Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

For the past two years vehicle crash fatalities have risen in the U.S. While vehicle crash data hasn’t been collected for 2017, data from 2016 and 2015 shows that even with vehicle safety technology evolving, the roads haven’t become all that much safer.

In 2016, 37,461 people died in the U.S. from a fatal traffic crash, a 5.6% rise from 2015, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2015, that number totaled 35,092, an 8.1% increase from 2014 and the largest year-over-year increase in nearly 50 years.

Before 2015, vehicle crash fatalities had been on the decline since 2005 — with the exception of 2012, where fatality rates rose slightly.

One culprit that is often brought up as a reason for this increase is the rise of distracted driving.

While fleet drivers are generally more attentive and practice more safe-driving techniques, they still have to share the same roads with the general public. And, as data shows, vehicle safety technology hasn’t quite made up for the fact that other factors, such as distractions caused by smartphones, are leading to more accidents.

This is why companies such as ARI, Corporate Claims Management, Element Fleet Management, Emkay, Enterprise Fleet Management, and Merchants Fleet Management advocate the importance of proper training, procedures and technologies such as telematics.

These companies acknowledge the benefit that features such as automatic braking and lane-keep assist can bring, but also note that these technologies are only one part of a full-fledged safety program.

“Driver safety programs are still the biggest things fleets can do to reduce crash data. Getting drivers aware of a safety practice that’ll keep everyone around them safe is still the one thing that makes a difference, and it’s statistically proven,” said Rich Tillotson, vice president of Business Development for Corporate Claims Management Inc.

Rich Radi, director, ARI Driver Excellence, echoed that sentiment as well.

“Implementing a comprehensive driver safety program is without question the most vital best practice [in preventing accidents]. An effective driver safety program begins during the pre-hire process, continues through onboarding, and then continuously monitors driving behavior to provide proactive, personalized training that helps drivers improve skills in areas of need,” Radi said.

Data courtesy of National Highway Safety Administration.

Data courtesy of National Highway Safety Administration.

Rate of Accidents among Fleets

Accident rates among fleets haven’t really mirrored the overall rate of accidents within the U.S. Where the U.S. has seen an overall rise in vehicle fatalities due to accidents, the number of claims among fleets have stayed mostly flat, with a few of the companies interviewed for this story noting a slight increase.

Tillotson from Corporate Claims Management expressed some disappointment in the fact that the number of claims among his clients has remained flat instead of fallen, given that vehicle technology today has come a long way since that of a few years back.

“We haven’t really seen a change in accident rates in the last year. It’s interesting that this is the case with all the technical additions to vehicles such as emergency brake stopping and lane detection. All of that, you would think, would have contributed to an accident rate that’s going down for everybody. But, our analysis shows that the benefits of this technology are offset by the technology of communications such as texting with cellphones. So, we don’t see a gross change in accident rates,” said Tillotson.

Companies noted that factors such as continued observance of driver safety policies, frequent MVR checks to ensure that drivers that could pose a potential danger to the road are trained in safe driving techniques, and the use of telematics data are aiding in keeping the number of claims flat among their clients.

Connie Brinkmann, assistant vice president of Fleet Risk Management for Enterprise Fleet Management noted that the lower cost of fuel has allowed more vehicles to clock in higher mileage throughout the year. This, she added, has increased the opportunities for road collisions to occur.

This statement is also backed up by data collected by the DOT and NHTSA; both 2015 and 2016 have seen growth in miles driven in the U.S. In 2015, the organizations reported that vehicle miles traveled had risen 3.5%, the highest year-over-year increase in nearly 25 years. In 2016, vehicle miles traveled rose another 2.2% year-over-year.

However, the leading reason that nearly all of the companies interviewed for this story gave for a rise in accident claims was distracted driving. Whether it’s distracted driving from drivers paying less attention to the road due to assuming the vehicle safety technology will compensate for their reduced attentiveness or due to smartphone use, distracted driving is a large issue.

“Driver distraction is a leading contributor to accidents. Driver distraction can be caused by unfamiliarity with new vehicle technology as well as mobile phone use,” said Brinkmann.

Best Practices in Reducing Accidents

Implementing a safety policy with proper training was the very first thing that many of the companies interviewed for this story brought up when asked for best practices in reducing accidents. Driver scorecards, frequent ordering of MVRs, and using telematics data were also brought up.

