits or features that you could be using?
    3. Does your vendor offer a support network, webinars, or other meetings that could introduce new ideas or help you network with peers in order to increase safety results?
  8. Join, and participate in, a vehicle safety networking group.  Hearing about other peer’s experiences can help you save time, get to decisions more quickly and leverage other professionals learning lessons (why make the same mistake, or why not benefit if they’ve already proven something works well?)  Of course, this commitment works best when you’re an active participant – sharing with the group your own experiences.  It won’t work as well if you join and then lurk in the shadows quietly.

Managing insurance costs is important.  You want to have the right coverage for when things go wrong unexpectedly, but you also want to do whatever is practical to avoid claims or keep their costs as low as possible.

There are many safety articles at this blog site to give you more ideas on ways to prevent crashes.

Let us know what you do that works well at your fleet!

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Wrong-Way Crashes

Imagine you are taking your family on a long distance vacation.  In the middle of the night, you see headlights in the distance and then, suddenly, you realize that the headlights are in your lane of a divided highway — coming straight at your car or van.  What can you do?

Thankfully, the number of head on collisions that occur on freeways is (statistically speaking) quite low; however, they often result in fatalities.

Common characteristics of these collisions include (but may not be limited to):

  • driver impairment,
  • confusion over on-off ramp signs, and
  • late night/early morning time periods when people are less alert and prone to mistakes.

Three fatal head-on collisions happened during the past week in Arizona.  Seven people have died, including an off-duty police officer.  All of these deaths were linked by cause — someone driving the wrong way on a divided or limited access highway.

You can investigate the particular details in a series of news reports:

The Arizona DOT has also issued a press release (Click Here) that addresses the concerns and safety issues of “Wrong-Way Drivers

Some ideas or tips that have been considered to address the issue include:

  • Re-positioning “Wrong-Way, Do Not Enter” signs to be closer to driver’s eye level
  • Installing red reflectors in the road way so that any driver trying to access an off-ramp would see the red reflectors at night and get a clue that they’re going up the wrong ramp
  • Install detectors at ramps that sense when a vehicle has gained access to a divided highway and is traveling in the wrong direction — then immediately send alerts to programmable billboard (alert) signs to warn drivers of the oncoming and errant driver
  • Educate drivers about the increased risks of driving at night – especially on Fridays and Saturdays when there is a statistical increase in drunk driving activity
  • Staying out of the far left lane except to pass since oncoming drivers will typically use that lane (they believe that they’re in the far right lane based on their direction of travel).
  • Be ready to move to the right (if it’s clear to do so) to evade oncoming traffic
  • Increase the efforts to crack down on drinking/drugged driving with ignition interlocks
  • Call in a report to 9-1-1 if you witness a “wrong-way” driver so that they can intervene or warn other motorists.

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The Dangers of Turn Signal Neglect

Whether changing lanes, merging, turning at an intersection, exiting a roundabout, or entering traffic from an acceleration lane, turn signals have a lot of utility for a safety minded, courteous driver.

Unfortunately, it often seems as though many drivers don’t know when to use their signals, or worse, don’t know how to use them.

One of the most common complaints received by SafetyFirst on our Hotline program is “failure to use signals” at roughly 13% of all reported behavior types. 

When you consider that: Improper Lane Change; Failure to Use Signals; Dishonor Right of Way; Weaving in Traffic; Failure to Stay in Lane; and Improper Passing are all somewhat related issues, then the total of these issues jumps to 47.74% of all behaviors reported during 2012.

Commercial drivers seem to have a problem with merging and changing lanes.  I strongly suspect that it’s a combination of issues:

  1. Drivers seemingly get ticketed only very rarely for failing to use their signals; therefore, any given driver’s attitudes about signals are reinforced (if the police don’t care, why should I ?)
  2. Managers rarely, if ever, have a pain threshold over the non-use of signals to warrant training meetings, etc. (see #1, above)
  3. Signal non-use just isn’t seen as a pressing priority by society.  (It fails to get the marketing weight of othermore pressing issues such as drinking and driving or aggressive driving, etc.)
  4. Drivers who are in a hurry may see slower moving vehicles as obstacles in their path.  The need to get there in a hurry can lead to swerving from lane to lane, and despite the obvious risk of failing to signal while driving aggressively operators seem to forget that the signals are there for a reason.
  5. Failure to clear the blind area next to the vehicle (each vehicle’s mirrors can only see select areas based on how they’re positioned – resulting in an area where the driver is effectively “blind” to other vehicles) increases the need to use signals as an additional indicator of an impending lane change, but drivers assume that the other driver will react to their vehicle moving laterally into the lane without the bother of signaling.
  6. Turn signals don’t impart the gravitas of a horn – you can’t release your stress through aggressive signal use the way you can with leaning on your horn (OK, so I’m being sarcastic here, but you’ve got to admit I may be on to something).

