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Preventability of Motor Vehicle Collisions

Tips from The Hartford - June 2009

A significant expense for almost any wholesaler-distributor is the cost of commercial automobile insurance. One way of maintaining or lowering this expense is to prevent or minimize motor vehicle accidents. Here are tools and tips you can use to protect your business and avoid costly accidents.

Management and fleet supervisors should establish standards for defensive driving in any type of fleet safety program. The overall performance of the drivers should be evaluated fairly and on a consistent basis. When an accident occurs, the events leading up to the accident, the causes and responsible conditions, the collision and the post accident events leading up to the accident events must be carefully evaluated. Driver errors are one of the factors that should be considered. The standard, which should be applied, is the concept of accident preventability.

What is a Preventable Collision?

The National Safety Council (www.nsc.org) (NSC), defines a preventable collision as one in which the driver failed to do everything that they reasonably could have done to avoid it. The American Trucking
Association, (www.truckline.com) (ATA), uses the following rule to determine the preventability of a collision: “Was the vehicle driven in such a way to make due allowance for the conditions of the road, weather, and traffic and to also assure that the mistakes of other drivers did not involve the driver in a collision?”

In both definitions the issue is one that relates to defensive driving, not to legal culpability. The fact that a driver, who becomes involved in a vehicle collision, is not legally charged doesn’t mean that the driver couldn’t have avoided it. When a fleet operation moves from reviewing only collisions where the driver has been charged to reviewing collisions for preventability, a significant step forward has been made in controlling its overall vehicle accident frequency.

Defensive Driving: Reviewing collisions for preventability promotes defensive driving. Defensive driving can be defined as driving to prevent accidents in spite of the incorrect actions of others and adverse driving conditions, such as light, weather, road, traffic, vehicle condition and your physical and mental state. With this as the standard, it is normally true that when a driver makes an error or fails to act reasonably as a result of the errors or other drivers, the accident is considered preventable.

Legal Liability: When judging accidents for preventability or non-preventability, it is important to remember the even when there is no legal liability, an accident may have been prevented. Drivers sometimes have difficulty in understanding why their accident was preventable when the other party was deemed at fault and cited with a traffic violation. The concept of defensive driving must be explained in detail to newly hired drivers, and all professional drivers need to be reminded that they are expected to make defensive driving a priority when they operate their vehicle.

Preventability is a common practice in many motor vehicle fleets, and along with driver accountability helps in reducing vehicle accident frequency. It may also be used as the basis for Safe Driver Award programs, safety incentives and other accident prevention programs.

Fair and Honest Decision: Preventability involves making a fair and honest decision. A fair decision may only be reached when all the facts are uncovered and complete details of the collision are obtained. The decision of preventability should be made on the basis on what the driver did or did not reasonably do to prevent or avoid the collision. An indication of preventability occurs when there is a citation issued or evidence of a violation of the law. However if there is no violation or citation, it does not make the collision non-preventable. After all the information and reports have been obtained and assembled, the collision must be determined to be preventable or non-preventable. How this is done is and who makes the decision varies from fleet to fleet.

In some companies the fleet safety director, safety director or a supervisor determines if the accident is preventable. In other cases an Accident Review Board makes the decision. To fairly hold drivers accountable they should be trained in the concepts of preventability and in defensive driving. Drivers will not understand the process unless they understand why and how they are held accountable. It must be explained that most collisions result from driver error. The key to the definition of preventability is the word “reasonable” because the driver could have stayed home, but a professional driver’s job is to drive, so the concept of “reasonable” is applied.

There is often a relationship between preventability and defensive driving.

A Defensive Driver’s Profile is:

  1. Commits NO driving errors.
  2. Makes due allowance for lack of skill or improper driving practices of others.
  3. Adjust driving to compensate for unusual weather, road and traffic conditions.
  4. Not tricked into a collision by unsafe actions of pedestrians or other drivers.
  5. Alert to collision inducing situations.
  6. Recognizes the need for preventative action in advance.
  7. Takes necessary action to prevent a collision.