“Many of the best practices and tools for preventing accidents have been improved upon in the last few years as our ability to share information and interpret vast sums of data has exploded. But we still always order MVRs, review and track all collisions, provide drivers with training and safety communications, keep driver scorecards with as many data points as possible, and promote a strong safety culture with consequences for irresponsibility,” said Eric Strom, director, Accident and Risk Product for Element Fleet Management.

The first step, and one of the key measures, in ensuring that fleet safety policies are successful begins even before a driver is hired, noted Radi of ARI. During the hiring process, prospective drivers need to be told exactly what will be expected of them.

“A new hire driving policy acknowledgement along with testing for comprehension properly sets expectations for driving performance. During the onboarding process, a proactive skills assessment accompanied by targeted training helps to mitigate risk,” Radi added.

Emily Candib, assistant director of products management for Merchants Fleet Management, also stressed that along with explaining safety policies to prospective drivers, extra steps should be taken to ensure that prospective drivers understand all aspects of a company’s safety policies. Drivers should fully understand the expectations and consequence of properly or improperly following a company’s safety policy, she added.

“Drivers will be more receptive to policies if implemented from the beginning of their tenure. Additionally, safety will be part of their everyday routine and can prevent accidents,” said Candib.

Brinkmann from Enterprise Fleet Management also agreed with both Candib and Radi, but added that along with informing drivers of the consequences of improperly following safety policies, positive incentives should also be presented to drivers.

“It is also important for companies to hold employees accountable. Companies that reward ‘safe’ driving often have fewer losses — particularly when ‘unknown’ losses have a direct impact on employee performance,” Brinkmann said.

And, stressing the importance of safety doesn’t end when an employee first joins the company, noted Michelle Lewis, manager, accident management services for Emkay. Companies must continuously reinforce the importance of safety to its drivers.

“The culture of a company can significantly impact driver safety if the employees feel it is important to the organization. Employees must feel that a safety program is not the flavor of the month,” Lewis said.

MVRs are another tool that help keep accident rates down, many of the company representatives agreed. MVRs have been in use for a long time, but it’s for good reason: to ensure that fleets have a high-end view of how their drivers behave on the road.

“Continuous MVR reviews and monitoring driver behavior not only uncovers poor driving habits, but also helps to predict which drivers are most likely to be involved in an accident and can automatically provide the information or training necessary to improve safety,” said Radi.

Strom from Element added that MVRs should be ordered frequently, as the longer a fleet takes to order MVRs, the greater the chance that an employee who should no longer be behind the wheel of a company car will continue to do so.

Another best practice in reducing accident rates that many of the companies interviewed for this story brought up was leveraging the use of telematics and the data that it can provide to a company. By leveraging this data, companies can identify where the problem areas in their fleet are and target them in order to take action.

“Telematics can help highlight trends in driver behavior that lead to more accidents. Telematics can pinpoint which drivers take the same risks over and over again better than any other method. Remedial training can be assigned early to address these at-risk fleet drivers,” said Strom of Element.

Red Hawk Fire & Security

On the coast of Florida, in the city of Boca Raton lies the headquarters of Red Hawk Fire & Security, a company that specializes in the design, installation, integration, monitoring, and onsite servicing of fire and security life safety solutions.

The company has locations across the U.S., has over 1,200 employees and services more than 50,000 companies and institutions.

In 2014, the company began experiencing an uptick in its accident rate. To address this problem, the company took a two-pronged approach that essentially covered all aspects of a proper safety policy that the companies interviewed for this story went over.

Red Hawk’s driver safety policy required that every driver complete six mandatory safety modules. The company’s fleet manager chose these modules which addressed subjects such as understanding the company’s fleet policy and methods to avoid crashes.

Once a driver completed all six modules, his or her performance would be recorded and incorporated into his or her annual performance assessment. Positive incentives would be rewarded to drivers who scored well.

As part of its revamped safety initiative Red Hawk also switched to a new telematics provider to help identify and correct poor driving behavior among its drivers. Once the telematics data identified a driver exhibiting poor driving behavior, the company’s fleet administrator would be notified and the driver would be assigned training in safe driving techniques, with the goal of ultimately correcting his or her unsafe behavior.

Since implementing this safety policy in 2014 in partnership with ARI, Red Hawk has see n a more-than $1 million reduction in liability costs from reductions in the number of preventable accidents and reductions in cost per incident for those that do occur.

Claims costs have also continued to decline year-after-year. In 2015, Red Hawk’s total claims spend totaled $349,500 with 74 accidents; through the third quarter of 2016 claims costs totaled $131,381, with 30 accidents.

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