The Key to Commercial Drivers Safety

Not only must commercial drivers contend with heavy traffic, other motorists, dangerous weather conditions, and wandering wildlife, but they must do so while operating large trucks and often carrying heavy and sometimes dangerous cargo. One mistake carries possible huge repercussions. Concentration is key to commercial drivers safety.

Successful motor carriers have always made commercial drivers safety a priority, both to safeguard their employees and lower the costs associated with accidents and lost freight. But, since the number of drivers on U.S. roadways is increasing, there’s also a rising number of accidents and collisions. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that fatalities from large truck crashes have reached their highest level in 29 years.

If you are looking for a Commercial Auto Policy, give GDI Insurance Agency, Inc. a call at 209-634-2929.

Commercial Driving Safety Guide

The Real Cost of Accidents

Accidents can lead to a number of direct costs from medical bills, property damage and vehicle repairs. However, as the demand for increased freight capacity continues to increase, employers that sacrifice safety for increased capacity may not consider these indirect costs:

  • Loss of revenue—Most vehicles involved in an accident need to stay idle for a significant amount of time, leading to lower efficiency or even the complete loss of a delivery order.
  • Fines and penalties—Trucks that cause an accident may face significant traffic violations and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) penalties. Plus, a significant FMCSA violation can add to your compliance requirements and take some of your organization’s attention off of your regular operations.
  • Legal fees—Accidents can lead to significant legal fees from lost freight, third-party claims and more. Long legal proceedings can be an overwhelming drain on your finances, regardless of whether you win or lose a claim.
  • Insurance premiums—Insurance carriers are continuing to raise commercial vehicle policy rates as the number of accidents continues to increase. Even small incidents can lead to significant insurance rate increases as insurers try to recover funds lost from claims.
  • Reputation—While the demand for more freight capacity remains high, motor carriers with significant safety issues may struggle to find new business. Additionally, it may be harder to attract new employees during the ongoing driver shortage.
commercial drivers safety

Increase Your Commercial Drivers Safety

The best way to make safety a priority during any commercial driving operation is to establish a comprehensive safety program. This should start with a collaborative effort between managers, fleet supervisors, drivers, mechanics and other stakeholders in order to identify safety risks across all aspects of your organization and develop effective and proactive solutions.

However, it isn’t enough to do a single sweep of your organization’s risk exposures. While this may help to reduce your costs, an effective safety program should be engrained in your day-to-day operations. You should also regularly gather feedback on the program’s effectiveness.

Setting Goals and Objectives For Commercial Drivers

While many motor carriers share common safety risks, your organization also needs to tailor its safety program to meet your unique operations. The best way to consider all of these risks to establish a set of clear goals and objectives for your program. Here’s a list of topics to consider when considering goals:

  • Hazard identification—Your organization needs to consider every aspect of your workplace and operations to identify safety hazards. You should also consider the individuals or groups that are best prepared to identify unique hazards. For example, fleet supervisors may not be able to identify safety risks associated with vehicle maintenance.
  • Risk assessment—Each hazard you identify needs to be addressed by your organization. However, your safety program should prioritize risks so you’re prepared to resolve the most serious or likely dangers first.
  • Incident investigation—Safety incidents occur at even the most cautious organizations. Your program should have procedures in place to investigate what actions or inactions contributed to an incident to ensure that it can’t be repeated.
  • Communication—Every employee at your organization should have access to your safety program and receive regular updates on safety initiatives. You should also establish a system that allows employees to submit safety concerns anonymously to help address hazards that were overlooked.
  • Program reassessment—Your organization should make regular updates to your safety initiatives to account for updates to your operations, equipment, workforce, legal obligations and more.
commercial driver safety

Hiring and Onboarding Commercial Drivers

One of the most important topics concerning commercial driving safety is to ensure that the drivers themselves are qualified and trained to operate their vehicles. And, even after carriers have completed pre-employment screenings to check a driver’s history, they also need to establish training programs to address common risks and maintain health and fitness programs. That way, both carriers and drivers will be prepared to boost safety both in the workplace and on the road.

