In early 2021, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) published its annual “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry” report. The annual resource examines the top issues facing the industry and highlights some potential ways to address and solve these challenges.
Ranking #4 on the report was the issue of lawsuit abuse reform, particularly as it relates to accident-related litigation. In fact, this topic has become so prevalent that ATRI released another report ‒ The Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry ‒ which quantifies the effect of these lawsuits on fleets and the industry as a whole.
So, in an increasingly litigious environment, how can your fleet protect itself (and its drivers) from potentially being on the receiving end of one of these lawsuits? Having the right technology in place is a good start.
While fleet-focused technology can help improve productivity, carriers are also turning to these platforms to help enhance their safety efforts, too, including by:
1. Enhancing driver coaching
According to ATRI’s study, poor driving history was the top violation in terms of settlement costs. When presented as evidence, the average payout for these cases was more than $680,000.
And, although the issue of “poor driving” may be broad, there are some crucial ways that technology can help you enhance safety efforts in your fleet. For starters, a fleet management system can give you a wide range of driver and vehicle-specific information ‒ from tracking unsafe practices like rapid accelerations and sudden braking to lane departures and speeding. It can also help integrate engine and component data to ensure your trucks function properly as they travel down the road.
While these data points can help inform driver coaching, newer solutions like safety analytics can help further your coaching efforts. These platforms present inputs like number of CSA violations, hazardous driving behaviors and Hours of Service (HOS) details in a consumable and easy-to-understand format.
The end result? Helping carriers identify their most at-risk drivers and empowering them with hard numbers to help develop strategies to advance safety across their entire fleet.
2. Improving in-cab behaviors
Safe driving can encompass proper following distances and staying under the speed limit, but it can also include avoiding unsafe, non-driving behaviors that may occur behind the wheel. According to ATRI, telephone usage and falling asleep while driving were also big causes for litigation payments, with an average amount of $629,375 and $543,343, respectively.
Video-based systems are becoming an important tool for fleets to help curb some of these behaviors. For example, Trimble’s Video Intelligence platform features a Cabin Intelligent Monitor (CIM). This solution monitors for driver fatigue and distraction, giving fleet managers the opportunity to identify unsafe practices and potentially eliminate them before they result in an accident.
Video platforms are also about supporting the driver, too. One way Video Intelligence does this is through DCube (Dynamic Driver Defense). This device serves as a heads up to drivers of impending hazards in front of them, enabling them to adjust their driving and potentially avoid an accident from occurring.
3. Reducing HOS violations
Driver behavior is a big factor in litigation but, so, too, is adhering to the HOS rules set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). When HOS violations are presented as evidence, these cases averaged a payout of more than $564,000, according to ATRI.
A key aspect of most fleet management systems is the ability to track driver hours via an electronic logging device or ELD. Mandated in the U.S. in 2019 and in Canada in 2020, ELDs give drivers a clear view into their available hours so they can plan accordingly and stay in compliance with HOS rules.
The electronic nature of ELDs can also benefit back office personnel such as safety and dispatch. With robust HOS reporting across a driver base, fleet managers can make informed route planning decisions based on driver availability as well as proactively spot potential violations before they occur.
4. Avoiding equipment failures
Although drivers play an integral role in fleet safety, a carrier’s equipment is also an important variable in ensuring safe operations. ATRI cites equipment failure as being a big factor in accident litigation, with it resulting in an average payout of more than $503,000 when presented in a lawsuit.
As mentioned above, a fleet management system can provide visibility into critical engine and vehicle components to monitor truck performance. But, it can also help fleets and drivers identify issues before they become an issue. This includes electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) which digitize the process of vehicle inspections to enable direct communication between drivers and maintenance personnel so that any issues can be resolved in a more expedited manner.
Beyond on-vehicle solutions, carriers can also streamline their maintenance efforts through fleet maintenance technology. From providing detailed vehicle repair records and warranty details, to managing part inventories, fleets that deploy fleet maintenance platforms not only can enhance their safety but improve productivity across their business.
Improve Your Fleet’s Safety with Trimble
While the causes for accident litigation can be varied, the solution isn’t. Implementing the right technology in your operations is an imperative first step in reducing your accident risk.
So, where do you begin? You should start by selecting the right technology partner. Talk to us today about our wide range of carrier-focused solutions and how we can help you not only advance safety but put you on the road to enhanced performance and increased efficiency.