The much-publicized crash involving a limousine transporting comedian Tracy Morgan and a Walmart tractor trailer provides insights into the changing landscape of risks facing companies who operate commercial motor vehicles. Bill Simon, the president of Walmart, apologized for the crash in a letter that was published in major American newspapers. The accident was a leading news story discussed in depth on a number of cable news networks for weeks following the accident. The value of this claim is potentially huge from a litigation perspective. The reputational damage to one of North America's largest corporations may be even larger.
When reviewing the facts of this tragic event, it is clear the Walmart driver rear-ended the limousine. The news media, however, spent a great deal of time analyzing the actions of both the Walmart driver and the company he worked for. In a number of instances, the discussions were led by misinformed journalists and included information that was at best highly speculative. During one of the discussions, a news anchor incorrectly quoted hours of service regulations for truckers, citing the 14 and 10 hour rules instead of the 14 and 11 hour rules. In other discussions, the media indicated that the company had allowed the driver to exceed the maximum driving limits allowed under federal regulations. These same news organizations commented on the increase in commercial vehicle crashes over the last two or three years without taking into account the tremendous increase in trucking activity brought about by our improving economy. Much of the public analysis and misdirected angst targets an industry that performs a critical service and faces tremendous obstacles to getting the work done safely.
Truck drivers have a difficult job that is made more challenging by overpopulated roadways and distracted drivers. As a matter of fact, according to the American Trucking Association, 80 percent of crashes involving commercial motor vehicles and cars are caused by car drivers. Large trucks are much safer today than in past decades as many fleets have embraced safety technologies that include telematics (vehicle tracking systems), lane departure warning systems, and speed limiters. Telematics systems can track vehicle location, speed, hard braking incidents, and even seat belt use by the driver in many applications. There are also telematics systems that include video recordings of crashes or near miss incidents.
Safety training for truck drivers has never been more robust. Most operations today have regularly scheduled safety meetings or use some form of computer based training. Many provide specific training for the type of operation and safety issues common to the fleet. There is tremendous pressure coming from the public, the government, and customers to improve fleet safety.
To ensure that a commercial fleet has done its due diligence to maintain a safe operation, it must take a systematic approach to safety. This includes effectively screening new hires and identifying at-risk drivers through the use of a number of tools. These include reviewing driver MVR's (motor vehicle records), remotely tracking key safety metrics on vehicles, conducting pre-hire and ongoing driving reviews. Drivers should also receive education at the time of hire on safe driving techniques and company expectations on vehicle operation. Follow-up education must be provided on a regular basis and documented. Drivers that have been identified as deficient in some way need to undergo remedial training and face disciplinary measures if they do not improve.
It is important that the safety message goes beyond following the rules of the road and defensive driving. Communicating this message is done through words and actions. Drivers need to know that they are the captain of their ship and should not operate in inclement weather or work extended hours. Supervisors must continually talk about safety and the responsibility that every member of the organization has to the motoring public. The goal is to avoid crashes and have drivers return home in the same or better condition than when they started the day. If an unfortunate vehicle collision were to occur, the company should be able to say that it did everything within its power to prevent the occurrence.
Steven Bojan, is the Vice President - Fleet Risk Services, for the Risk Services Division HUB International. To reach Steven or a local HUB risk services expert click here.