Truck News


Safety by the numbers

TORONTO, Ont. - Collisions and rollovers involving heavy commercial vehicles have, unfortunately, been front page news over the course of this past summer. Drivers and fleet operators, even those with...

TORONTO, Ont. – Collisions and rollovers involving heavy commercial vehicles have, unfortunately, been front page news over the course of this past summer. Drivers and fleet operators, even those with years of accident-free performance, have been wondering whether collisions are actually increasing, and whether they’re on the way to becoming another statistic.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said of statistics. And there’s some truth in what he said. But that doesn’t mean statistics should be completely discounted. Statistics can be very useful when it comes to protecting your business from loss, especially when the statistics you’re compiling relate to your own business. Benchmarking the performance of your company and its employees and contractors can actually help you understand how you compare to the industry, and what you can do to reduce crashes and other incidents and improve your record.

When comparing statistics, be careful to compare apples to apples – in other words, don’t compare stats on automobiles crashes with stats on trucks, or flatbed data with your own research, if you haul gravel. Ensure that the numbers you’re comparing your company’s performance to apply to the type of vehicles you operate. You’ll also find that it takes time for government and industry agencies to develop detailed collision statistics, so don’t get frustrated if you find can’t get industry data from the past two or three years. The most recent national collision data that’s readily available is for 2003, although most provinces have their own road safety reports available for 2006. Some provinces even have data from the current year on their Web sites.

Here’s what’s known so far – in 2003, Canadians operated 660,450 commercial trucks, defined as having a GVW (gross vehicle weight) in excess of 4,500 kg. These vehicles travelled just under 24.8 billion kilometres, or around 15.4 billion miles. That’s an average of 37,518 km per unit, per year. You’ll notice that this is a lot less than a typical long-haul unit, which might do 200,000 km per year, and even more in a team operation. The further you go, the greater your exposure. So that means a highway unit is five times more likely to be involved in a collision than the ‘average’ truck.

In 2003, a total of 51,865 of these commercial vehicles were involved in reported collisions, resulting in property damage, injuries, and fatalities. (It’s worth noting that these don’t include low cost, unreported events such as fixed object crashes and backing incidents.) That works out to one collision per every 12.7 vehicles. That’s not so bad. It also works out to one collision every 477,756 km, or every 296,877 miles if you prefer. Multiply these figures by five, as described above, and a highway unit will most likely be involved in a collision after less than three years of operation.

If you manage a fleet, you’re likely to have one collision for every 2.4 of your highway units, every year. Even if you believe that local units, in city traffic, are more likely to have more minor collisions than long-haul trucks on the open road, that’s a significant risk factor.

According to Transport Canada, in 2003, commercial vehicles were involved in about 9% of fatal collisions, which accounted for about 20% of all traffic fatalities. In Ontario alone, over two-thirds of the fatalities in collisions involving trucks were travelling in other types of vehicles. These numbers suggest that vehicle size plays a role not only in frequency, but also in severity of collisions and who is at risk.

These statistics also provide more positive news. Ontario’s data includes something called “Driver Action” at the time of the collision. In 2003, commercial vehicle drivers were “driving properly” in over 68% of fatal collisions. However, if drivers are doing the right thing seven out of 10 times in a fatal collision, it seems prudent to ask the question, ‘is ‘driving properly’ enough?’

Even if you have a spotless record, you’re likely to be involved in a collision at some point. You owe it to yourself and others on the road to make sure you are you doing everything you can to ensure a safe trip, and measuring your performance and improvements. Here are some simple suggestions to get started:

Benchmarking: Establish your own accident frequency, and compare this to industry figures. Know how you measure up, and whether your results suggest the need for a strategy to improve your on-road performance.

Emergency Response: Train drivers, dispatchers and safety personnel to be ready to respond to collisions, at the scene and in investigating the cause. Use your own collision statistics, developed over time, in the Benchmarking process.

Awareness: What specific hazards do your vehicles face? Look at statistics for your province, or the areas you run. These often include frequency by time of day, day, and month, as well as information on such regional hazards as domestic or wild animals, and severe weather.

Prevention: In order to reduce the number of collisions while “driving properly,” provide your drivers with training in defensive driving techniques. If you’re a driver, and this is not available from your fleet, pursue this training on your own. It’s a small investment, but it can pay dividends for a lifetime.

– David Gaskin is regional manager, Safety & Training Services for Markel Insurance. He worked as a driver, dispatcher, and manager in the trucking industry, before joining Markel in 1988. David has served as Safety Council director with the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, and is a member of the Ontario Trucking Association’s Pioneers’ Club.

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