Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Preventable accidents are defined by the National Safety Council as: “An occurrence involving an employer owned or leased vehicle that results in an accident in which the driver in question failed to exercise every reasonable precaution to prevent it.”

The big takeaway that a fleet professional should consider here is the driver failing to exercise precautions to prevent the accident from happening. If a driver is unable to respond in a timely manner to prevent a crash from occurring, he or she is likely responsible for it taking place.

In an attempt to prevent this from happening, fleets can look to utilizing best safety practices and assess the effectiveness of their current safety policy.

However, identifying what constitutes as a preventable accident can be dicey thing to determine. Having a good sense of identifying preventable accidents and how to best address them can go a long way into helping eliminate them altogether.

At a Glance

Some best practices to address preventable accidents include:

  • Securing a Solid Fleet Safety Policy.
  • Utilizing Telematics Data.
  • Having a Solid Foundation for First Notice of Loss.

Fleet Financials reached out to a number of fleet safety experts to better understand what some of the best practices are for understanding and assessing preventable accidents.

Training and Policy

The No. 1 idea that is stressed across the board as a means to reduce preventable accidents is to establish a sound safety policy. And a fundamental element of any safety policy is the practice of educating and instilling drivers on defensive driving, according to Dan Shive, VP, risk management services, client success, LeasePlan.

According to Jerry Veres, safety program coordinator, Fleet Response, some additional key elements that should be laid out in a fleet safety policy as a means to eliminate preventable accidents include:

  • How many preventable accidents are allowed per year?
  • Drug testing policy (including pre-employment, post-accident, random)
  • How many moving violations are allowed per year (personal and commercial vehicles)?
  • Types of moving violations that disqualify employment and/or driving for the fleet/motor carrier
  • How and when to report all accidents
  • Annual driver review of each rriver’s MVR, at minimum

Indeed, Tom Sloan, director of telematics and safety product, Donlen, said that fleets should engage in a multi-tiered approach to reduce the amount of preventable accidents in fleet.

However, simply laying out the details of the policy is not enough; regularly advocating the key components of the policy and regularly training drivers is necessary.

“Enrolling existing drivers and new hires in safety training programs on a consistent basis will keep safety top of mind,” said Emily Candib, assistant director of product management, Merchants Fleet Management.

Veres of Fleet Response echoed similar sentiments.

“If the training is not consistent, then the driver’s ability to perceive potential hazards will be reduced and the company’s overall safety culture will not change,” said Veres.

And on top of this, making sure that the terms and processes of these policy are clearly laid out for drivers is crucial.

“The most important aspect of a fleet policy is that it establishes clear and concise rules that govern how drivers should act when behind the wheel of their company-provided vehicles. In regards to preventing accidents, these guidelines should cover phone use, company mandated-safety training, and can even note that if a driver is found as being at fault in a preventable accident, they then need to cover the cost of behind-the-wheel training,” said Mark Donahue, manager, fleet analytics, EMKAY, Inc.

Utilizing Telematics

Another key to the fleet safety policy, so as to ensure that the drivers are in tune with what has been established in the organization, is utilizing telematics data. According to Bob Martines, president and CEO, Corporate Claims Management, using telematics data can help fleets monitor distracted driving, speeding, dangerous maneuvers, hard braking, and rapid acceleration.

“At the end of the day, the best way to determine if these programs are truly effective is to review the telematics behaviors for the specific driver that was trained,” said Sloan of Donlen. “Simply not getting into an accident may not be an indication that the training was effective, it could simply be that the driver was fortunate to avoid an accident if he or she did not curb their poor driving habits.”

Sloan said that in doing so fleets can ascertain whether or not the habits of the driver improved or if any coaching will be necessary.

Candib of Merchants suggested that fleets work with their FMC to help effectively disseminate the data offered via telematics.

“Fleet managers should set exception monitoring in partnership with their FMC based on their Fleet Policy to monitor consistent excessive speeds, hard braking and fast acceleration,” she said.

Safety Culture

Another essential component is making sure that the safety policy reflects the culture of the organization

“The combination of trainings and technologies is essential. However, even more critical is developing a safety program that works within the culture of your organization. No one company is the same therefore each safety program should be developed to meet the goals of the organization within the cultural landscape of that organization,” said Candib of Merchants.

To help accomplish this, make sure that all the proper stakeholders in the organization have a say in it, and that a consensus has been reached.

“So the safety team might agree on the policy but if the vice president of sales doesn’t buy off on it, then your sales team isn’t going to be on board with it. So everyone has to be on board with it; including legal, human resources, etc.,” said Rich Radi of ARI.

Indeed, Terry Horrocks, senior consultant for safety and accident management, Element Fleet Management said the companies with a secure safety culture generally have less preventable collisions that occur in their fleet.

