PREVENTABILITY OF MOTOR VEHICLE COLLISIONS

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1 PREVENTABILITY OF MOTOR VEHICLE COLLISIONS Management and fleet supervisors should establish standards for defensive driving in any type of fleet safety program. The overall performance of the drivers should be evaluated fairly and on a consistent basis. When a collision occurs, the following factors should be evaluated: (i) the events leading up to the collision, (ii) the causes and responsible conditions, (iii) the collision itself, and (iv) the post collision events. Driver errors are one of the factors that should be considered. The standard which should be applied in reviewing the collision is the concept of collision preventability. What is a Preventable Collision? The National Safety Council ( ) (NSC) has developed this brief definition: A preventable collision as one in which the driver failed to do everything that they reasonably could have done to avoid it. The National Safety Council s Safe Driver Award Program defines a preventable collision as: any accident involving an organizational vehicle which results in property damage and/or personal injury, regardless of who was injured, what property was damaged, to what extent, or where it occurred, in which the driver in question failed to exercise every reasonable precaution to prevent it. The American Trucking Association, ( (ATA) provides guidelines for determining preventable accidents. In the book titled Trucking Industry Guidelines for Recording Fleet Vehicle Accidents and Determining Preventability the ATA defines the concept of preventability is based on the premise that the professional driver is expected to meet a higher standard of performance than the average motorist. It is self-evident that the professional driver should be able to observe and assess the behavior of pedestrians and other drivers and recognize those actions which may create hazardous conditions and take every reasonable measure to avoid involvement in an accident. In both definitions the issue is one that relates to defensive driving, not to legal culpability. The fact that a driver, who becomes involved in a vehicle collision, is not legally charged does not mean that the driver could not have avoided it. When a fleet operation moves from reviewing only collisions where the driver has been charged to reviewing all collisions for preventability, a significant step forward has been made in controlling its overall vehicle collision frequency. Defensive Driving: Reviewing collisions for preventability promotes defensive driving. Defensive driving can be defined as driving to prevent collisions in spite of the incorrect actions of others and adverse driving conditions, such as light, weather, road, traffic, vehicle condition and your physical and mental state. With this as the standard, it is normally true that when a driver makes an error or fails to act reasonably as a result of the errors of other drivers, the accident is considered preventable. LOSS CONTROL TECHNICAL INFORMATION PAPER SERIES 1

2 Legal Liability: When assessing whether a collision was preventable, it is important to remember that the concept of preventability is not the same as legal liability. A professional driver may have been able to prevent a collision from occurring, while at the same time not be legally liable for causing the collision. reasonable because the driver could have stayed home, but a professional driver s job is to drive, so the concept of reasonable is applied. There is often a relationship between preventability and defensive driving. Drivers sometimes have difficulty in understanding why their collision was preventable when the other party was deemed at fault and cited with a traffic violation. The concept of defensive driving must be explained in detail to newly hired drivers, and all professional drivers need to be reminded that they are expected to make defensive driving a priority when they operate their vehicle. Preventability is a common practice in many motor vehicle fleets, and along with driver accountability helps in reducing vehicle collision/accident frequency. It may also be used as the basis for Safe Driver Award programs, safety incentives and other collision/accident prevention programs. Fair and Honest Decision: Determining preventability involves making a fair and honest decision. A fair decision may only be reached when all the facts are uncovered and the collision s complete details are obtained. The preventability decision should be made on the basis on what the driver did or did not reasonably do to prevent or avoid the collision. The issuance of a citation is an indication that a collision may have been preventable. The lack of a violation or citation, however, does not make the collision non-preventable. Rather, all the information and reports should be obtained and reviewed to determine whether the collision was preventable or non-preventable. How this is done and who makes the decision varies from fleet to fleet. In some companies the fleet safety director, company safety director, or a supervisor determines if a collision was preventable. In other cases a Collision/Accident Review Board makes the decision. To fairly hold drivers accountable they should be trained in the concepts of preventability and in defensive driving. Drivers will not understand the process unless they understand why and how they are to be held accountable. It must be explained that most collisions result from driver error. The key to the definition of preventability is the word A Defensive Driver s Profile is one who: 1. Commits NO driving errors 2. Makes due allowance for lack of skill or improper driving practices of others 3. Adjusts driving to compensate for unusual weather, road and traffic conditions 4. Is not tricked into a collision by unsafe actions of pedestrians or other drivers 5. Is alert to collision inducing situations 6. Recognizes the need for preventative action in advance 7. Takes necessary action to prevent a collision Collision/Accident Review Board: If management and the drivers want a more formal process for determining preventability, a Collision/Accident Review Board or Committee may be created. Such review boards are especially effective in deciding borderline cases. Consider the potential make-up of a committee: Fleet Safety Supervisor or Safety Director (Serve as chairman and is fully trained in crash/accident prevention, preventability, and defensive driving) Operations or Transportation Supervisor (Familiar with the operating rules such as schedules, routes, hours of work, speed limits and related subjects) Maintenance Department Employee (Familiar with the mechanical abilities of the vehicles) Two Drivers who have been trained and are familiar with the concept of preventability The Fleet Safety Director, Company Safety Director or Fleet Supervisor should present the supervisor s investigation report and collision report information to the members and direct the Board or Committee discussions. Advice should be given on preventative measures, but they should not enter into the discussions or decision of preventability other than to clarify the facts of the collision or the case. 2

