Searching for answers on distraction

dis-enf-10-ever-officials_lo_res-post-72-enThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently published a Status Update titled “Searching for answers on distraction.”

This Status Update sheds new light on our evolving understanding of distracted driving, it’s contributing factors and compounding factors.

The article begins with a clear admonition followed by the conclusion of this most recent study:

Using a cellphone while driving is risky and can lead to crashes. Making or taking calls, texting, or interacting with an electronic device in any way can take your eyes off the road at a critical moment…

…A new study by IIHS in partnership with Virginia Tech helps clarify the risk of cellphone use behind the wheel and offers insight into other distracting things drivers do when they aren’t using cellphones. The research points to the need for a broader strategy to deal with the ways that drivers can be distracted.

It seems that as soon as this study and it’s summaries were released, critics came shouting that the study undermines the need to be vigilant in discouraging cell phone use of any type. However, the article makes it plainly clear that cell use isn’t the only issue we need to consider (yes, avoid cells, but no, don’t myopically focus on cells as the sole problem source)

Here’s the rub.  While cell use has skyrocketed, during the same time period, overall crash rates have plummeted.

drop in crashes over time

What does that mean?  From the study:

This doesn’t mean phone use behind the wheel is harmless. Numerous experimental studies have shown that talking on a cellphone reduces a driver’s reaction time, potentially increasing crash risk. Cellphone use also affects how drivers scan and process information from the roadway. The cognitive distractions associated with cellphone use can lead to so-called inattention blindness in which drivers fail to comprehend or process information from objects in the road even if they are looking at them. Studies also have found negative effects of texting on driving performance. The research is still unfolding, but there is a basic conundrum: Why is a distracting behavior not increasing crash rates?

The studies suggest a link between compounding behaviors and crash risk – when distracted in different ways or by more than one type of distraction, crash risk seems to go up.  So “multitasking” while driving = you’re not really driving, you’re busy being productive at your day job instead. Plus, some other behaviors seem to be even more problematic than talking on your phone.

Cell Phone Distraction VTTI IIHS 2014

This simply means we need to work at getting drivers to become more vigilant in their driving duties regardless of the nature or source of their distraction — indeed, put down the phone, but also stop the other distractions, too!

speeding banner2

MVR as Medical Cert?

Did you realize that individual state governments are in process of holding the details of FMCSA regulated drivers’ medical records?  And that these details will be provided through enhanced MVR reports?

Heavy Duty Trucking provided an excellent overview of this new approach in a recent article (click HERE)

E-DriverFileOur E-DriverFile program was modified and tested to receive the new medical details two years ago!  We’re ready to pass this information as individual states complete their processes to collect and distribute this sensitive information to regulated motor carriers.

cropped-trucks-highway.jpg

Medical Registry for Regulated Drivers

From the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

The National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners (National Registry) is a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) program. All commercial drivers whose current medical certificate expires on or after May 21, 2014, at expiration of that certificate must be examined by a medical professional listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. Only medical examiners that have completed training and successfully passed a test on FMCSA’s physical qualification standards will be listed on the National Registry.

Additional details can be found by clicking HERE (National Registry Home Page) and HERE (FAQ about the new program).

cropped-truck-traffic.jpg

Proposal To Eliminate DVIR when No Defects Discovered

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a press release today, August, 1st announcing a proposal to drastically cut the paperwork and record keeping burden of many motor carriers.  According to the release the proposed rule would maintain safety inspections while eliminating unneeded paperwork that merely documents that “no problems were discovered” during pre and post trip inspections of Commercial Motor Vehicles.

cropped-trucks-highway.jpg

Highlights from the release:

Current federal regulations require commercial truck drivers to conduct pre- and post-trip equipment inspections and file Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIRs) after each inspection, regardless of whether or not an issue requiring repairs is identified. DVIRs are the 19th-highest paperwork burden, based on the number of hours needed to comply, imposed across all federal agencies and only 5 percent of reports filed include defects.

Under the proposed change announced today, commercial truck drivers would continue conducting pre- and post-trip inspections. However, DVIRs would be required only if defects or deficiencies were discovered by or reported to the driver during the day’s operations.

“We can better focus on the 5 percent of problematic truck inspection reports by eliminating the 95 percent that report the status quo,” said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “Moving to a defect-only reporting system would reduce a significant paperwork burden facing truck drivers and save the industry billions without compromising safety.”