It’s no surprise that putting more drivers on the road is a great way to increase capacity, but carriers need to make sure they hire talented, qualified drivers. Even during a driver shortage, onboarding a single inexperienced or incompetent employee can expose you to costly fines, crashes and a damaged reputation.

Best Qualified Commercial Drivers

The best way to make sure you’re employing the most qualified drivers is to perform comprehensive pre-employment screenings in accordance with DOT and FMCSA regulations. Here are some best practices for performing these screenings:

  • Document the entire pre-employment screening process. Make sure that all stakeholders involved in the hiring process record why a decision is made and what information the decision is based on. You should also keep documents and personal information secure in a safe location or in a password-protected computer system.
  • Make sure that the Social Security number that a candidate provides is valid. Since you’ll use this number to perform other checks, it’s important to make sure it’s correct early in the process.
  • Use the commercial driver’s license information system to check a candidate’s license and learn what states you’ll have to request driving records from.
  • Verify a candidate’s previous three years of employment history. If a driver’s previous DOT-regulated employer doesn’t use an electronic employment history database, you may have to send in a manual request. You can also ask previous employers for recommendations, but carriers are only required to verify a driver’s work history.
  • Request motor vehicle reports from every state where a candidate held a commercial driver’s license by contacting that state’s department of motor vehicles.
  • Obtain a candidate’s drug and alcohol test results from the previous three years from past employers.
  • Use the FMCSA’s pre-employment screening program to check a candidate’s last five years of crash data and last three years of roadside inspections. Even if a candidate meets all FMCSA and local requirements, you should carefully check the reports to see if any driving or maintenance habits stand out.
  • Perform criminal history and sex offender checks in all states where a candidate lived or worked. However, keep in mind that state laws regarding the use of this information in employment screening may vary.
  • Have candidates perform a pre-employment drug test. A negative test result is a mandate for all commercial drivers.
  • Make sure that all candidates are medically qualified to drive by obtaining qualifications from a licensed, certified and registered medical examiner. A list of examiners can be found in the FMCSA’s National Registry.

When screening applicants, your business should also make efforts to check for any state and local pre-employment requirements, criminal histories and other relevant information to see if candidates are the right fit.

Commercial Driving Safety Guide

Driver Training

Although commercial drivers must meet state and federal requirements to obtain a CDL license, they still need to be trained on important driving topics specific to the vehicle types, cargo and other unique industry hazards to stay safe on the road. Hazards such as weather conditions, distractions, road construction and team driving can be unfamiliar for drivers depending on their backgrounds. Drivers should undergo retraining when their driving behaviors do not align with company policies. Additionally, even veteran drivers will need reminders and retraining on certain safety topics.

Defensive Driving

Even the best commercial drivers can’t predict the actions of surrounding traffic or hazards that appear suddenly. Make sure all of your drivers know basics behind defensive driving techniques:

  • Remain constantly alert for any driving errors made by surrounding traffic, along with a willingness to make regular adjustments to avoid accidents.
  • Anticipate how to react to changing conditions caused by the commercial vehicle’s condition, changing weather, type of road surface, amount of light, the driver’s state of mind and more.
  • Follow the rules that determine right of way and yielding to other vehicles.

Additionally, defensive driving training programs should highlight these safety tips:

  • Avoid distractions from things like entertainment systems, cellphones and conversations with passengers to focus on surrounding traffic and changing road conditions.
  • Never wait to see how a hazard develops. Once a driver notices a hazard on the road, they should react to it immediately to avoid an accident.
  • Double-check all blind spots of the vehicle before driving to stay aware of potential hazards.
  • Keep all lights, mirrors, windows and the windshield clean to get the clearest possible view of surrounding traffic.
  • Think about how other drivers will react to your driving. For example, other vehicles may change lanes and interfere with traffic if a commercial vehicle makes a sudden movement.
  • Never force other drivers to brake or steer because of an obstacle. Instead, wait until traffic is gone to drive around obstacles.
  • Take extra care around pedestrians, especially if they could be present around blind spots or curves in the road.
commercial driver safety

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has always been a major hazard on the road, as it’s the leading cause of accidents. It’s important to encourage drivers to avoid distractions so they don’t become a danger to themselves and surrounding traffic.