3 Despite the fact that each collision must be judged individually, experience over the years in fleet safety has shown certain types of collisions are preventable on the part of the driver. A Guide to Determine Motor Vehicle Accident Preventability booklet is available from the National Safety Council, Below is the list of guidelines developed by the National Safety Council: Collisions at Intersections A professional driver has the responsibility to approach, enter, and cross intersections prepared to avoid collisions that might occur because of the actions of other drivers. Such actions include excess speeding, crossing a lane in turning, and coming from, behind a blind spot. Complex traffic movement, blind intersections, and failure of other driver to conform to law or traffic control devices do not automatically discharge a collision as non-preventable. In fact, most collisions at intersections are preventable even though the professional driver has not violated traffic regulations. The professional s failure to take precautionary measures prior to entering the intersection is a factor in making a preventable decision. Even though the actions of the other driver it indicated possible collision involvement, the decision based on such entrapment should be PREVENTABLE. Collisions While Backing The organization should rule practically all collisions that occur while a vehicle is backing preventable. A professional driver is not relieved of responsibility to back safely when another person acts as a guide in the maneuver. A guide cannot control the movement of the vehicle. Therefore, the driver must continue to check all clearances. Front-end Collisions Regardless of the abrupt or unexpected stop of the vehicle ahead, a professional driver can prevent frontend collisions by maintaining a safe following distance at all times. This includes being prepared for possible obstructions on the highway, either in plain view or hidden by the crest of a hill or the curve of a roadway. Over-driving headlights at night is a common cause of front-end collisions. Night speed should not be greater than that which will permit the vehicle to come to a stop within the forward distance illuminated by the vehicle s headlights. Rear-end Collisions Investigation often discloses that drivers risk being struck from behind by failing to maintain a margin of safety in their own following distance. Rear-end collisions preceded by a roll-back, an abrupt stop at a grade crossing, when a traffic signal changes, or when the driver fails to signal a turn at an intersection, should be judged preventable. Failure to signal intentions or to slow down gradually should be considered preventable. Collisions While Passing The failure to pass safely indicates faulty judgment and the possible failure to consider one or more of the important factors a driver must observe before attempting maneuver. Unusual actions of the driver being passed or of oncoming traffic might appear to exonerate a driver involved in a passing collision; however, the entire passing maneuver is voluntary and it s the passing driver s responsibility. Collisions While Being Passed Sideswipes and cut-offs are preventable when the professional driver fails to yield to the passing vehicle by slowing down. If the professional fails to move to the right when possible, the collision is also preventable. Collisions Involving Lane Encroachment Professional drivers sometimes feel they have been a victim of entrapment when a collision occurs as another driver changes lanes. However, a defensive driver is rarely a victim of entrapment. Usually, in collisions involving lane encroachment, the professional has failed to yield to the other driver. Similarly, entrapment in merging traffic is an indication of unwillingness to yield to other vehicles or to wait for a break in traffic. Driver must avoid squeeze plays causing crashes with parked cars, pillars, and other road structures. The driver can prevent such crashes by dropping back when another driver forces the issue or contests a common portion of the road. A blind spot is never a valid excuse for lane-encroachment collisions. Drivers must make extra allowances to protect themselves in areas of limited sight distances. Collisions Occurring at Grade Crossings Drivers are always responsible for preventing collisions with fixed-rail vehicles such as trains and streetcars. The driver should be especially alert at grade crossings, 3

