Benchmarking data can predict the threats to come

by Albert Zimbalatti

Few business leaders would pass up the chance to gaze into a crystal ball that identifies costly problems before they occur. They are the details which could mean the difference between a profit and loss; a competitive edge in the days of frozen rates and low freight volumes.

They are also the predictions that fleets can make with nothing more than a spreadsheet and a commitment to benchmarking.
Research by the National Safety Council has found that about 30% of collisions – a group of crashes including head-on collisions, T-boned vehicles, hit pedestrians, rear-enders, jackknifes and rollovers – account for 75% of collision-related financial losses. And there is a direct link between this type of collision and the past behaviour of high-risk drivers. Those who collect tickets for tailgating, speeding, aggressive driving and lane hopping, for example, are known to have a bigger chance of being involved in one of the rear-end collisions that are the leading cause of truck driver fatalities.

Every speeding ticket, moving violation, overweight trailer, or hours-of-service violation is a sign of other challenges to come, the researchers found. Even those drivers who collect a seemingly minor out-of-service violation are 16% more likely to be involved in a collision in the next 12 months.

Knowing that high-risk drivers are at the heart of the costliest problems, fleets can look at past performance to identify the early indicators of future losses.

The data itself can come from a number of sources. Those who are crossing the border will be able to tap into new CSA reports into seven Behaviour Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) including unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, use of controlled substances and alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo-related issues, and crash indicator. In Canada, important details can be collected by tracking changes in records such as Ontario’s Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration reports, or simply by tracking the details around violations, collisions and customer complaints.

Each of the numbers that emerge can be compared to benchmarks that are based on past performance.

But for the data to transform into valuable information, fleets need to track the details in a meaningful way. While most companies will file accident reports, the facts are often hiding in a bulging file folder that fails to offer any insight into emerging patterns. A more effective benchmarking tool compiles the information into a chart or a central source where any troubling increases can be identified and compared.

Just like the story in a newspaper, the vital details include who was involved in an incident, what happened, when it occurred and where. The numbers are also compared in a way that reflects the operation, such as a long-haul fleet’s focus on the number of incidents per million miles. Once any of those factors begin to pile up in the form of troubling trends, it is a matter of asking why a situation occurs, and looking for steps to solve the issue.

Some of the facts can lead to surprising findings. One safety manager recently discovered that a surge in the number of collisions caused by a “loss of control” was actually linked to medical issues. A challenge like that might need to be addressed with a focus on the medical screening process.

Another carrier was baffled by an increase in the number of speeding tickets, since all of the truck engines had been governed with a top speed. A closer look at the situation showed that most of the tickets were issued in rural areas, which had lower posted speed limits. But the issue was addressed by telling drivers that, if caught speeding, they would lose dedicated runs and be placed on an open dispatch board.

Indeed, the challenges can often be connected to a group of drivers as easily as an individual. Drivers who are prone to an aggressive driving habit might be graduates of the same school, easily identifying those who need retraining in a specific skill. A fleet might even need to re-evaluate its ongoing hiring practices if most of the high-risk drivers appear to come from a common source like a specific driver service.

These are just a few examples that show there are solutions and savings to be found. It is simply a matter of looking behind the numbers, identifying the issues that are the greatest cause of concern, and then setting the strategies for change.

After all, the only thing better than predicting a threat is finding the solution that prevents it.

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