“Most of our clients that have safer safety profiles, it all revolves around the culture within the company. When they can develop a culture of safety where everyone buys into safety, its forethought instead of an afterthought,” he said.

Preventable Versus Non-Preventable Accidents

One issue in regards to identifying preventable accidents is knowing how to appropriately classify it as being “preventable.”

In general, most accidents are preventable, according to Radi of ARI.

“Almost all collisions are preventable; 95% of collisions happen because of human driver error on one party or another. If you’re driving defensively, are well-trained, and are really conscious of your driving behavior then you can prevent almost any accident from occurring,” he said.

Indeed, Martines of CCM said that certain incidents that can be considered difficult to classify as preventable versus non preventable include those as a result of poor weather conditions; backing into a vehicle that is also backing up; and lane changing accidents where both parties claim they had possession of a given lane.

Donahue of EMKAY said that parking lot accidents can be problematic for determining preventability.

“Say a driver backs into light pole or an unoccupied vehicle while in a parking lot. That driver can very easily leave the scene and later claim that someone hit their vehicle while it was parked. While this is obviously the wrong thing to do on many levels, it does happen,” said Donahue of EMKAY.

Veres of Fleet response added to this, stating that the most difficult incidents to record as being preventable are “Struck While Not In the Vehicle/Hit While Parked”.

“These incidents ‘occur’ while the driver was away from their vehicle and without any witnesses and/or cameras these are difficult to prove or investigate. These accidents can have the same type of damage as a parking-related accident, and if the fleet manager is in doubt they should investigate and/or provide follow-up training focusing on professional parking habits,” he said.

In addition to parking scenarios, another difficult scenario to assess are intersection accidents, according to Joe Kinniry, manager of data analytics and report, The CEI Group.

“Intersections are tough because a driver may have acted within the law, but that driver should be cautious every time they enter an intersection. If a driver gets rear-ended making a turn the driver who hit them should have kept a safer following distance, but the driver who got rear-ended should have signaled sooner if they signaled at all,” he said.

However, issues from determining preventability in certain situations can be reduced if proper reporting takes place following an accident.

“If not all facts are able to be determined when evaluating the incident it can be difficult to determine what the reasonable behaviors of both operators should have been. The more details that are available for an incident, the easier it is to classify,” said Candib of Merchants Fleet Management.

First Notice of Loss

First Notice of Loss (FNOL) plays a crucial role in determining whether or not an accident is preventable. Details of the claim are collected and the summary of the claim is distributed to the desired contact in the organization, often someone in a risk manager role.

“The First Notice of Loss provides key details relating to the location of the incident, weather and road conditions as well as traffic conditions and legal limits. All of these factors play into the determination of preventability and since these items are taken close to the time the accident occurred, they are often more accurate than false accounts that can occur later with hindsight,” said Candib of Merchants.

Horrocks of Element said that most companies will adopt a short description for their FNOL, which will help establish what is considered a preventable collision in their operations. This might include acts such as backing into a vehicle or failing to yield.

Candib also added that certain loss notices provide details on preventability determination from an unbiased third party or contacts of witnesses, which can be utilized throughout the claims process.

Kinniry of CEI said that his organization uses a combination of the driver’s verbal description in the FNOL, the police report, when applicable, and the National Safety Council’s guidelines to determine preventability.

Meanwhile, Martines of CCM mentioned that when his organization is taking a loss report from a driver, the person receiving the call from the driver listens intently to what is being recited as well as question the caller to describe the accident almost as if you were trying to have them “paint” a mental picture.

Technology

Further still, with the advent and further implementation of in-vehicle safety technology, in general, fleet drivers are more prepared for avoiding accidents. However, the driver is still the one responsible for safe driving practices.

“With the addition of safety technology, it has become easier to label accidents as preventable because the driver has more vision and increased awareness around his/her vehicle in order to avoid striking another object and/or person. In addition, some motor carriers require their vehicles to have a dashboard mounted video camera that records what is happening in and outside the vehicle. This provides sound evidence as to what caused the crash and the behaviors leading up to the collision,” said Veres of Fleet Response.

However, in terms of considering whether an accident was preventable, the judgement is always brought back to the attentiveness of the driver. This means there is no excuse for drivers to become too reliant on the in-vehicle safety technology.

“In many cases, this technology has given drivers a false sense of security, allowing drivers to feel more comfortable disengaging from the vehicle for brief periods of time and leading to greater amounts of distracted driving. Fleets should make the effort to train drivers in how to properly utilize this technology, thereby increasing the safety of the driver,” said Sloan of Donlen.

Indeed, Kinniry of CEI said the safety technology must act strictly as a tool and not an end-all solution.

“Preventable is preventable regardless of whether or not a driver has safety technology in their fleet vehicle. At CEI, preventability is determined based on the standards set by the National Safety Council.”

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