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Safe Driving Again, Again!

Posted 4/1/2021

By R. Bruce Wright, CPCU

Quite often our safety articles are inspired by questions, comments, or anecdotes that arise in our consultations with you, our clients. Other times though, the subjects are raised by our program managers and insurance partners in response to claims trends seen in the group as a whole. This is one of the latter type of articles, inspired by claims trends.  

I was recently asked to highlight during all my contacts with utilities in the program the fact that fleet losses, particularly third party liability claims, are once again on the rise. The concerns were raised particularly by a sequence of rear-end accidents with enormous exposures; fatalities and  permanent dehabilitating injuries. Before sitting down to start writing I decided to take a look in the RE-marks archive at some of the previous articles on safe driving that have been published there. I was surprised. Guess what I found.

There is a lot there on this subject already! Since we began providing safety articles on this Web site in January of 2000 there have been 20 articles directly focused on some aspect of safe driving, 3 others on CDL and vehicle inspection issues, and at least another dozen on how to manage, guide and otherwise influence, employees’ attitudes, safety culture, and their responses to rules. It may well be the most frequent topic in the 80 issues of the publication posted so far! 

A quick glance at the most recent safe driving article, posted in July 2019, reveals that it led off by saying:

Of all our regular safety topics, safe driving may be the one that is most often taken for granted. But, when you stop to think about it, vehicles are among the most dangerous tools utilities provide to their workers.  

This review may explain why it is such a commonly visited topic. In visits with clients I have often said that I believe that power distribution companies like those insured in this program generally do an excellent job protecting their employees and the public from the hazards associated with energized lines, pole and pad mounted equipment, and substations. All of these are part of the unique challenges of every distribution utility and “hot line” safety is the number one safety concern for everyone who works on them.  

I have also told many of you the story of how much improvement I have seen in safety on the lines in my career. In 1980 I read a transcript of a recorded statement taken from a lineman, in a hospital, who was recovering from a triple amputation as a result of “barehanding” a 7200v line while up on a pole. In it, he referred to “breaking my own personal safety rule” as well as his employers’ rules. At the end of the interview the claims adjuster asked him what he meant by that, and he said that as a veteran lineman he had always followed the rule that if he was in doubt he would not grab a line, but just slap it, so if he was wrong, he’d only lose a finger or two. Wow. I hope no one would describe that as a “safety rule” today. 

That interview in 1980 is more than 40 years ago now. But while line worker safety has come a long way in that time, driver safety efforts seem to have made little progress in those same forty years, beyond the basic advancements in the requirements of the CDL regs. And this is the case even in the face of the fact that vehicle accidents are the leading cause of claims, injuries, and costs for most utilities. Despite that, we continue to treat our fleet risk as a secondary concern, at least until something goes horribly wrong. 

Well, it may not have happened to your company yet, but it has at others! And when you or a member of you staff should rear-end another vehicle, it will be very, very unlikely that you will not be found “at fault,” regardless of why the other driver slowed, stopped, or otherwise happened to be caught up to. In my lengthy insurance career, which began as an adjuster, I have yet to see any evidence to support the claim that, “They backed into me at 60 mph!” Every State’s motor vehicle code has some type of clear rule requiring drivers to maintain “as assured clear distance” (or similar phrase) within which they can safety bring their vehicle to a stop. By hitting someone in the rear you provide the evidence needed to prove your own guilt. 

So help me out here. What can I do to raise the profile of this issue so that everyone at your utility will fully grasp the importance of getting safely from point A to point B while behind the wheel?

If I had to bet, I would say it’s likely to be an attitude problem. Not a “bad attitude,” in the sense of a poor sense of caring, but one that is focusing on the wrong thing. We all need more of the Dalai Lama in our mind set. When cut off, drop back. If the visibility is poor, slow down or stop. Call and say you’ll be late. Better than being “The Late (Fill in your name here)” instead. Why cruise at 5mph or 9mph over the limit? You’re not getting paid by the mile.  What will those few seconds, or even minutes, matter in the overall scheme of life?  

We need to treat driver safety as the performance issue that it is. It is critical to monitor, model, coach, and correct behaviors if you want to create a safe driving culture. Just like any other behavior.  Just like in every other element of worker performance, “What gets measured gets done.”

So, please use the hot link below to go to the 2019 article on safe driving. Review it and make a plan to implement some type of effort to effect driver performance positively. And, at the end of that article are links to many more resources we have previously published. Please contact me if you have any questions about them! 


Click here to link to Safe Driving, Again!