4 rail yards, and switching areas, as well as on private property. Collisions Involving Opposing Vehicles It is extremely important in this case for the review committee to examine all the facts. This is especially true when a driver is involved in a collision with a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction. Such collisions may be head-on or sideswipe. Regardless of type, the safety representative should verify the exact location of vehicles prior to and at the point of impact. Even though an opposing vehicle enters the driver s traffic lane, it may be possible for the driver to avoid the collision. In some cases, the collision is preventable when the opposing vehicle is in a passing maneuver, and your driver fails to slow down, stop, or move to the right to allow the vehicle to re-enter its own lane. Failure to signal the opposing driver by flicking the headlights, or sounding the horn should also be taken into consideration. Collisions While Turning Turning movements like passing maneuvers require exacting care on the part of the driver. The driver making the turn is responsible for preventing squeeze plays at both left and right turns. The driver may be responsible regardless of whether the collision involved other vehicles, scooters, bicycles, or pedestrians. A u-turn that results in a collision is a preventable collision. Failure to properly position the vehicle for the turn is a sign of error. So is failure to check the rearview mirror and to check pedestrian and traffic lanes. Drivers sometimes feel that collisions caused by sudden turns by others are not preventable. However, extra precaution must be taken based on information received from the driver of the other vehicle immediately preceding the incident. At the first sign of a sudden turn, your driver should take immediate defensive action. Failure to take all appropriate defensive action indicates preventability. Collisions Involving Passengers Passenger incidents are preventable when they are caused by careless operation of the vehicle. It does not matter what type of vehicle is involved, nor whether another vehicle was involved. Incidents involving passengers are preventable when your driver stops, turns, or accelerates abruptly. The incident also may be preventable even though the driver took emergency action to avoid a collision. Proper driving prior to the emergency might have eliminated the need for the evasive maneuver. Collisions Involving Pedestrians Most court decisions generally rule in favor of any pedestrian hit by a moving vehicle. An unusual route of a pedestrian at mid-block or from between parked vehicles does not relieve a driver from taking precautions to prevent such crashes. The professional driver must slow down in any area where crashes are likely to involve pedestrians. The driver must adjust speed whether or not signs indicate lower speed limits or show other warnings. This means slowing in school zones, shopping areas, residential streets, and other areas with special pedestrian traffic. The professional must take precautions in areas where people are using bicycles, tricycles, motor scooters, and skateboards. People using such equipment are often the young, the elderly, or the inexperienced. The driver who fails to reduce speed when this type of equipment is operated within sight-distance has failed to take the necessary precautions to prevent a crash. Keeping within posted speed limits is not taking the proper precaution when unusual conditions call for a voluntary reduction of speed. Collisions in Bad Weather Adverse weather conditions are not an excuse for involvement in a collision. Rain, snow, fog, sleet, and icy pavement do not cause collisions. These conditions merely increase the hazards of driving. Failure to adjust driving to the prevailing weather conditions should result in a ruling or preventability. Collisions at Alleys, Driveways, Plant entrances, and Shopping Centers Collisions involving traffic originating from alleys, driveways, plant entrances, and other special intersecting locations should be carefully analyzed. The review process must determine what measures the driver should have taken to void the collision. Failure to slow down, for instance, can be considered cause to judge a collision preventable. So can failure to sound a warning or to yield to the other driver. 4