Consider the opening sentence of the abstract of a recent (4/16/2012) study (LINK) by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) – “The turn signal is a vital safety feature that is not only required to be built in as standard equipment on all vehicles, but their use by the driver in everyday driving is required by law.”  This makes signals sound pretty important, huh?

Now, take a look at the remainder of the abstract; “Since not all drivers are diligent at properly actuating turn signals in every situation, the use of the turn signal is less than 100%. However, despite the fact that turn signals are a crash prevention feature, no known study relating to turn signal usage rates is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nor from the Department of Transportation, nor from any University, nor from other private safety organizations.”  Wow, none of the key data gathering organizations have quantitatively studied the role of turn signals on crashes?  Yikes – that’s like driving blindfolded (well, maybe not, but it’s a significant oversight, isn’t it?)

As a counterpoint, American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) may have been overlooked by SAE while doing their background research.  You see, in 2005, ATRI published a study (and subsequent update in 2011) titled “Predicting Truck Crash Involvement”.  In this study, they specifically looked at violations received by drivers and projected the increased likelihood of becoming involved in a crash following the ticket.  Their number one issue from the 2011 data? 

A driver convicted of “a failure to use or improper use of signal” had a 96% increased likelihood of a crash.

The SAE study also mentions that they made direct observations of both drivers using signals correctly and failing to use signals when warranted.  They found that drivers who were executing a turn were using signals correctly 75% of the time and failed to use them 25% of the time.  Lane changing presented very different use rates – used 52% of the time and neglected 48% of the time.

The SAE study also asserts that there are roughly two million crashes annually due to this failure to use signals.

Signals are meant to convey a forewarning to other motorists of an intended lane departure or entrance (i.e. turn at intersection, merge, change of lane, etc.).  When signals are not used other drivers have less time to react, and this delay can affect various types of collisions ranging from merging/sideswipe to rear end collisions to head on collisions at intersections.

In a National Transportation Safety Board report, it states; “…if passenger car drivers have a 0.5 second additional warning time, about 60 percent of rear end collisions can be prevented.  An extra second of warning time can prevent about 90 percent of rear-end collisions.”  Using signals in advance of turns or merges gives following vehicles time to react and slow down.  By increasing their following distance, they have time to brake or avoid the vehicle in front. 

SAE’s paper makes the following conclusion:  if we assume that becoming involved in a collision due to the driver’s failure to use a signal is as rare as being struck by lightning, and we use the study’s neglect rates applied to the miles driven in the USA each year, then we could determine that up to 1 Million crashes would be averted if signals were universally used by all drivers.

There is no cost to use signals – they’re standard equipment.  There is a cost of not using signals – moving violations and crashes.   Would you commit to step up your use of turn signals the next time you get behind the wheel?

‘Tis the Season to Drive Sober

NHTSA’s Pre-Holiday Season Impaired Driving Prevention Campaign runs from November 27th to December 11th, 2011

Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving…

During the holiday season, many adults celebrate and enjoy themselves with a couple of drinks, but even one too many drinks increases their chances of crashing while driving  motor vehicles.  

That is why SafetyFirst Systems wants everyone to put safety before the party this holiday season by assigning a sober designated driver to get them home.

According to crash statistics from the most recent year on file, during December (alone) there were 753 people killed in crashes that involved drivers or motorcycle riders with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 grams per deciliter or higher.  That’s far too many funerals and tragic grief during what should be a joyful and festive time of the year.

Unfortunately, millions of drivers still jeopardize their safety and the safety of others on our roads, by driving under the influence of alcohol.

It’s Just Not Worth the Risk!

Before you head out to parties, consider the cost of pushing your luck:

  • Sacrificing your life and the life of others by driving a vehicle or riding a motorcycle after a few drinks can result in tragedy for you and your loved ones.
  • Having your driving privileges taken from you will certainly put a damper on your holiday season.
  • Drunk driving offenders receive plenty of unwanted gifts like:
    • Attorney fees,
    • Court costs,
    • Car repairs,
    • Lost time at work, and
    • Higher insurance rates  

Consider these “Holiday Safety Tips” from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to Prevent a Drunk Driving Misfortune:

  • Plan a safe way home before the festivities begin;
  • Before drinking, designate a sober driver and leave your car keys at home;
  • If you’re impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation so you are sure to get home safely;
  • Use your community’s sober ride program;
  • If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don’t hesitate to contact your local law enforcement; and
  • Remember, Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving. If you know people who are about to drive or ride with someone who is impaired, take the driver’s keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

 For more information, please visit http://www.nhtsa.gov/Impaired

Hubris: the Hidden Hazard in Commercial Auto Safety Programming?

