By Julian Carrington, Product Support Analyst, Donlen
Over the past two years, “safety training” has pivoted to instruction on wiping down surfaces and wearing masks. In that time collision statistics have taken a startling turn. We’ve taken our eyes off the road and we may need to re-route. It’s time to get back to the basics of fleet safety.
The distressing numbers speak for themselves. After decades of declines, traffic fatalities and high speed crashes rose during the 2020 COVID shutdowns and have not returned to prior normal levels. The shutdown spike of a 7.2% annual rise in real numbers of deaths (38,680 fatalities) was shocking when contrasted against the decrease in driving volume (13% fewer miles driven).
According to the US Department of Transportation’s 2021 report, there was a decrease in driving volume at the start of the pandemic, but those remaining on the road engaged in riskier behavior.
Speeding, impaired driving and a decrease in seat belt usage appear to be largely at fault, with the numbers highest among younger drivers. Lower seat-belt usage results in increased ejections from vehicles in high speed crashes. During this time period there was a decided increase in extreme speed crashes (20+ miles per hour over the posted limit) and high impact collisions. From increased speeding alone, there was an 11% rise in fatalities. Theories are that some drivers felt that there was an extra measure of safety in open roads and hit the gas.
Apparently, some drivers also felt that there was some leeway in driving impaired. A NHTSA Research Note referring to the shutdown of 2020 states that of the drivers seriously injured or killed “…between mid-March and mid-July, almost two-thirds of drivers tested positive for at least one active drug, including alcohol, marijuana, or opioids.” Breaking this down a little further, positive testing for opioids doubled, and marijuana use rose by 50%.
As we returned to a moderately normal life in 2021, the numbers should have improved—yet they didn’t. In the first half of 2021, motor vehicle fatalities were up 18.4% from 2020, with more than 20,000 fatalities in first half of 2021.
Rising Pedestrian Casualties
Our urban areas have changed and with those changes comes the need for defensive driving amongst an increase in pedestrians, bikers, scooters, and tighter streets due to parking lane restaurant constructions. In major cities, when traffic disappeared in the early days of COVID, pedestrians became much less cautious—a trend that has persisted. These congested spaces are not areas that can tolerate distracted driving. At the same time that pedestrian attitudes have relaxed, there has been a rise in aggressive driving and speeding. It seems that if a driver can see green lights for the next 10 blocks, just like on the freeway, he’ll hit the gas. In 2020 pedestrian deaths increased by 21%.
Increasing pedestrian accidents have actually been an upward trend for the past 10 years with a 30% increase in accidents over that time. A pedestrian has a 10 percent chance of dying when hit by a car at 23 miles per hour, a 25 percent chance at 32 mph, and a 90% chance when hit at 58mph. These percentages rise with age.
Liability, Corporate Image, and Your ESG Program
The question of negligent entrustment was settled long ago. It is a corporate responsibility to perform the due diligence to be certain that anyone operating company equipment has been vetted and trained. Ignoring this responsibility exposes your organization to liability and damage to your organization’s reputation.
Even if you’ve continued to be on top of training, considering the new climate, it may be time to include more defensive driving in your curriculum. From the above statistics, we can see a lot has changed. And just because an accident isn’t your driver’s fault, doesn’t mean that you can’t face litigation and an impact on your organization’s image.
Along with protecting your employees and maintaining a positive corporate image, driver safety should be an element of your ESG program. The rising emphasis on ESG mandates that each organization be a good global citizen. This makes putting safe drivers on the road a corporate responsibility, and is so more than just an annual effort to tick off the box for the insurance discount!
Creating a Culture of Safety
All of this is in your organization’s best interest, but your drivers need to know that safety isn’t just about the cost of accidents. In the end you want your drivers to make it home to their families safely each night. Don’t approach safety training as only a punitive measure in reaction to a specific incident. It makes drivers view safety programs as punishment. Taking a positive approach and communicating that you want everyone to be safe is the beginning of implementing a culture of safety.
Your program should be reactive when necessary, but proactive on a continuing basis. While there will be times that remediation efforts are necessary, it is important that your ongoing program incorporates an approach of positive reinforcement. Company-wide buy-in is key to maintaining a positive safety culture. Therefore, it needs to be a portion of someone’s role, whether that be fleet, HR, or facilities.
While it’s a task to be owned, leadership must make it a genuine mandate and be invested. Your culture should be one of getting in front of accidents—it’s not a matter of if a crash will happen but when. To change the perception of safety training, consider gamification, incentives for positive behavior, and even reward programs such as bonuses. A $1500 budget for safety bonuses is far less costly than even a small accident. An accident with injury can typically cost up to $75,000 and much more for crashes with severe injury—along with the impact to company reputation.
Update Your Current Program
Are you certain that during the past two years with so many other distractions, you’ve also maintained a focus on the fleet safety program? In addition to evaluating Motor Vehicle Records (MVRs) at hiring, reevaluate your new driver training and be certain that it includes training on current risk factors. Before handing over the keys, begin with modules on speeding, avoiding collisions, and distractions. After that continue being proactive by assigning one training module a month.
Additionally, take a look at those drivers transitioning back to the road after working from home. They may only have been driving only once a week and could use some training reinforcement. Perhaps a refresher on today’s top risks could be in order. Consider, at least, a training audit.
The way to untangle a lifetime of problematic driving habits may be through one behavior correction at a time. Creating driver awareness of actions behind the wheel and the choices for safer options can turn accidents into “close calls” which are lessons learned. Keep safety principles top of mind for your employees through continual re-enforcement.
When was the last update to your policy for company vehicles? Review and update, where necessary, your company policy and be certain that every driver has read and signed off on it. You are communicating that you are serious about enforcement.
Monitoring Drivers and Measuring Risk
Training and a corporate safety culture need to be measured for success. You have collected data, but you also need to be able to view it in a meaningful format. You need tools that will provide a comprehensive view of your risk with all safety and operating data in one place: MVRs, accident history, violations, fuel, maintenance, safety training and telematics. This information will allow to you target your training.
Use your telematics program for more than routing. While vehicle routing can be a good safety and sustainability tool, telematics also provides visibility to adverse and aggressive driver behaviors such as rapid acceleration and deceleration, excessive idle time and speeding. You need to create a scorecard for each driver; you can’t correct behavior unless it’s visible to you.
There are disparate pieces of data that have an intertwining impact on your safety program. All of this information needs to be aggregated, scored with an individual driver risk level and put into a format that is easily digestible so that you can pinpoint high risk drivers before they impact your organization’s reputation or bottom line—or even both. Be certain that your driver safety program, telematics and analytics are serving you in ways that are impactful.
While we are (perhaps) seeing the light at the end of this long COVID tunnel, trends remain that may take some time to reverse. To combat these unfortunate developments, you will need to review, evaluate, reinforce and update your safety program to meet today’s challenges. It’s time to be proactive and get ahead of the stats!