When a driver reports being in an “accident,” it implies that no one is at fault. And if no one is at fault, it can’t be prevented. But the truth is that most crashes (a more apt term) are caused by specific driver actions or behaviors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that human error is involved in 94-96% of all motor vehicle crashes. While that may seem like a staggering percentage, it should give fleets hope that many crashes can be prevented.
Focusing on reducing preventable crashes is worth the effort for several reasons. In the United States, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related deaths, so a lot is at stake. They can also significantly impact an organization’s bottom line and do harm to the health and well-being of employees, their families, other motorists, and pedestrians. These seven strategies can reduce preventable crashes and lessen the related financial and human costs.
Strategy 1: Start Early
Reducing preventable crashes can begin before the keys are in the ignition.
“For starters, make certain qualified drivers are put behind the wheel through proper screening such as motor vehicle record checks, driver assessments, and implementing new hire training to give that driver the right tools to drive safely,” said Richard Traister, director of account development for Driving Dynamics.
Strategy 2: Define Responsibilities and Consequences
Once drivers join the fleet, putting a policy in place that outlines expectations for them sets the course for proper driver behavior.
“Ensure your fleet policy specifically addresses preventable accidents,” suggested Eliot Bensel, vice president of account development for CEI Fleet Driver Management. “Is it a zero-tolerance policy, or do you have room for mistakes? How many mistakes? Be clear with drivers. They need to know specifically what will happen when they are involved in a preventable accident. Will they have to pay a deductible out of pocket? Will they have to complete remedial training within a set timeframe? Outline the consequences and specific obligations they will have.”
Strategy 3: Give Drivers Simple Steps to Take
It may not be possible to prevent all crashes, but when fleets and drivers make some simple changes, they can have a significant impact.
“There are many steps drivers can take to reduce preventable collisions, but the most prevalent risks include the ‘Triple Threat’ of speeding, distraction, and fatigue, three of the biggest risks facing drivers today,” said Ed Dubens, founder and CEO of eDriving FLEET.
David Braunstein, president of Together for Safer Roads, cites speeding as a particularly dangerous behavior. “Research has proven many times over that the human body can only withstand a certain amount of kinetic energy,” he said. “What does that mean? If a vehicle – any vehicle – approaches a human at speed, the chances of fatality increases for every mile per hour of increased speed. It’s the combination of speed and vehicle size/mass that makes managing kinetic energy critical to preventing crashes from becoming catastrophic.”
In addition to taking speed seriously, Braunstein said fleets can make some small changes that make a big difference. “Implementing hands-free policies, discouraging left turns, and banning backing of vehicles are all quick interventions that fleets can deploy immediately to help reduce preventable crashes,” he said.
Strategy 4: Track Trends and Train Accordingly
Not every driver is as risky as the next. For that reason, Dubens recommends conducting risk assessments to identify driver risk levels. Adding data from license checks and driver history, as well as level of defensive driving knowledge, and driver attitudes and behaviors to assessments offers an even clearer view of the overall risk.
“Typically, 20% of drivers account for approximately 80% of an organization’s risk, insurance, and liability costs,” Dubens explained. “This highlights the importance of identifying the 20% of drivers most at-risk to prioritize them for training and coaching. Fleets should provide more in-depth training and coaching sessions for those that need it (either drivers involved in a collision or whose risk score reaches a certain threshold) and conduct monthly coaching sessions until the driver’s risk level decreases.”
In addition to assessing driver risk profiles, Bensel suggests taking a close look at what types of collisions are occurring and tailor training accordingly. “Fleets should provide proactive driver training based on past trends of specific preventable accident types,” he said. “Then continue to watch for new trends and adjust training programs accordingly.”
Traister has seen this strategy pay off. “Driving Dynamics has a utility client who was experiencing a very high incidence of their drivers hitting stationary objects and damaging their vehicles, as well as others in backing and parking type events. We constructed targeted driver training to address these preventable incidents and reduced our customer’s associated crashes by 90% in 18 months,” he said. “This is an example of how supplemental and strategic driver training can have a positive impact on a company’s crash rates.”
One way to identify collision trends is to discuss and document each incident. “Conduct post-crash reviews that include the driver, their immediate supervisor, and upper management to evaluate the cause of the crash,” Traister advised. “This promotes accountability and possible remedial actions including safety coaching, at-risk driver training probation or even dismissal.”
Strategy 5: Help Drivers Gain the One Second Advantage
Providing training to address specific behaviors exhibited by risky drivers is an effective strategy, but training all drivers continues to be an important factor in reducing preventable crashes.
“Driving Dynamics’ own curriculum is based on a research study that determined 90% of all traffic crashes can be avoided if a driver had one more second to react and knew what to do with it,” Traister said. “So, for example, one of the most common crash types is the rear-end collision. These crashes are often the result of following too closely. Properly trained drivers know to allow adequate space between vehicles leaving room to escape if the car ahead suddenly stops. We call this gaining the one second advantage. The fact is driver error is the deciding factor in most crashes, not mechanical issues or acts of nature.” Traister said other common behaviors that can be changed through education and practice include backing, intersection, and speeding, which are often caused by aggressive driving, distractions, drunk driving, and improper vehicle operation.
Dubens said training should continue outside of formal lessons. “Support your program with ongoing, regular communication and messaging – both formal and informal – to keep safety top of mind,” he suggested. “Appoint road safety ‘ambassadors’ within the company to support this messaging, and coach middle managers to ensure they’re engaged in the program and are advocates of your mission.”