Any time a driver reaches for an object or gets distracted by outside stimuli, the chances of an accident drastically increase. In fact, studies show that simply by dialing a cellphone, the likelihood of a crash is six times greater.

To remain safe on the roads, drivers need to be aware of common distractions that can put them and the public in danger:

  • Using electronic devices such as a GPS, MP3 player, radio, cellphone or laptop
  • Reading maps, books, texts or printed directions
  • Combing hair, putting on makeup, shaving, brushing teeth or performing similar grooming activities
  • Eating, drinking or smoking
  • Talking with passengers, or tending to children or pets
  • Focusing attention on visual distractions outside the vehicle, such as collisions, police activity, street signs, pedestrians, construction or billboards
  • Multitasking
  • Daydreaming

Tips for Employers

The following are some ways organizations and their fleet managers can help reduce the risk of distracted driving:

  • Create a driver safety program and a distracted driving policy. Regularly communicate your policies using things like emails, blogs and posters.
  • Use applications to detect when your drivers are on the road. Many of these applications prevent individuals from contacting a driver while their vehicle is in motion.
  • Instruct drivers to pull off the road and park if they need to use their phone or an electronic device.
  • Equip vehicles with lockboxes that drivers can use to store potential distractions, like smartphones and tablets.
  • Educate your drivers on the risks of driving while distracted. Use real-life examples and stories to explain how dangerous distracted driving can be.
  • Update your organization’s handbook, noting any disciplinary actions you will take if you identify unsafe driving behavior.
  • Ask your employees to sign a pledge form indicating their willingness to drive in a safe and courteous manner.
  • Work with drivers to plan trips. This ensures that drivers have a clear understanding of their routes, which can reduce the need for GPS and other potentially distracting navigation devices.
  • Manage driver schedules to ensure employees are well-rested between trips.
  • Use telematics, driver monitoring programs and in-cabin camera systems to evaluate individual drivers. Whenever possible, reward positive driver behavior to encourage a culture of safety.
  • Perform a safety audit, which will give you a high-level overview of distracted driving risks and other concerns.

Tips for Drivers

While employers must provide training and guidance to prevent distracted driving, road safety is ultimately up to individual drivers. The following are tips your drivers should keep in mind whenever they’re out in the field:

  • Remain educated on the risks and consequences of distracted driving. Attend any refresher courses your employer provides.
  • Do not text, dial a cellphone or use dispatching devices while you drive.
  • Avoid distracting activities such as eating, personal grooming and reaching for items.
  • Install an application on your cellphone that recognizes when your vehicle is in motion and responds to texts and calls with a preset safety message.
  • Minimize the potential for distractions by planning your routes. Research your drive ahead of time to eliminate the need for GPS, maps and other navigation tools.
  • Organize your vehicle’s cabin to ensure personal items you may need during a long trip are well within reach. To eliminate the need to reach for items while you drive, program your GPS, adjust your mirrors and tune your radio before you hit the road.
  • Avoid multitasking when driving. If you need to make a phone call or respond to a text message on the road, pull over beforehand. Even the use of a hands-free device is dangerous and can create a cognitive distraction. To help eliminate the urge to use cellphones and other devices, turn them off and stow them out of sight in a safe compartment.
  • Ensure you are well-rested prior to getting behind the wheel. When you drive fatigued, the chances of becoming distracted and getting into an accident increase.
  • Focus on driving and do not let anything divert your attention. While you drive, actively scan the road, using your mirrors to watch out for other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Plan your meals in advance and avoid eating while you drive.
  • Understand and adhere to distracted driving laws in your state.

Follow employer-mandated guidelines outlined in distracted driving programs and similar policies.

GDI Insurance Agency, Inc.

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