Let’s Talk Insurance: Who’s Behind the Wheel?

by Mark J. Ram

Who’s behind the wheel?

He’s the front line in your operation. The man (or woman) with his foot on the gas, his eye in the rear view mirror and the fate of your vehicle, your load and your whole company in his trusty hands.

Who is he? In this two-part article I’ll address some key issues around finding and keeping good folk behind your wheel – and the impact it may have on your insurance rates.

Bear in mind that, especially if you run a small operation, your drivers will likely be one of the very first things an insurance underwriter will look at.

Your drivers’ accidents, convictions and violations records along with the hands-on experience they have with commercial vehicles will be scrutinized to help determine your risk acceptance, your eligibility for coverage and any pricing discounts or surcharges.

You could even say that the insurance rating of a very small trucking operation is really the rating of its driver or drivers.

For larger operations, individual analysis of any given driver won’t always lead to discounts or surcharges, but it can create an overall impression of the acceptability of your insurance risk.

Expert underwriters are trained to watch for signs of deterioration in your safety practices.

If your underwriter senses that your hiring choices are slipping, watch out!

They know that poor choices in hiring will almost invariably result in greater accident frequency and severity and this will negatively impact both your insurance eligibility and insurance price.

The lowdown on hiring

So how do you ensure your driver force is up to snuff?

Let’s start with the driver hiring process. Surprisingly few trucking companies have a comprehensive orientation program for drivers that isolates and addresses potential problem areas – and this can be a real insurance concern.

Take, for example, the initial training phase. Many companies identify gaps in the skill sets of drivers and a need for further training – but then fail to deal with it.

Leave no loose ends in the training process.

For example, a driver applies for work at your company and you take him on a road test.

Test results show he will probably be pretty good…but that he needs a little work on his right turns and backing up.

You take him on with good intentions, hoping to sometime, somehow address these little issues – which are by now clearly documented in his driver file.

Sure, you might take some action and put him into a general training program designed for all your drivers – but not one that specifically targets his weak areas.

Plus, you’ve never really had the chance to bring him back for a retest to see if he’s learned anything or improved.

From an insurance standpoint this can be really tricky when six months down the road that driver is involved in a major claim and you have unresolved issues on file.

Double the legal trouble if the incident occurs on U.S. soil. Plaintiff lawyers could subpoena the driver’s file and make a costly feast of your failure to close that skills gap!

One good solution is to outsource your road testing to a qualified and competent third party.

Or, if you opt to keep your driver testing on-site, be sure it is conducted by qualified, competent driver trainers.

In either case, remember to follow-up with re-testing and leave no loose ends that might land you in a courtroom nightmare down the road.

Who is this guy?

Also, when hiring new drivers be sure to ask yourself: who is this guy and what is his genuine experience operating similar equipment in the circumstances which you propose to employ him?

You need to make sure he is qualified according to the laws of the land.

For example, a Canadian trucker entering the U.S. must be 21 or older.

You must also be careful to retain records that your driver has been screened for drugs and that they are not in violation of hours of service.

These too can cost you dearly in a court of law.

Pitfalls and potholes

From an insurance perspective, if you employ a driver who is “unqualified” to operate THAT vehicle in THAT jurisdiction you could be in a policy violation position which could lead to reduced coverage or even denial of coverage.

Your vehicle could be rejected at the border or you could lose your operating authority.

Horror stories abound…I only emphasize these things to further stress the importance of caution and care in the hiring process.

Attitude counts

In the hiring process there often tends to be an exclusive emphasis on skills and experience and an under-emphasis on proper attitude.

If you’re lucky enough to find a good, experienced driver who also has a great attitude – don’t let him slip through your fingers.

Remember that you can always work better with this kind of driver and train to fill in gaps, versus having a highly experienced driver with a bad attitude who can land you in a bad claim…and the last thing you want is a driver with a bad attitude representing your company on the witness stand.

“But once I’ve found him,” you ask, “how do I keep him? How do I beat the vicious cycle of driver turnover?”

Check back next month when I’ll tackle the tricky issue of driver retention, as it relates to your business’ bottom line and your insurance rates.

Mark J/. Ram is president and CEO of Markel Insurance Company of Canada. Please send your questions, feedback and commentary about this column to letstalk@markel.ca. For more information about Markel visit www.markel.ca

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