Bensel said fleets should share resources company-wide, not just with those who drive fleet vehicles. “Use your organization’s communication tools to promote a safety culture. Share articles about safe driving, recognize top drivers, provide updates about legislation that impact drivers on the roads,” he said. “Remember, nearly every employee is a driver, not just the ones in company-provided vehicles.”
Strategy 6: Equip Managers
More often than not, creating a safety culture starts at the top. Drivers can be asked to exhibit safe driving behaviors, but if management isn’t on board, it’s easier for drivers to fall out of (or feel forced out of) good habits.
For instance, delivery drivers who are asked to follow speed limits but are also tasked with making more deliveries faster each day must choose between meeting performance goals or meeting safety goals. “Drivers are on the road every day; they know the roads in and out, and they have a great sense of realistic delivery schedules. Listen and set them up for success,” Braunstein advised. “Fleet managers must have realistic expectations about deliveries. A safety culture will develop when management and drivers understand that this is an organizational priority.”
Dubens said that one-on-one interactions between managers and drivers are one of the most effective strategies available. “The backbone of our approach is the manager-led coaching of the higher risk drivers identified through combining their incident, collision, and license violation data with their telematics performance events to identify a customer’s most at-risk drivers for further support and coaching,” he said. “Sitting down with your manager and agreeing to a risk reduction plan is the most powerful intervention in our portfolio.”
Another top-down approach is to include all levels of management in driver performance updates. “Prep stakeholders such as drivers’ managers and executives on the information they will receive and the actions they need to take to both praise good drivers and address poor drivers,” Bensel advises. “Then provide clear and consistent information to them that is easily actionable (e.g., the Top 10 Drivers and the Bottom 10 Drivers). Make drivers aware of this information sharing.”
Strategy 7: Leverage Technology
Technology can help fleet managers get their arms around what behaviors are occurring on roadways as well as prevent some of the most common causes of crashes.
“Technology like telematics allows fleets to monitor driving behaviors,” Bensel said. “Be sure this is tied into your risk management platform for incorporating detected behaviors into overall risk scoring, and assignment of remedial training, as well as easier administration.”
Dubens agrees that telematics is an effective strategy to improve driver behavior, thereby reducing preventable crashes. “Utilize smartphone telematics to measure driving behaviors such as harsh acceleration, braking and cornering, speeding, and phone distraction,” he said. “One published case study centered on Ecolab who conducted a pilot of our Mentor smartphone app with 500 drivers across three regions for six months. At the end of the pilot, Ecolab had experienced a statistically significant 30% decrease in collisions per million miles (CPMM) in pilot regions, compared with an increase of 23% in non-pilot regions.”
When Ecolab rolled out the program to all 12,000 drivers across 10 divisions in the U.S. and Canada the company continued to see results. CPMM improved 10% in 2019, the largest year-on-year reduction since 2014. “Focus on quality of coaching makes a difference,” Dubens said. “Sustained CPMM reduction came when focus was put on on-time coaching completions and quality reviews/manager follow-up.”
Vehicle technology can also be the difference between frequent crashes and a safer fleet. “Poorly designed vehicles with extensive blinds spots are a source of preventable crashes,” Braunstein said. “Vehicles coming to market are equipped with more safety technology installed and aftermarket safety telematics are playing an important role in reducing crashes in fleets.”
New York City, home to the country’s largest municipal fleet of nearly 30,000 vehicles, recently began installing new cameras on each side of their fleet vehicles with the goal of eliminating blind spots that previously obscured pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles from being seen. “This inherently makes the city’s streets safer by allowing drivers to see angles that are normally obstructed,” Braunstein said.
Although technology is helpful, Braunstein was quick to point out that it’s not a silver bullet. “Pairing safety technology with training is critical and a point many fleet managers are challenged to address,” he said. “Technology can only do so much and installing safety technology on your fleet does not mean the fleet is safe. It starts with leadership within an organization to make road safety a priority.”
Traister provided another caveat: Technology is only effective if it’s used properly. “Provide drivers with well-maintained vehicles equipped with technologies such as telematics and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. Make sure drivers understand how these automated technologies function to avoid counteracting the intended safety effects,” Traister said.
Reducing Preventable Accidents Is a Responsibility and a Privilege
The key to reducing crashes is acknowledging that most are preventable.
“Collisions should not be viewed as an inevitable part of driving for work,” Duebens said. “Unfortunately, for many people, driving is the riskiest thing they do at work, and companies have a legal obligation to do what they can to protect their safety.”
Although no one wants to be in a crash, placing a focus on reducing preventable crashes is perhaps more important for fleets than it is for civilian motorists. “Fleets travel more miles on the roads than anyone else, so they have a stake in modeling the best road using behaviors because it can have an outsized impact on how everyone shares the roads safely,” Braunstein said.
Fortunately, safety technology is advancing every day. But Bensel says fleets shouldn’t wait — and taking action now pays off. “While technology advances, it is going to be a long time before preventable accidents are a thing of the past. Until then, you need a plan in place to reduce these incidents,” he said. “Your fleet drivers impact those around them on the road, and the investments you make in promoting driver safety to reduce accidents will make a positive contribution to the social good. For organizations that prioritize ESG (Environmental, Social, Corporate Governance), accident reduction provides a measurable and reportable benefit to society as a whole.”