Accident Review Board: If management and the drivers want a more formal process for determining preventability, an Accident Review Board or Committee should be developed. The board is especially effective in deciding borderline cases. Consider the following make-up of the committee:

  • Fleet Safety Supervisor or Safety Director (Serve as chairman and is fully trained in accident prevention, preventability, defensive driving).
  • Operations or Transportation Supervisor (Familiar with the operating rules such as schedules, routes, hours of work, speed limits and related subjects).
  • Maintenance Department Employee (Familiar with the mechanical abilities of the school bus).
  • Two Drivers

The Fleet Safety Supervisor or Safety Director should present the accident report information to the members and direct the Board or Committee discussions. Advice should be given on preventative measures, but they should not enter into the discussions or decision of preventability other than to clarify the facts of the collision or the case.

Despite the fact that each accident must be judged individually, experience over the years in fleet safety has shown certain types of accidents are preventable on the part of the driver. A listing of preventable accidents may be obtained from the National Safety Council or from The Hartford’s “Guide for Determining
Preventability of Motor Vehicle Accidents” (S332.720). The listings are intended as a general guideline; they cannot address every collision or accident that may occur.

Non-Preventable Collisions: Some non-preventable collisions include the following circumstances:
• Struck in rear by other vehicle
These are Non-Preventable if the collision occurs:
– While proceeding in proper lane of traffic at a safe and legal speed
– While waiting to make a turn from a proper lane
– While stopped in traffic due to existing conditions or in compliance with a traffic sign, signal or officer
• Struck while legally and properly parked

Materials available from The Hartford Loss Control Department: To assist in developing information as a result of a vehicle accident, The Hartford Loss Control Department has the following materials for background
information:
• The Vehicle Accident Review (S331.715), which is to be completed by the driver, supervisor and accident review board.
• The Supervisory Investigation Form (SRE-354), which is to be completed by the driver’s supervisor.
• Driver Improvement CD available that includes an approximate 45-60 minute driver fleet safety conference on “Preventability”.

Please contact your Hartford Loss Control Consultant for this information.

Summary

The concepts of preventability and defensive driving are essential to the operation of a fleet safety program.
A fleet safety supervisor must diligently work to create awareness of not only the importance of preventability, but also the fleet and defensive driving procedures involved. Providing adequate training as well as holding drivers accountable for preventable accidents will not only reduce the vehicle accident frequency but improve the fleet operations and the company’s bottom line.


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Resources

“Motor Fleet Safety Supervision, Principles and Practices,” National Committee For Motor Fleet Supervision Training.

“Motor Fleet Safety Manual,” National Safety Council, http://www.nsc.org

Guide for Determining Preventability of Motor Vehicle Accidents, The Hartford Financial Services
Group, Inc.

Visit The Hartford’s Loss
Control Web site at http://www.thehartford.com/corporate/losscontrol/

Disclaimer

The information provided in these materials is of a general nature, based on certain assumptions. The content of these materials may omit certain details and cannot be regarded as advice that would be applicable to all businesses. As such, this information is provided for informational purposes only. Readers seeking resolution of specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns regarding this topic should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. The background presented is not a substitute for a thorough loss control survey of your business or operations or an analysis of the legality or appropriateness of your business practices. The information provided should not be considered legal advice.

The Hartford does not warrant that the information of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. Further, The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation will result in compliance with any health, fire or safety standards or codes, or any local, state, or federal ordinance, regulation, statute or law including, but not limited to, any nationally recognized life, building or fire safety code or any state or federal privacy or employment law.) The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf, or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations, operations or practices are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Possession of these materials by a licensed insurance producer does not mean that such producer is an authorized agent of The Hartford. To ascertain whether a producer is a Hartford agent please contact your state’s Department of Insurance or The Hartford at 1-888-203-3823.

The NAW Service Corporation receives compensation from The Hartford for NAW's endorsement and promotion of the commercial insurance products and services of The Hartford. NAW and NAW Service Corporation are not licensed insurance producers or agents of The Hartford. All Hartford insurance products and services are sold through licensed producers or independent agents of The Hartford.

©2007 The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reprinted, transmitted or otherwise reproduced or disseminated by any means, including electronically.