We’ve been blessed with radically and rapidly declining road-related fatalities for the past two reporting cycles (i.e. CY2008 and CY2009) with indications of further advances in CY2010.

However, as the manufacturing base revives from two years of decline, and the construction segment begins to retool itself, more commercial vehicles are back on the road.

Organizations that have become complacent with strong fleet safety results despite budget cutbacks, curtailment of training programs and elimination of safety staffers may face a growing rate of collisions over the next 18 months.

An examination of recent headline collisions, industry “buzz” (about CSA / driver shortages / increasing freight / et.al.), regulatory and case-law activity suggests that the greatest challenge found in driver safety is battling overconfidence and false presumptions about the reduced fatality rates (while crash rates have not declined at the same rate).

Some safety managers that I’ve spoken to (not our clients!) have thrown out statements like “we’ve been doing great so we don’t need more safety programming right now” or “we just installed “product X” so we’re not looking to invest in anything else for our driver safety program — we’re confident that putting “product X” in place will cover us” (i.e. all our eggs are in one basket, and that’s OK)

Additionally, when you closely examine some of the current “headline grabbing” collisions, the commentary suggests that either drivers and/or their managers have become “dulled” to their safety responsibilities (ie. they’re going through the needed motions, but their “collective mind/spirit” isn’t engaging).

What do you think? Am I far off the mark or is there adequate credibility to my assertions that the lowered crash rates were driven mainly by the sluggish economy, and that a certain “overconfidence” in safety mindset could bite some fleets in the rump once the economy ‘heats up’?

Are Collisions by Chance or by Choice?

PoliceOutside my office window is a three-lane, divided highway with service road access. The county police constantly run a ticket sweep for people entering the service road without stopping. Two police officers can “work” two cars each on a continual basis through their shift. The county police always set up in the same, exact spot, and always mid-week. Despite their predictability, they never fail to catch a bunch of motorists (and commercial drivers, too).

People rolling through the stop sign come in two types: compliant “give me the ticket” types and ones who argue. Both consistently get tickets – arguing simply slows down the process.

This behavior (rolling through stop signs) represents a choice, whether the police are present on that day is a chance occurrence. Texting while driving represents a choice, plowing into the back of a stopped truck while texting (an unfortunate, but likely outcome) is a chance occurrence – many texters justify their choice by the fact that they haven’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time – yet.

redlight cam pictureThere are a lot of “choice not chance” behaviors in traffic safety: drinking and driving; youth drivers with a boatload of friends “egging them on” to drive like an idiot; aggressive driving – letting your emotions control your driving to the point of recklessness; driving while in-text-icated or YWD “Yakking While Driving”; speeding; tailgating; failure to use signals; passing with inadequate clearance; running “yellow-orange-red” lights at intersections, and much more.

It got me thinking about the “causes” of collisions. We know that the driver’s action, attitude, and choices are strong contributor factors in 90% (or more) of the collisions reported annually. However, I don’t think I know anyone who’d be willing to argue that drivers choose to be involved in a collision. At the same time, I don’t think they would defend the idea that collisions happen by pure chance, either.

In a manufacturing plant, we don’t have this discussion. Either the machine malfunctioned, was set up incorrectly, or the injured employee failed to follow a procedure. A much more “binary” solution – it had to be X or Y – there’s no range of possible explanations. Why is it (apparently) different on the highway?

I’ve heard a few safety managers use the phrase “it was outside the driver’s control” offered to defend the driver’s involvement in the collision. What could be outside the driver’s control? I’d be willing to consider items like: internal (invisible) defects in a tire that led to a blow out, sudden mechanical failure of an axle or steering linkage, invisible “black ice”, things happening beyond the driver’s sight line (around the corner, hidden by a view block). But we know from experience and statistics that these don’t account for too many collisions. Most are avoidable and preventable.

I think that the “outside the driver’s control” issue could be better expressed this way: the driver chose certain behaviors and chance intervened to make conditions perfect for a tragic outcome. Had conditions (chance) been different that day, the “bad” choices wouldn’t have led to a crash; therefore, it was chance’s fault, not the driver’s.

A colleague sent me a link to this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNYLEEQQzdE&feature=channel. The message offered by the police officer is that the drunk driver made a choice to get in her car and drive while impaired. The collision that killed the officer’s mother wasn’t a chance occurrence – it was completely preventable because the collision was from a choice that had been made earlier in the evening.

Traffic safety is EVERY driver’s responsibility. A wise person would choose to learn from past mistakes and improve their performance after receiving coaching from an advisor (we reduce the chance of a collision by choosing to drive correctly).

We need to be held responsible for our own choices, and we need to learn to make better choices regardless of how “lucky” we’ve been in the past.

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