Auto accidents seem to be an inevitable occurrence in most drivers’ lives, whether they get behind the wheel for personal or work-related reasons. Since most auto accidents can be chalked up to driver error (a full 94 percent according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration1), understanding why they happened and how they can be avoided requires looking beyond the obvious facts to the underlying causes. Your insurance claim data gives you some important information to start from, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
Using claim data to guide prevention starts with acknowledging that almost all accidents are preventable – something insurance companies and transportation experts have known for a long time. Next comes the information gathering and investigation phase, followed by loss analysis, and finally a plan of action for reducing the chances of future incidents. Put these steps together, either on your own or with the help of a Risk Engineering professional, and you’ll find that you have more control over reducing auto liability losses than you expected. A formal Fleet Safety Program that follows ANSI (American National Standards Institute) guidelines is a must for helping to reduce auto liability losses.
Step 1: Assume it was preventable
Sometimes companies won’t start down the path of investigation and prevention after an employee’s auto accident because the accident was deemed the other driver’s fault and therefore considered not preventable. Don’t be fooled. Almost all accidents are preventable when you use the following definitions, which should be at the core of every company’s driver safety program:
- Preventable: The driver could have done something to avoid the accident, even if that means simply driving defensively. Who was primarily at fault, who received a ticket or whether the claim was paid has no bearing on preventability. If there was anything the driver could have done to avoid the collision, then the incident was preventable.
- Non-preventable: An accident that occurred when the vehicle was legally and properly parked, or when properly stopped due to a law enforcement officer, a signal, stop sign or traffic condition.
Odds are that nearly all of your auto liability claims fall under the first definition. The good news is that most preventable accidents are helped by driver training, focusing particularly on defensive driving and distracted driving. Analyzing what’s causing accidents in your company can help you focus your training efforts where they’ll give you the best return.
Step 2: Investigate the accident
The key to preventing auto accidents is in understanding the “why” behind them. Therefore, you need to investigate what led up to the accident as quickly as possible after it happens. Accident investigation is a critical step in protecting your employees and assets, determining the cost of the accident and fulfilling compliance and other legal requirements.
Some general questions to consider when investigating an auto accident include the following:
- Does the accident description given by your employee indicate that he or she is a considerate driver, or is there evidence of poor driving habits?
- Does the accident description indicate good judgment by the driver?
- Was the driver under any physical handicap that could have contributed to the incident?
- Was the vehicle defective without the driver’s knowledge?
- Would taking a route through less congested areas have reduced the hazardous situations encountered?
You should also ask more specific questions based on the type of accident (e.g., sideswipe, pedestrian collision, etc.).
Step 3: Gather the data and look for trends
The claim “accident type” data you receive from your insurance company is only one of the data points you should use to identify auto liability trends, albeit an important one. Accident-type data is much more effective in helping you spot trends when combined with other accident information you gathered and recorded during your thorough investigation of the incident. Looking at the culmination of this information will help you identify frequency and severity trends and track your safety performance over time to see if preventive measures are working.
Companies with large or growing fleets find that an online fleet driver safety and risk management system helps them better manage accident recordkeeping. Your motor vehicle incident recordkeeping procedures should, at a minimum, have the following three components:
- Documentation of causes and corrective action
- Management review of documentation to expedite corrective action
- Analysis of incidents to determine trends, recurring problems and the need for further control measures
Information that helps you track safety performance over time includes loss history, benchmarking data, and data from tracking devices and event recorders (telematics). You should calculate and maintain incident rates in order to track progress over time. There are several ways to calculate incident rates, but the most straightforward is to multiply the number of incidents over a rolling twelve-month period by 100 and divide by the number of vehicles operated.
Step 4: Implement or fine-tune prevention programs to help reduce auto liability losses
Once you spot a trend based on your accident investigation and analysis, you can use fleet management and training programs to address the root cause. Whether you already have these programs in place or need to create them, a Risk Engineering professional can be a great resource. A comprehensive Motor Vehicle Safety Program should serve as your company’s fleet safety foundation, whether your employees are using owned or non-owned vehicles for business. A solid Motor Vehicle Safety Program contains the following components:
- Management commitment/assignment of responsibilities
- Vehicle use policy
- Driver selection
- Incident recording, reporting and analysis
- Employee incident reporting procedures
- Incident review board
- Vehicle selection and maintenance
- Driver training
- Safe driver rules
A driver training program is an essential component and should include two topics that will likely address the majority of your accident causes: defensive driving and distracted driving. Depending on the size of your fleet, you might also want to weigh the cost benefits of incorporating telematics and other technology (such as the crash-avoidance technology available in many newer vehicles) into your fleet operations if you haven’t already.
Examining the types of losses in your auto liability claim data serves as a useful guidepost for reducing losses in the future, but it’s what you do with that information that truly matters. Management commitment, a well-communicated Fleet Safety Program and training are all critical to keeping your employees and the public safe on the road.
Learn more about preventing auto liability losses.
Request a copy of Zurich’s Motor Vehicle Safety Program:
1 U.S. Department of Transportation, Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study. February 2015.