Back when the Interstate Highway System was still a dream and computer software had yet to be dreamed up, the great wit Robert Benchley offered this sage advice for avoiding “habitual” accidents: Stay in bed. All day. “Even then,” he added, “there is always the chance you will fall out.”
Truck fleet managers can't duck their safety responsibility anymore than Benchley could hide under the covers from his editor. Fortunately for all, the safety risks involved in running a trucking operation may be inevitable but they are not unmanageable.
More science than art, safety risk management turns the old saw about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure into real currency for trucking operations, their drivers and the motorists with whom they share the road.
Despite its crucial role in protecting the bottom line from being swamped by insurance, accident and litigation costs, safety risk management has largely not benefited from the kind of computerization that has enhanced so many other areas of fleet management since the 1980s.
That's begun to change in a big way over the past year. Most notably, two service providers — one an insurer, the other a consultant — have designed and developed comprehensive computerized risk management programs and are making them available directly to truck fleet customers.
But why computerize risk management? In a word, efficiency. Peter Van Dyne, a loss-prevention technical director for Liberty Mutual, points out that while the insurer doesn't endorse any software programs for risk management, “companies that end up with lower crash records are often the ones using computerized data” to more effectively wield such management tactics as adjusting driver work schedules or determining which drivers are most in need of training or re-training.
Van Dyne says many fleets have been successful mining the data that comes off their trucks' engine control module (ECM), especially by working with such driver-performance details as unnecessary delays and “hot brake' incidents. He says software can make it easier to extract and analyze such data, especially in larger operations.
Whether or not software is deployed, Van Dyne says that risk management should “not be about picking on” drivers but rather finding ways to make improvements in their work performance.
“The software may help analyze the data but the follow-up with drivers is crucial,” Van Dyne advises. ‘When it comes to software,” he adds, “keep in mind the features provided and the ease of use of any system. We suggest looking for features that help you, the manager, focus on where the risk-related issues are.”
Software features he suggests considering include the ability to look at individual driver performance — especially critical when slip-seating — ease of downloading, and summarizing of data for efficient use. Key data points should include speeding beyond a set parameter, top speeds and idling stats.
As for downloading, Van Dyne reasons, speed counts. “Whether it's by a wireless LAN or transmitted to a terminal by satellite, you want to shorten the time between events and your analysis and response. The more frequent and more prompt feedback to drivers is, the more helpful it will be,” he advises.
Through its Fleet IQ onboard computer system, Penske Truck Leasing, according to onboard technology product manager Mike Flynn, can provide its customers with useful information, including elements pertaining to driver risk management.
“What Fleet IQ does is pull what we call the truck's ‘Black Box’ ECM data and package it into management reports,” Flynn explains. “The customer can review two-minute data ‘snapshots’ of engine-related events, such as rapid decelerations, speeding and brake applications per mile, on an operational profile report we furnish.
“Unlike a traditional onboard computer,” he continues, “our system appends the GPS data and moves it off the vehicle wirelessly via a cell or satellite link.”
Flynn says the system was designed with Penske's full-service lease customers in mind. Fleet IQ is offered to them as an extra-cost lease option with a monthly fee in three levels. “It is a simple and straightforward web-based solution that we've been offering since March ‘04. There's no big upfront cost for users,” he adds “They pay for it much like a cellphone plan.”
Two other new risk-management systems — one released by a major insurer, the other by an established consulting firm — are aimed at the broader trucking market.
According to Jim York, manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, the insurer developed its Virtual Fleet Risk Manager (VFRM) in partnership with Interactive Driving Systems to provide customers with a suite of risk-management solutions that can be individually customized.
York says a key component of the VFRM software is what Zurich terms “Driver Indexing.” As its name suggests, this feature integrates data from various sources to “index” a fleet's drivers from those most at risk to those least at risk of having an accident or incident while on duty.
The data feeding the Indexing portion of VFRM may include behavioral information, training records, fuel efficiency figures, crash and “near hit” reports, moving violations, and customer feedback.
Using statistical modeling techniques, this data is integrated to assign each driver a safety quotient (or rank) that determines their place along the Index. Once the system is set up, any new data input on the driver will automatically raise or lower their standing within the Index.
The overall strength of the VFRM system is integration. Integrated data generates the Driver Index, the outcomes of which feed other VFRM modules to help determine when intervention of at-risk drivers and additional training should kick in as determined by fleet management.
“Indexing is a tool any client serious about reducing work-related incidents should review, says York. “VFRM Indexing will continually present fleet managers with the list of drivers most at risk of being involved in a collision. And this allows putting in place controls and interventions to prevent that collision from ever occurring.”
In other words, the system is essentially about reducing risk and enhancing safety before, not after, the fact.
“Essentially what VFRM is about,” says York, “is a circle of three risk-management actions — assessing driver performance, monitoring that performance and enhancing skills or intervening as needed.”
The thinking behind VFRM's functioning is, not surprisingly, both statistic- and behavior-based.
