No one would disagree that the primary safety goal of any fleet is accident prevention. But while giving drivers the training they need to avoid accidents is paramount, it's also important to give them a framework for handling accidents when they do occur.
I was reminded of this recently when I witnessed an accident on an Interstate involving a tractor-trailer and two other vehicles. In this case, the truck driver, who was not at fault, did a heroic job of making the best of a bad situation. He'd clearly been prepared.
The incident began when a car attempted to pass a van on its right. When the driver of the car realized there wasn't enough room to complete the pass before reaching the rear of a slower moving tractor-trailer in the far right lane, he made an erratic lane change and sideswiped the van. The van then slid into the path of the tractor-trailer, which T-boned the van.
The truck driver steered to the left in an attempt to keep his vehicle upright and steer away from the van. Both vehicles came to rest just off the breakdown lane in the right shoulder with the van trapped against the right side of the tractor-trailer. The truck driver and several others helped free the trapped van driver and provided assistance until help arrived.
At this point I realized the fragile nature of the accident scene. Everyone was in a hurry. Two of the witnesses wanted to leave the scene because they were late for an appointment. The wrecker drivers wanted to extricate the trapped van from the side of the truck and clear the roadway as quickly as possible. At the same time, police officers were questioning the truck driver and filling out an accident report.
Fortunately, the fleet had equipped all its vehicles with disposable cameras for documenting such accident scenes. The camera was in a package that contained an accident reporting form, pen, and clipboard for writing down names and addresses of witnesses, etc.
Fleets must train their drivers to know what to do at such critical times so important information isn't lost forever - information that could help establish guilt or innocence, and ultimately affect insurance rates and the status of a driver's CDL.
Incident management provides guidelines and procedures for trucking companies and drivers in managing and documenting accident scenes. It certainly helped this driver, who was alone on a Sunday morning, far from his terminal and management team.
When I walked over he said, "I've been out here over 20 years and this is my first accident." He was shaking so much that it was hard for him to write, much less think of everything he needed to do to protect him and his company. Fortunately, the instructions in the incident management kit helped.
As soon as he calmed down, the driver began collecting the names and addresses of all the witnesses and used his disposable camera to take nearly 30 pictures of the accident scene. But he was working against the clock. Everyone was in a hurry to leave the scene - taking with them crucial evidence that could clear the driver and his carrier.
The fact that the truck driver was not at fault and had several witnesses might not have mattered if the carrier had not had incident management procedures in place.
When it comes to accidents, there's no instant replay. I urge you to create a clear set of guidelines for drivers to use in documenting and managing accident scenes. It's no time for them to have to wing it.
(Jim York is a senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Insurance Systems, based in Fredricksburg, Va.)