Several things I have read recently have me thinking a lot about safety. To be clear, safety is something that is always top of mind, but recent reports have put it into sharp focus.
A Department of Transportation early estimate seems to indicate that there was a slight decline in traffic fatalities across the U.S. last year. Unfortunately, the data also is showing a rise in truck-involved fatalities. Then there was a report that said in March there was a 14% year-over-year increase in the fatality rates per miles driven. This in an environment where actual miles driven declined 18.6% compared to March 2018, very likely because of COVID-19 related stay-in-place orders.
I also saw that the board of the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) approved top research projects for 2020 including one that will examine new metrics for evaluating safety performance beyond traditional rates per million vehicle miles traveled.
And finally, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance said its Operation Safe Driver Week will go on as scheduled July 12 to 18. During that week law enforcement officers will be looking for drivers — of both cars and trucks — that are engaging in unsafe driving. Speeding is the focus of this year’s initiative.
We have all experienced the dramatic changes in the insurance industry over the past several years. We know that many accidents involving trucks are not the fault of the truck driver, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it is making permanent a pilot program that will not count a crash in which a motor carrier was not at fault when calculating the carrier’s safety measurement profile, a long overdue and much needed correction.
So, you can see why I am especially focused on safety at this point. For me, safety is not a set-it-and-forget-it item. It is not something we simply mention at driver orientation and then don’t speak about again. It starts from the top down.
I think all drivers want to be safe but sometimes even the best of us has a lapse and safety slips down the priority list. It is our job as managers to make sure safety stays top of mind whether that is through driver meetings, safety incentives, safety handouts or a simple reminder from a dispatcher “to be safe out there.”
I am interested to see what options ATRI comes up with for measuring safety other than by the mile. As the industry has shifted its focus to more regional haul with fewer miles driven there may be other metrics that the industry can use to measure how safe we really are.
But regardless of how we measure safety, we all need to continue to keep focused on it, especially as the economy starts to pick up and we begin to see more traffic on the road.