“Our studies indicate about 65% of the claim dollars generated in the automotive liability line of coverage are attributed to lane change/merging collisions, collisions in intersections, and rear-end collisions,” York points out. “Generally, the root cause of these collisions gets to at-risk behavior. And it's the lack of, or inability to manage, that behavior that precipitates these [collision] events.
“VFRM provides the tools to reduce risk,” “In developing the system, we really tried to get to what fleet managers need and where the gaps have been for them in risk management.”
York reports the first VFRM customer came online a year ago and that Zurich has been making the system widely available since last June.
Among the first Zurich customers to use VFRM is Rocky Mount, NC-based petroleum tank carrier Eagle Transport Corp. According to vp of safety Bob Heinisch, the fleet owns 300 tractors piloted by 650 company drivers out of 20 operating terminals.
Eagle delivers bulk petroleum in an eight-state region running from Maryland south to Florida and west to Tennessee. It services both commercial and retail accounts so its drivers, who operate within a 125-mile radius of their home terminals, drive over everything from Interstates to city streets.
That, says Heinisch, means Eagle can't help but have a high exposure to both collision and product-handling risks, making VFRM well worth investigating for the Zurich insurance customer on a test basis.
“Simply stated,” says Heinisch, “we're finding the suite of solutions helps quickly identify at-risk employees, taking into account accidents, incidents, motor vehicle records and other data to give a numeric value to a driver's safety performance. The higher that value, the higher the safety issues or severity of issues for that driver.”
Heinisch says Eagle is using VFRM as a proactive tool “to help us ‘catch’ drivers before they become a liability — and then use remedial training or an intervention to rehabilitate those drivers” whose performance has declined or threatens to. “
“When a driver moves into or above the 90th percentile on the VFRM Index, we will schedule an intervention with that driver,” Heinisch explains. “Additional training will be determined and assigned as needed. This program allows us to focus our efforts on individual drivers or activities,” he adds, “rather than rely on a shotgun approach to risk management.”
This winter, FleetRisk Advisors, an Alpharetta, GA-based consultancy, rolled out its Transportation Risk Analytics Center (TRAC), which it calls “the first predictive risk-analysis system” for truck fleets.
According to Sam Wilkes, CEO of FleetRisk Advisors, TRAC is a sophisticated risk modeling and analytics platform that facilitates the firm's suite of “knowledge-driven” risk management services.
He says TRAC is built on a powerful relational database that combines historical data about a fleet's drivers, vehicles, routes, schedules, accidents and incidents, as well as daily operational data drawn from on-board vehicle monitoring systems.
All this data is crunched by TRAC to produce “Risk Signatures,” which Wilkes says are predictive indicators that point to behavioral or environmental factors that may cause accidents or other loss incidents.
Wilkes contends these Risk Signatures are tools fleet managers can use to modify driver behavior so both the frequency and severity of accidents and other loss-related costs can be reduced.
“Traditional loss-control programs don't take into account all the factors facing each driver and vehicle each day,” says Wilkes. “And today's telematics systems supply reams of data but cannot provide fleets with actionable knowledge to improve safety performance as FleetRisk Advisors can.”
Wilkes says FleetRisk's research indicates “the behavior modifications that prevent losses are very often the same ones that improve personnel productivity and operating asset utilization.”
According to Wilkes, users of FleetRisk's TRAC-based services will be able to cost-justify them through two different but related return-on-investment models — accident frequency and severity. “We think we can reduce the frequency of accidents and incidents by 10% or more for each fleet,” he states. “And we expect to decrease the severity of those accidents by at least 25%.”
Lafayette, LA-based Dupre' Transport is conducting a pilot of the FleetRisk service using the TRAC platform to examine data modeling and predictive analytics. The integrated logistics provider specializes in transporting bulk liquids.
The plan is to run Dupre' data through the TRAC database and analyze it to reveal the fleet's unique Risk Signatures. Dupre' will learn which risk factors are predictive of accidents or other losses to its operations and then can take steps to prevent them and operate more safely.
“Dupre' is committed to improving safety,” says director of safety & training Al LaCombe, “and we view FleetRisk's predictive analytics and data modeling as the logical next step in evolving our risk management strategy.”
Wilkes points out that Dupre' is already bringing to bear a myriad of safety-related technology, including Eaton VORAD's collision-avoidance systems, Circadian Technologies' fatigue-management services and other tools such as physical aptitude. The fleet's trucks are equipped with Qualcomm systems to transmit data generated onboard.
“But there was no place where all that data came together,” Wilkes points out. “What FleetRisk is doing with TRAC is bringing all that data together, cleaning it up and standardizing it to make it useful for risk management.”
According to LaCombe, Dupre' is still in the implementation stage of the pilot project. “In another 30 days or so, we expect to start getting meat-and-potatoes data out of this and hope to use it to recognize patterns, etc.
“I have been at [fleet safety] for 23 years,” notes LaCombe, “and I'm not afraid of technology. This has the potential to help us identify and manage risky behaviors before safety is compromised.”