There are simple additions fleet managers can make to their safety programs to save money and
heartache for all involved.  -  Photo: Kehn Hermano

There are simple additions fleet managers can make to their safety programs to save money and heartache for all involved.

Photo: Kehn Hermano

No one hopes for a collision, but it’s smart to have a plan for if—and when—it happens. Repairs on commercial vehicles can range from $16,000 to $75,000, and then there are indirect costs: downtime, medical expenses and legal bills.

Truck drivers are among the most regulated and defensive drivers on the road. They attend frequent refresher trainings and benefit from in-cab technologies for live coaching. Beyond that, they transmit real-time updates for speed, position and vehicle health back to dispatch, and enjoy reward systems for positive driving behaviors. Still, some collisions remain unavoidable.

There are simple additions fleet managers can make to their safety programs to save money and heartache for all involved. Outfitting your fleet’s cabs with the right technology should be every manager’s first step to reduce revenue losses and stay on the road.

The Real Cost of a Collision

Last year, a Zonar field services technician guiding an onsite training noticed a large open area at the back of the customer’s fleet yard where several trucks were parked nose to end. Each truck appeared to have sustained some sort of damage. He nudged the fleet manager walking alongside him, joking that it “looked like a graveyard.” The manager sighed. “Sort of,” he replied. “All of these trucks are actively involved in insurance litigation.”

Every year, there are over 500,000 truck-related collisions in the U.S. With the average heavy and commercial truck settlement totaling about $35,000, $17.5 billion is at stake each year for the insurance companies, attorneys, plaintiffs and respondents involved in collision litigation.

If the collision is severe, costs may skyrocket and protracted insurance claims could sideline a vehicle for months or years. That’s not to mention the microeconomic details triggered by a collision: increased commuting time if a major highway gets shut down, repairs to the roadway, infrastructure and other property damage as a result of an collision and even hazmat costs associated with the cleanup — particularly with rolled-over trucks. Fleets’ reputations are on the line, too, all while contending with persistent national driver shortages and strain on the supply chain.

Commercial vehicle collisions and their legal and monetary reverberations are a national issue that will require a full-scale solution.

Tech Tells the Full Story

Consider circumstances in which a third party is at fault. A truck driver may respond exactly as trained, but what if there are no witnesses? While insurance adjusters can help piece together facts based on the damage and roadside photographs, collisions can be emotionally charged—no one is happy to face the anxiety of the moment, the realities of repairs, the possible need for a replacement vehicle or, in some cases, the resulting injury.

Fallible recollections alone might paint a picture wherein the fleet is responsible, even if that was not the case, placing undue blame on the truck driver.

Now, consider the same circumstance, but this time the truck is outfitted with dual-facing cameras and an integrated in-cab tablet platform collecting real-time, continuous metrics on speed, location and vehicle health at the time of the collision.

A more robust on-scene police report including those details can provide context for the involved parties’ memories of the incident and help guide insurance adjusters’ decisions.

More than half of fleets report receiving insurance discounts from their use of in-cab cameras, and many experienced reductions in collisions overall. This crucial and unbiased perspective of the events, including defensive maneuvers and split-second personal safety decisions that may not have otherwise been accounted for, is integral to exonerating drivers early on and mitigating revenue loss from protracted plaintiff insurance claims.

Loss of Use and the Need for National Tech Guidelines

Most states support trucking companies’ right to sue, not only for physical damages to a fleet’s equipment but also for lost revenue and profits. However, that doesn’t always mean that the payoff is equivalent to the amount lost during the course of litigation.

Loss of use or loss of profit recovery mechanisms vary widely from state to state, but most states distinguish “loss of use” from “loss of profit.” Policy gray areas across states demonstrate the complexity of the issue in the difference of thousands of dollars in damages. For example, in Texas, owners of wrecked vehicles may only recover the value of the lost vehicle. In Georgia, lost profits cannot be recovered if they’re speculative. This makes it difficult for new businesses without long track records to get money they may be owed.

States don’t account for additional revenue loss streams such as driver downtime and rerouting to account for sidelined trucks, and there is no national standard for reimbursement.

Where policy falls short, technology can help. An official incident report from the scene provides exceptional exculpatory evidence for drivers and fleets, particularly when it includes comprehensive visual evidence and real-time vehicle telematics for indisputable context.

A national standard for the technology used in cabs would close the gaps of variable state laws. With a reliable set of data for law enforcement and insurers to review, fleets could avoid many or all direct and indirect costs of a collision. Until we reach zero collisions, the U.S. needs federal technology standards that make investigations smoother and roads safer.

About the author: Fred Fakkema is the vice president, Safety and Compliance, for Zonar Systems. He is the Past President for the FBI National Academy Associates—Washington Chapter.