There's a major crisis brewing on our nation's roads, and fleets are right in the eye of the storm. While the crisis is a familiar one — too many vehicle crashes — the fallout has become unbearable, especially in terms of the economic impact on fleets.
In 2001, 6.2-million motor vehicle crashes led to 41,116 deaths and more than 3-million injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). About 31,000 of those crashes and 5,000 fatalities resulted from truck-car collisions. In any given year, about 600 to 700 truck drivers are killed on our nation's roads.
NHTSA estimates the cost of motor vehicle crashes to the U.S. economy to be about $150 billion a year, including $52.1 billion in property damage and $42.2 billion in lost productivity.
Trucks are involved in less than 1% of all motor vehicle crashes in the U.S., and of those, 70% are caused by the driver of the passenger car. But the cost of even one accident can be enough to bankrupt a fleet. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, Landover, MD, found that truck accidents alone cost the industry roughly $24 billion a year: $8.7 billion in productivity losses, $2.5 billion in resources costs, and quality of life losses valued at $13.1 billion.
Indiana Mills & Manufacturing Inc. (IMMI), which makes commercial vehicle safety restraint systems, dug a little deeper into the Pacific Institute study to determine the costs related to truck driver injuries and fatalities. IMMI found that the cost to a fleet averages about $183,000 per injury and $2.7 million per fatality. Those costs include medical expenses, emergency services, lost driver productivity, quality of life losses, etc.
What can fleets do? NHTSA believes a few basic steps can help reduce the cost of crashes significantly, first by reducing fatalities and injuries and eventually by eliminating many crashes altogether.
Think crashes, not accidents
We need to change our mindset; the term “accident” often implies circumstances that are beyond our control. But according to highway safety expert Wayne Reece, “Science tells us many highway crashes are predictable and preventable, which is why we should refer to them as crashes.”
You probably already tell your drivers to buckle up. But are they? IMMI found that while 83% of drivers work for companies that have mandatory seatbelt rules, only 45% wore their seatbelts all the time. Yet seat belts are the primary protective device for drivers; air bags are considered secondary safety systems, and will not activate in certain kinds of crashes.
Make your drivers aware of these dire statistics: Drivers who don't wear their seatbelts are 2.8 times more likely to die in a crash, 2.3 times more likely to suffer a head injury, and twice as likely to require inpatient rehabilitation. In addition, unbelted drivers suffer 70% more severe injuries than drivers who are wearing their seatbelts.
Speed kills, pure and simple. And we're not just talking about driving 100 mph on the highway. Driving just 10 mph faster than the speed limit on local roads can increase your chances of a crash. “With faster speeds, there is less reaction time and greater crash impact,” Reese points out. “It's simple physics.” And if that isn't motivation enough, consider this: fuel economy improves when drivers slow down.
While there may not be a magic bullet for preventing crashes altogether, these steps can help reduce the number of crashes your fleet is involved in, as well as minimize the impact — financial and otherwise — on your operation.