The tractor-trailer is skidding but no one is worried. In fact, it's just what the driver had in mind. The setting is not a highway but the skid pan behind the Liberty Mutual Research Center for Safety and Health in Hopkinton, Mass., where research and training include a strong focus on issues of highway safety.
Liberty Mutual recognizes that the billions of dollars highway accidents cost business each year is more than equaled by the cost in human terms. Since 1912, its mission of "helping people live safer, more secure lives " has been especially evident on the road.
From the Research Center - the only facility of its kind owned and operated by an insurance company - have come such safety innovations as seat belts, anti-whiplash headrests, and collapsible steering columns that are standard equipment today. Other research projects include studies of the root causes of serious crashes, in-vehicle distraction, and rear vision devices for trucks and vans.
Liberty Mutual's transportation safety programs - including its acclaimed Decision Driving Tractor-Trailer program for those who train, select or supervise fleet drivers - offer proven methods to help reduce vehicle accidents.
The company's commitment to highway safety is illustrated by its support of organizations such as the American Trucking Assns., the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety.
It is Liberty Mutual's emphasis on highway safety that has made a difference to its customer U.S. Xpress Enterprises Inc., a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based truckload carrier with more than 5,000 power units and more than 6,500 drivers.
Beginning in August, 1998, U.S. Xpress and Liberty Mutual initiated monthly meetings to address U.S. Xpress' exposures, particularly losses related to cargo theft and auto liability. Since then, says U.S. Xpress Vice President of Safety and Risk Management Russ Moore, loss frequency has decreased steadily.
The cargo security problem was tackled by beginning with basic issues of identifying and tracking high-value cargo. The auto liability efforts centered around following distances, lane changes and side impact incidents. During the past two years, most of U.S. Xpress' fleet safety personnel have gone through Decision Driving training. The effect of these efforts, according to Moore, has been measurable and positive.
For Moore, who has spent the past 18 years working in risk management-related positions, the process and the results produced have been an eye-opener. "We're not yet where we want to be," he says, "but it's going in the right direction. I've worked with other insurers and loss prevention people, and - let me put it this way - I've never worked with people like the ones from Liberty Mutual. They're not afraid to speak up and they really know what they're doing."
For U.S. Xpress, the results of the working partnership with Liberty Mutual extend beyond the immediate issues to improve safety for everyone who uses the country's highways.
To take that message even further, Liberty Mutual offers its five principles of Decision Driving:
1. Expand your look-ahead capacity to be aware of what is happening on the road ahead, behind and beside you.
2. Size up the whole scene and watch for developing traffic situations, such as construction zones.
3. Signal your intentions early to give other drivers time to make their own decisions.
4. Plan an escape route. Stay out of tailgating traps, be prepared to yield and time your passing moves quickly.
5. Take decisive action. Following the first four principles puts you in good position to know what to do and to have the time and space in which to do it safely.