Zeroing in on unsafe drivers

Motor carrier managers and safety professionals use the results of driver and vehicle inspections as a piece of the safety performance pie in identifying their at-risk drivers. But just how big is this piece of the pie? How frequently are drivers scrutinized during random roadside-enforcement checks or weigh station inspections? Is there a valid link between roadside inspection citations and preventable

Motor carrier managers and safety professionals use the results of driver and vehicle inspections as a “piece of the safety performance pie” in identifying their at-risk drivers. But just how big is this “piece of the pie?” How frequently are drivers scrutinized during random roadside-enforcement checks or weigh station inspections? Is there a valid link between roadside inspection citations and preventable crashes?

Zurich Insurance Co.'s risk engineering team recently conducted an informal study to try and answer some of these questions. We tracked the roadside inspection history of about 2,000 drivers over a three-year period, tabulating the number of inspections as well as types of driver and vehicle violations. We correlated this data crash and claim information to determine which factor was the strongest predictor of crash involvement.

We found that drivers were selected for inspection about once every 11 months, but that inspection frequency varied significantly. Two drivers topped the list by being selected 18 times, while several managed to go through the 36-month period with just one inspection.

Our statistical analysis indicated a “strong-moderate” relationship between driver violations and accident/claim events. In other words, drivers with more “driver specific” violations were more likely to be involved in crashes or incidents resulting in insurance claims. The relationship was even stronger if we looked at specific violations, in particular speeding, following too close and failure to obey traffic signals.

Disappointing, however, is the reality that roadside inspections are so infrequent. With an average of only one inspection in 11 months, unsafe behavior could go unrecognized for quite some time.

What are the alternatives? We could ask for more inspections, but this would be problematic because roadside inspections are more effective than weigh station inspections. A doubling or tripling of these road-patrol type inspections would require an enormous investment in the enforcement infrastructure.

More realistic alternatives include what I call the “make data” solutions. For example, companies could use engine-data downloads to spot those individuals with excessive throttle demand and frequent over-speed or hard-braking events. Several of our clients, who are already using this information in concert with roadside inspection and moving violations to target unsafe drivers, have dramatically reduced accident frequency and severity.

The “1-800 How's My Driving?” programs are another make-data solution. Okay, I know what you're thinking: These programs are more trouble than they're worth. Each incident must be reviewed to determine its validity and accuracy before it can become part of a driver's safety history. We've all had instances where disgruntled drivers use 1-800 decals to get even with their enemies.

But let's not dismiss them out of hand. What about the drivers who have multiple complaints lodged against them? People with aggressive driving habits such as following too close, changing lanes erratically or speeding are most likely to invoke anger from the driving public. This anger can lead to call-ins. If a fleet receives complaints about a particular driver from many different people at different times and locations, chances are it has an unsafe driver on its hands.

Finally, consider this: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require managers to conduct annual reviews of driving records. This requirement specifies that we include all known violations, whether or not they are part of an official record maintained by a state, as well as any other information that would indicate the driver has shown a lack of due regard for the safety of the public.

With this in mind, ask yourself whether your current monitoring system captures a big enough piece of the safety performance pie. If the answer is no, now is a good time to begin improvements by incorporating additional performance indicators.




Jim York is the manager of Zurich North America's Risk Engineering Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.

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