A truck involved crash is a disturbing event for the driver, the trucking company and any third parties. Every accident though offers a chance to learn and collect information that can be used to improve fleet safety. A necessary step in that learning opportunity is to decide if the accident was preventable or non-preventable.
Determining preventability ought to be a part of every fleet safety plan. All accidents, no matter how minor, should be investigated and preventability determined. The results of a preventability review provide an opportunity to critically look at and if needed update your safety policy and practices. A preventability decision is also a valuable tool in promoting driver professionalism. Knowing if an accident was preventable or not can be used to train and inform drivers on how to better anticipate and respond to potential crash situations. To be accepted by drivers, the process must be fair and consistent. It must be seen as an honest effort to find the cause of the accident, not an attempt to assess blame or impose a penalty.
The fact that a driver is not charged after a collision should not be the basis for making a finding of preventable or not-preventable. Preventability is based on the actions, or lack of action, of the driver involved, not necessarily the rules of the road. The National Safety Council defines preventable as “the driver failed to do everything that they reasonably could have done to avoid a collision”. The American Trucking Associations Safety Management Council says preventability is determined by asking if a driver was driving defensively. Defensive driving is committing no driving errors, making allowances for the lack of skill or improper driving practices of others, adjusting driving to compensate for unusual weather, road and traffic conditions and not being tricked into an accident by the unsafe actions of pedestrians and other drivers.
Start with a detailed accident investigation to decide if an accident was preventable. Provide drivers with a comprehensive accident reporting kit and train them how to use it. A thorough Investigation includes obtaining police and what may be conflicting witness reports. Timely investigation is important while people’s recollections are still clear and physical evidence is still available.
A preventability decision is based on knowing the details on three variables; the driver, the vehicle and the environment. Driver information should include not only driving records such as log books, dispatch instructions and driving history but also health and/or emotional reports and off-duty activities. Vehicle data needed are recent inspection reports, mechanical history, details about the load and how it was secured. Environmental conditions will consist of such things as the geometry and condition of the road, presence and operation of traffic control devices, weather and the location of other road users, witnesses and pedestrians.
Guidance on how to use this information in a preventability evaluation is available from a number of sources. Good references include the American Trucking Associations Safety Management Council’s “Trucking Industry Guidelines for Recording Fleet Vehicle Accidents and Determining Preventability” and the National Safety Council's “A Guide to Determine Motor Vehicle Accident Preventability”. Some fleet managers are concerned that a preventable crash may be used against them responsibility in the event of litigation. Where this is a concern, consulting with legal counsel before finalizing the result may be helpful.
Every crash is different. Therefore, every decision on preventability must be based on the particular circumstances of the accident. To be effective and meaningful the process leading to the decision must be detailed and look beyond the obvious. A crash may be preventable if a driver failed to get a road report to find out winter road conditions but may be non-preventable if black ice formed on the roadway. In the end the question to have answered is did the driver do everything reasonably possible to not be involved in a collision?