Federal regulations require that every commercial vehicle in the U.S. undergo a thorough annual safety inspection conducted by a certified commercial vehicle mechanic. In addition, state and federal inspectors conduct unannounced, random inspections of commercial vehicles at terminals, weigh stations, truck stops along the roadside and at destinations. Vehicles that fail random safety inspections are immediately placed out of service and not allowed to operate until the identified safety problems are addressed. In 2012, approximately 3.5 million random inspections were conducted.

The FMCSA will collect and review comments on the proposed rule, which is available at: www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/administration/rulemakings/proposed/Driver-Vehicle-Inspection-Report-NPRM.pdf.  If you have an opinion on this proposed change, make sure to be heard!

cropped-truck-traffic.jpg

Spoliation of Evidence Following a Crash

EdiscoveryAlthough SafetyFirst has authored articles about spoliation over the past several years (Here) and (Here), this topic has been making the rounds of insurance carrier discussions lately. 

Spoliation of evidence is a fancy term for failing to safeguard information, documents, electronic data or other evidence that would (or could) be material to a lawsuit. 

For example, you are suing a manufacturer for a defective product that injured you.  They have “misplaced” or “lost” key quality control documents, inspection records and data on how the product had been tested to minimize those safety issues that might have prevented your injury.  You don’t know if they purposely destroyed the documents to cover up their own negligence or if they just made mistakes with their own document retention policy.  In court, a claim that they mis-handled the evidence, especially after becoming aware of your injury and/or lawsuit, could lead to serious consequences.  The judge could order any prospective jurors to assume the worst — that the missing evidence was damning to their case and would have proven our case that the injury was the fault of the defective product. 

In this recent article — Risk Managers: Spoliation Prevention has Insurance Underwriting Implications, too! (LINK) the author asserts that companies with strong record retention policies and well-defined filing programs can help build a strong defense when claims arise.  It’s better (in most cases) to argue the claim from a factual basis — knowing all of the relevant facts instead of trying to dispose of data (electronic or paper).

From the article:

Dollars are dollars, and they can balloon an account’s loss ratio if the company must spend an inordinate amount of money because it is unprepared for electronic discovery, or has spoliation of evidence issues posed against it. These dollars can balloon an account’s loss ratio which, in turn, may impact the availability and pricing of financial protection in the form of product liability insurance. [or other forms of liability insurance like Commercial Vehicle coverage, too]

The takeaway, therefore, is that companies with strong e-discovery, document- and evidence retention systems represent better risks. They have their proverbial “act together,” to put it in street lingo.

One way to do this is to strengthen the company’s document preservation and spoliation prevention systems and to be able to present a compelling case to insurance underwriters that the risk manager’s company is a sound risk for the underwriter and insurance company. Underwriters are the gatekeepers who determine whether or not a company represents an acceptable risk and at what price.

Thus, we can increasingly expect insurers to probe and ask about systems that facilitate efficient e-discovery, thwart spoliation and maximize retention of evidence.

This will be part of any insurance company’s due diligence process in assessing the fitness and desirability of an account for insurance placement or renewal. Questions about document preservation systems and e-discovery preparedness could be on the insurance application, could surface in pre-underwriting reviews, or arise during discussions with underwriters.

The very best defense against lawsuits is to avoid crashes and injuries in the first place.  Unfortunately, and despite everyone’s best intentions, crashes may occur.  In that event, preserving relevant data about the driver’s qualifications, regulatory compliance status, moving violations and crash history (among other things) may be critical to mounting an appropriate good faith defense. 

Check with your attorney, claims team, or insurance safety professional to learn more about how to protect your company’s specific interests.

Disclaimer:  SafetyFirst and the author of this article are not legal specialists or experts.  We are not attorneys and can not offer legal advice.  This article (or any associated/referenced articles by SafetyFirst and it’s staff) merely discusses a general topic and is not intended as specific advice on how to prepare for litigation or any other purpose.

Webinar: Out of Time? Out of Compliance? NOT out of Options!

To support our clients, USI and AIG, SafetyFirst led a webinar targeting smaller fleet operators (those with under 500 power units).

cropped-truck-traffic.jpgRegulated fleets all have to comply with the same set of ever-changing regulations; however, larger fleets can dedicate specialist resources to handling the paperwork and smaller fleets may be limited to a proverbial crew of three — “Me, Myself and I”.  Further, this team of “three” may have many other job duties beyond compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, too.