5 Collisions Involving Fixed Objects Collisions with fixed objects are preventable. Such crashes usually involve failure to check or properly judge clearances. Many hazards are not, in themselves, reasons for excusing a driver from preventing a collision. These hazards include resurfaced pavements, new routes, unusual delivery points, inclined entrances to docks, and marquees projecting over the traveled section of a road. There are dozens of other. The driver must constantly be on the lookout for such conditions and make the necessary defensive driving allowances. Collisions Involving Private Property The professional driver has special responsibilities when entering private property. The driver exercises these responsibilities, for example, when making deliveries at unusual locations, such as construction sites, or on driveways not built to support heavy commercial vehicles. There are hundreds of such sites. It is the driver s responsibility to obtain permission to enter the area. The driver should discuss the operation of the vehicle on private property with the proper authorities. The driver decides whether the traveled path can accommodate the vehicle s weight, height, width, and clearance limitation, and also makes a judgment about what defensive driving principles to use. Failure to carry out these responsibilities is cause for judging a collision preventable. Collisions While Parking Most collisions that occur while parking are preventable. These are some factors that indicate preventability: Unconventional parking locations; illegal parking, such as double parking; and failure to put out warning devices. Usually, the review committee would classify as preventable collisions resulting from roll-away parked position. When parking, the driver should properly block wheels or turn wheels toward the curb to prevent vehicle movement. Collisions Due to Mechanical Failure Any collision caused be mechanical failure that reasonably could have been detected by the driver but went unheeded is preventable. It is a CDL driver s responsibility to report possible mechanical failure and obtain repairs before operating the vehicle. For casual drivers, this should be covered in company policy. Sometimes mechanical difficulties occur unexpectedly during the trip. Upon discovery it is them driver s responsibility to check with the organization for emergency driving instructions. Failure to do so makes a collision preventable. A collision caused by mechanical failure that results from abusive driving should be considered preventable. Single Vehicle Collisions Single vehicle collisions such as jack-knifing, overturning, or running off the road should be reviewed carefully. Such crashes may result from emergency action taken by the driver to prevent a collision. However, they also may result from speeding or other factors. The review committee should evaluate the driver s actions prior to involvement for possible errors or lack of defensive driving. Other Crashes and Incidents Incidents relating to projecting loads, loose objects falling from the vehicle, loose tarpaulins or chains, or doors swinging open are often preventable. It is the driver s responsibility, for example, to secure loose objects. The driver must take all reasonable precautions to prevent damage to the vehicle, cargo, or other property-as well as injury to people. Cargo damage resulting from unsafe vehicle operation is always preventable. Non-Preventable Collisions: Some non-preventable collisions include the following circumstances: Struck in rear by other vehicle These are Non-Preventable if: While proceeding in their lane of traffic at a safe and legal speed While waiting to make a turn from a proper lane While stopped in traffic due to existing conditions or in compliance with a traffic sign, signal or officer Struck while legally and properly parked Materials available from The Hartford Loss Control Organization: To assist in developing information as a result of a vehicle collision, The Hartford Loss Control Organization has these materials for background information: 5

6 The Vehicle Collision Review form is to be completed by the driver, supervisor and collision/accident review board The Motor Vehicle Supervisor s Collision Investigation Report is to be completed by the driver s supervisor Fleet Conference available electronically that includes an approximate minute driver fleet safety conference on Preventability Please contact your Hartford Loss Control Consultant for this information. Summary The concepts of preventability and defensive driving are essential to the operation of a fleet safety program. A fleet safety supervisor must diligently work to create awareness of not only the importance of preventability, but also the fleet and defensive driving procedures involved. Providing adequate training as well as holding drivers accountable for preventable collisions will not only reduce the vehicle collision/ accident frequency but improve the fleet operations and the company s bottom line. Resources Motor Fleet Safety Supervision, Principles and Practices, National Committee For Motor Fleet Supervision Training. Motor Fleet Safety Manual & Guide for Determining Preventability of Motor Vehicle Accidents, National Safety Council, Trucking Industry Guidelines for Recording Fleet Vehicle Accidents and Determining Preventability, American Trucking Association, For additional information specific to your need, please contact your Hartford loss control consultant, or visit us at The information provided in these materials is intended to be general and advisory in nature. It shall not be considered legal advice. The Hartford does not warrant that the implementation of any view or recommendation contained herein will: (i) result in the elimination of any unsafe conditions at your business locations or with respect to your business operations; or (ii) will be an appropriate legal or business practice. The Hartford assumes no responsibility for the control or correction of hazards or legal compliance with respect to your business practices, and the views and recommendations contained herein shall not constitute our undertaking, on your behalf or for the benefit of others, to determine or warrant that your business premises, locations or operations are safe or healthful, or are in compliance with any law, rule or regulation. Readers seeking to resolve specific safety, legal or business issues or concerns related to the information provided in these materials should consult their safety consultant, attorney or business advisors. March 2012 The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., Hartford, CT All Rights Reserved 6

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