Maximizing the Safety of Your Fleet

Vehicle safety: It is paramount among fleets, and especially those, like utility companies, in the business of customer service.

Jun 1st, 2008
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Vehicle safety: It is paramount among fleets, and especially those, like utility companies, in the business of customer service. Every time a driver heads out in a truck to respond to a service request, he is putting his life and his organization’s reputation at stake.

There are myriad safety devices and technologies available to fleets to help them protect their drivers. Vehicles are outfitted with anti-lock brakes, seat belts, airbags, lane departure warning devices and electronic stability controls. Driver training includes classroom instruction, workbooks, simulators, on-the-road evaluations and feedback and periodic “refresher” courses. Yet, despite outfitting their fleets with safer, “smarter” vehicles and employing the best instruction, many organizations are watching collision rates hold steady (at best) or increase, and their bottom lines erode as costs associated with risky driving, including increased fuel consumption and skyrocketing insurance premiums, continue to mount.

Research has proven that smarter, safer vehicles offer drivers a false sense of security, lulling them into the thinking that they can drive faster than the speed limit and take other risks because their vehicles are outfitted with the latest safety gadgets and will protect them. Safety training is helpful, but the type of training is key to maintaining safe driving.

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Driver Risk Management solutions that are behavior based and capture actual risky driving behaviors using audio and video and combine this with expert analysis and driver coaching present the most effective way to help fleets proactively address the safety threats their drivers pose and keep them safe. They also help organizations preserve their corporate reputations and regulatory rankings and directly impact their bottom lines by driving down vehicle damages, workers’ compensation and personal injury claims costs and the related administrative and legal fees.

The best Driver Risk Management solutions do even more — extrapolating trends and intelligence from risky driving behavior data gathered across industries and types of vehicles and enabling organizations to make better business decisions based on this information. Imagine, for instance, that evidence of risky driving behaviors gathered via a Driver Risk Management solution reveal that utility drivers who operate company vehicles at certain times of the day or on specific roadways are more likely to be involved in collisions than those who travel at different times and on alternate routes. Organizations might alter schedules and routes accordingly and customize coaching to improve specific driving skills deemed lacking in these instances.

Recently, Risk InfoCenter by DriveCam revealed that more than 75 percent of intersection collisions could have been avoided if drivers had been more visually attentive — looking farther ahead, not zoning out, scanning — before entering and crossing intersections. Analysts skilled in reviewing audio and video evidence of risky driving concluded this after analyzing intersection collision-specific data gathered in DriveCam’s repository of more than seven million risky driving events. Analysts further concluded that 39 percent of the intersection collisions they studied could have been avoided if drivers had simply looked left-right-left, a fundamental driving skill, before entering the intersection.

The results of the study underscore the value of Driver Risk Management solutions that are based in analytics and help organizations uncover the root cause of risky driving behavior. In the specific example listed above, it was neither cell phone usage/driver distractions nor lack of experience (two commonly suspected contributors in vehicle crashes) that resulted in intersection collisions, but rather a violation of a simple tenet of safe driving. Looking left-right-left is something anyone who has received driving training should be familiar with, but more likely than not has filed away and forgotten — much like long division — after months or years of repeatedly not doing this. As time passes and drivers continue to cruise through intersections unscathed, the risky driving behavior is reinforced until one day, conditions are such (e.g. another driver runs a red light) that a collision occurs.

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So, what does this mean for utility fleets? How do you ensure you are maximizing the safety of your fleet, protecting your corporate reputation, delivering superior service and driving down vehicle and insurance claims costs? Take proper care of your vehicles and train your drivers well. Ensure they understand that safety is paramount within your organization and reward them for operating safely. If you already have invested in a Driver Risk Management solution or are thinking about doing so, make sure you are getting the most from the intelligence the solution is gathering about your fleet. Leverage these insights to make better business decisions and increase safety within your organization.

The best Driver Risk Management solutions triage risk, identifying the riskiest behaviors (e.g. falling asleep at the wheel, running a stop sign) and filtering out those events not attributable to driving risk (e.g. rough terrain and potholes that trigger event recorders to save footage). They assign predictive risk scores that calculate the likelihood of collision and enable fleets to hone in on drivers most in need of coaching. Driver Risk Management solutions that are able to identify trends in behavior not only among individual drivers within a fleet, but across locations, fleets and even different industries and vehicle types enable organizations to benchmark their levels of safety and begin leveraging analytics to answer the questions “Why is this happening?” and, “What will happen next?”

This type of analysis enables businesses to make better decisions while also making it possible for them to predict and prepare for future events, such as providing a risky driver the right coaching to prevent a collision.

Following are risky driving insights specific to the utilities industry:

  • DriveCam’s utility customers report that rear-end collisions are their number three most common incident, trailing only backing incidents and hitting fixed objects.
  • In its research of these incidents, DriveCam found that 94 percent of the time the trailing vehicle was responsible for the rear-end collision.
  • In those instances when the trailing vehicle was responsible for the collision:
    • Thirty-nine percent of the time the trailing vehicle had a following distance of 1.5 seconds or less; and
    • Thirty-six percent of drivers looked away from the forward view just prior to the crash.
  • With average driver reaction time at around one second, it is clear that a following distance of 1.5 seconds is not enough. Maintaining good following distance is essential.
  • DriveCam’s research reveals that 40 percent of these rear-end collisions occurred in the right lane where interference with traffic flow, in the form of driveways, intersections, parked vehicles and pedestrians, is most common.
    • When feasible, utility drivers should select a different lane.
    • When right lane driving is necessary, drivers should vigilantly look for threats ahead and to the sides that could interrupt the traffic flow in their lane.
  • Thirty-three percent of the time, the rear-end crashes DriveCam analyzed involved a “deceptive” action by the lead vehicle. For instance, the driver started to go and then stopped, or the driver began to turn and then changed his mind. Drivers should not make any assumptions about other drivers’ actions.

(Source: Risk InfoCenterTM by DriveCam)

About the Author: Del Lisk is vice president of safety services at DriveCam Inc., a global Driver Risk Management company that reduces claims costs and saves lives by improving driving behavior.

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