The focus of the webinar included the following learning points:

  • Identify the principal areas of driver safety regulation
  • Identify educational resources for managers
  • Identify how to use Federal resources to monitor their compliance status
  • Determine a mechanism to set a rational focus on key tactics.

While it’s beyond the scope of this blog article to cover all the points of the webinar, we’ll try to offer some of the highlights.

First, we made it a priority to share as many links to free, federal resources as possible — the goal of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to reduce crashes and injuries; therefore, they are stepping up to provide strategies and tactics that motor carriers can employ to that end result.  It all starts with the main web site — http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov

Motor Carriers Guide to ImprovingAnother resource was “A Motor Carrier’s Guide to Improving Highway Safety” which doesn’t serve as a replacement for the FMSCRs, but helps provide a “plain English” version of what motor carriers should be working on to be safe and compliant.  This can be downloaded from http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/eta/index.htm

We also encouraged the participants to regularly visit http://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov to get the latest tips and fact sheets on the CSA program.

The CSA program changes how FMCSA conducts audits and gives them flexibility to target more carriers for specific issues using different means of intervention (i.e. such as sending an inquiry on a highlighted issue by mail).  It doesn’t add to the regulations – it just addresses how FMCSA measures safety performance, evaluates the need to intervene, and then responds to potential problems.

CSA ToolkitsWe walked through the Bookend BASICs concept (covered on this blog site and in articles published by NATMI, et.al.) and how fleets can prioritize their response to keeping BASIC scores as low as possible.

The Safety Management Cycle, as a risk management model, was used in a practical exercise to demonstrate it’s utility to motor carriers.

We also highlighted the newest fact sheet releases, the motor carrier tool kit, and the driver tool kit which are found at the CSA site.

Summary

We dealt with a half-dozen specific questions from the audience (submitted through the web-ex environment) and there was some thoughtful discussion to wrap up the session.  We reminded the participants of the following ideas:

  • Compliance is about doing the “boring/tedious” stuff consistently
  • There are a lot of resources available to help you comply that cost nothing 
  • The FMCSA keeps data on your fleet to decide if they should intervene – you should monitor your scores at their site
  • If the FMCSA sends you a letter, call them and talk to them IMMEDIATELY. Tell them that Safety & Compliance are serious subjects and you want to improve your score.
  • Use the online resources to craft your response to them, and KEEP IT SIMPLE – no need to be fancy or commit to things you can’t afford or complete.
  • They will want to see that you did what you said you would. Not more or less. You need to put the plan into effect!

SafetyFirst is a fleet safety solutions provider, working through insurance carriers and directly with fleet clients throughout North America.

A copy of the slideshow will be distributed to participants in the webinar experience, and will be posted at our client-only (*log in required) web site.

The Doctor is Out…Driving While Medically Unqualified

NOTE: This article is part of a series investigating the definition of “impaired driving” as it occurs in society, traffic safety and driver safety professional networks.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), has enforced regulations to prevent drivers from operating Commercial Motor Vehicles while impaired in a number of ways.  One area that the organization has been working very hard to enhance is keeping medically unqualified drivers from behind the wheel.
Traditionally, this has been done (mainly) by requiring a biennial (once every two years) or more frequent (if a notable health/medical condition exists) visit to a certified medical doctor for a physical exam.  To provide an additional set of elements to the “safety net” there are substance abuse testing protocols completed by the employer, and roadside inspections to spot driver irregularities during the course of the year.
In theory, this system of checks and balances should capture the majority of exceptions and assure a consistent pool of qualified drivers.  However, a recent report published in November 2012 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “…found that these controls were vulnerable to abuse or manipulation.”  This report describes key controls designed to prevent medically unfit or impaired commercial drivers from operating commercial vehicles, and examples of commercial drivers with potentially disqualifying impairments related to epilepsy, drugs, or alcohol who managed to drive despite the existence of the key controls.
It also points out how some of the worst issues will be addressed by MAP-21 (link to summary here)
The study that led to the report was conducted in the following manner:
“To identify key controls, GAO reviewed FMCSA policies and regulations, and interviewed officials. Cases were identified on the basis of FMCSA roadside-inspection data, DOT’s Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS), a national database of all commercial drivers, and SSA disability insurance files. From this analysis, GAO identified commercial drivers who were driving with an epilepsy diagnosis. GAO also randomly selected 100 individuals to determine whether the driver was receiving SSA disability benefits when the state issued or renewed the driver’s CDL.” [underline added for emphasis]
Notable findings from GAO report summary:
“Matching CDL holders with Social Security Administration (SSA) disability files produced 204 commercial drivers who drove a commercial vehicle as recently as 2011 despite having epilepsy, a disqualifying medical condition characterized by sudden seizures and unconsciousness. Thirty-one of these drivers were involved in accidents, demonstrating the threat to public safety posed by medically impaired drivers. GAO also identified 23 cases where state licensing agencies issued or renewed CDLs for drivers after they were, according to SSA records, diagnosed with epilepsy or had drug or alcohol dependence noted, which could also disqualify them from driving under DOT regulations.  However, because DOT did not require state licensing agencies to maintain drivers’ medical certifications at the time of GAO’s review, it is unlikely that states knew of the drivers’ conditions. In fact, they were unable to provide medical certifications for any of the 23 individuals. States are now required to electronically store medical certificates for new and renewing CDL applicants and will be required to electronically maintain this information for all CDL holders by January 2014. Doing so could help prevent ineligible drivers from obtaining or renewing CDLs in the future.”

