A focus on safety ratings can deliver real financial benefits

by Matt Graveline

Carrier safety ratings create a minimum barrier of entry for anyone who wants to run a truck fleet. At the very least, a poor score – caused by factors such as driving violations or equipment defects – will trigger added attention from government auditors and roadside inspectors, alike.

But several competitive advantages are also available for fleets that look to earn the best grades under Ontario Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) or US-based Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) programs.

High ratings translate into added revenue when safety-conscious shippers use the information to compare fleets that are competing for freight. A growing number of freight brokers have certainly been asking for Department of Transportation numbers and studying safety ratings before assigning loads. Insurers who are establishing premiums, meanwhile, are digging deeper into the data than ever before.

Each of the related decisions will have a direct impact on a fleet’s bottom line.

A score’s underlying data can offer insight into more issues than some managers realize. The CSA’s individual Behaviour Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), for example, track everything from unsafe and fatigued driving, to driver fitness, the use of controlled substances or alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo issues and the likelihood of crashes. Each factor is compared against the experience of industry peers, offering meaningful benchmarks. The list of a job candidate’s crashes over the past five years, and roadside inspections failed in the last three years, are also available through the related Pre-Employment Screening Program and its Driver Information Resource records.

Armed with this data, fleets have a chance to focus business strategies that will earn better ratings and secure other lasting benefits.

Look no further than the way a reported increase in out-of-service violations can be used to make informed changes in a maintenance bay. Fleet managers who notice an unusual spike in the brake defects that are spotted during roadside inspections have the chance to search for a root cause, whether it involves pre-trip inspection strategies, training in the steps to adjust brakes, the replacement schedules for individual components, or the specifications for preferred parts. Once a change is made, the ratings data itself can be used to track successes or refine strategies.

The benefits do not end with the improving scores. Delays at roadside inspection stations will trend downward, reducing the cost of penalties linked to late shipments, while the need for costly mobile service calls will also drop. The choices can even extend service intervals or shorten stopping distances, the latter of which could help to reduce the costs linked to collisions. For that matter, drivers who realize they face fewer delays at roadside inspection stations have one less reason to look for another employer, helping to reduce ongoing recruiting costs.

Meanwhile, other ratings can be used to focus training programs. A safety team which identifies a driver who has been ticketed for an improper lane change, for example, will know the employee faces a high risk of having a collision in the next year. Research by the American Transportation Research Institute found that someone who is cited for failing to use a signal is 96% more likely to have a crash. This is the type of risk that can be offset with a defensive driving program.

Surprisingly, despite the value of all this data, some fleets continue to offload the analysis and training-related solutions to third-party safety consultants who are contracted in a misguided attempt to slash costs.

Services like these need to be selected carefully if they are outsourced at all. A fleet that pays a consultant to report on the data just once per quarter, for example, can miss challenges that emerge in a matter of weeks, potentially triggering audits before any corrective action begins. To compound matters, some of the service providers answer emerging training needs with driver manuals that are cut and pasted together without any thought of the way a fleet actually conducts business. In the wake of a poor rating or a collision, this can leave fleet managers in the awkward position of explaining the differences to an auditor or judge.

There is no question that corrective actions and a greater focus on ratings often need to be supported with budget dollars. But informed choices will ensure scarce resources are invested where they can make the biggest difference of all.

And that is when a ratings system becomes a valuable business tool.

This month’s expert is Matt Graveline, Senior Risk Services Consultant with Northbridge Insurance. Matt has more than 20 years’ experience in the trucking industry as both a long-haul driver and an owner operator. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbins.com.

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