Here is a link to the full GAO Report – http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/650388.pdf

Bottom-line is that drivers with “serious medical conditions” can still meet FMCSA fitness requirements because “…medical determinations rely on subjective factors and patient self-reporting, [therefore] it is not possible to systematically determine whether these drivers had disqualifying medical conditions.”

This will require changes to how medical qualifications are completed and recorded.  The GAO report summarizes several key changes that are on the way or will be here very soon:

  • “As of January 30, 2012, individuals renewing or applying for a CDL must submit a copy of their current medical certificate to their state licensing agency, making state licensing agencies responsible for ensuring that drivers have current medical certificates on file.
  • “In April 2012, FMCSA published a final rule establishing a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.
  • “The 2012 final rule provides requirements for all healthcare professionals responsible for issuing medical certificates for interstate truck and bus drivers to complete a training course on the Federal physical qualifications rules and to pass an examination to assess the examiners ability to apply the rules, and advisory criteria in a consistent manner when making the determination whether a driver meets the qualification standards.
  • “FMCSA has announced its plans to initiate a new rulemaking that would enable the agency to require medical examiners on the National Registry to submit to the agency the medical certificate information on each individual who applies for a medical certificate. The agency would then have the ability to transmit to the state driver licensing agency the medical certificate. This process will significantly decrease the likelihood of drivers being able to falsify medical certificates.
  • “Specifically, the law [MAP-21] requires DOT to establish, operate, and maintain a national clearinghouse with records relating to the results of positive drug and alcohol tests of commercial drivers or instances of refused tests. Once the clearinghouse has been established, employers must request and review their CDL drivers’ records from the clearinghouse annually. The MAP-21 Act also requires DOT to develop a method to electronically notify an employer of each additional positive test result or other noncompliance.
  • “Specifically, the law requires DOT to establish, operate, and maintain a national clearinghouse with records relating to the results of positive drug and alcohol tests of commercial drivers or instances of refused tests. Once the clearinghouse has been established, employers must request and review their CDL drivers’ records from the clearinghouse annually. The MAP-21 Act also requires DOT to develop a method to electronically notify an employer of each additional positive test result or other noncompliance.

Summary

Drivers have a responsibility to be safe while behind the wheel.  Employers (motor carriers) have a responsibility to properly qualify and monitor the ongoing qualification status of those who drive for them.

Driver impairment, whether from drugs, alcohol, fatigue or medical conditions is foreseeable (through testing and qualification programs) and preventable so long as everyone does their part. 

To find out in hindsight that heavy vehicle crashes occurred where drivers were also receiving Social Security Administration disability benefits (and were not medically qualified to drive) is tragic if it were a mistake and a travesty if it occurred knowingly but was ignored.

SafetyFirst specializes in driver safety programs for both regulated and non-regulated fleets.  We have clients throughout the USA and Canada utilizing a wide range of proprietary database systems (for compliance with company or Federal policies affecting drivers, crash reporting, training documentation, qualification reminders, etc.), hotline coaching programs, and varied training/educational approaches.  We also consult with larger fleets and insurance carriers on developing strategies to assure effective implementation of telematics programs and other high capital projects where safety results depend on data analysis and translation to behavior safety outputs to realize and capture measurable gains.