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Who are you going to call?

TORONTO, Ont. - You're a fleet manager and it's 5 a.m. One of your company's rigs just rolled over on a slick stretch of the 401 while trying to avoid a collision with a spun-out minivan....

PLAN AHEAD: If you have to call one of these guys in, it pays to know who you'll be calling ahead of time. Having an action plan can save money and headaches.

PLAN AHEAD: If you have to call one of these guys in, it pays to know who you'll be calling ahead of time. Having an action plan can save money and headaches.

TORONTO, Ont. – You’re a fleet manager and it’s 5 a.m. One of your company’s rigs just rolled over on a slick stretch of the 401 while trying to avoid a collision with a spun-out minivan.

Fluid from the tanker trailer is leaking onto the highway. Does your driver know who to call? Do you?

Having an accident recovery plan in place can save a company (or owner/operator) thousands of dollars.

The cost of a recovery and cleanup can vary dramatically depending on who shows up to do the work. Without a good recovery plan in place, a trucking company loses control of its equipment and also the cost.

If you’re hauling specialized commodities, it’s even more important to have an action plan in place, says Sgt. Cam Woolley of the OPP’s Greater Toronto Region Traffic Support Unit.

“When there’s a crash, we normally endeavor to contact the owner to see if they have a recovery plan,” says Woolley. “If we call and they don’t answer, too bad, we revert to our default plans.”

Those default plans don’t always sit well with carriers – especially when the bill arrives in the mail. While the police have their own backup recovery plans that generally involve reputable companies, trucking companies can contain costs by having a customized plan with a recovery company that is familiar with their specific needs. Woolley says in some cases multiple recovery companies end up on the scene leading to disputes and additional charges to the trucking company due to a lack of communication.

Other times, carriers try to get the job done the cheapest way possible but the police no longer have the patience to sit around and wait while a road is blocked.

“If they have a good plan that can take place in a reasonable amount of time, we’ll use it but the plan has to be sound and their contractors have to be operating safely and legally,” Woolley explains.

“We’ve had some really embarrassingly bad plans. We’ve had guys sending out a pickup truck with some bags of sand and a shovel with a fuel truck flipped over. We’ve had them send out workers into traffic without vests.”

Safety has become paramount when dealing with accident scenes and the police have been given increased authority to do whatever it takes to get the cleanup completed, regardless of the cost to the carrier.

In fact, legislation could soon be on the way that would allow the police to take any steps necessary to clear an accident, even if it means causing further damage to the truck or cargo.

“When the 401 is blocked, it used to be just inconvenient,” Woolley says. “But now when the road’s blocked it creates secondary collisions and interferes badly with truck delivery schedules and can get folks into penalties and problems. The quicker you can restore traffic to normal, the better.”

Jim Martin is president of Comtow Towmar and chairman of the District 6 Heavy Towing Association. He admits his industry has its share of vultures who will swoop in and take advantage of companies that don’t have a recovery plan.

“Firstly, these companies have different price structures and they feel their trucks are worth $600-$700 per hour, then you have their storage rates that can vary from $25 per day in Thunder Bay to $250 or $450 per day in Toronto or Mississauga,” Martin admits. “Then there’s the other issue of competency and that’s my pet peeve. We’ve done full-blown container rollovers start to finish in three hours and under $5,000 including the cleanup. You get the wrong company out there that happens to have a higher price per hour and instead of three hours it takes 10 hours – you can do the math yourself.”

Meeting with a reputable recovery company and hammering out prices before an accident occurs can keep costs to a minimum, he advises, noting a two-truck accident can cost up to $100,000 to clean up.

A typical one-truck accident can cost $15,000-$27,000 for a recovery and cleanup, according to Martin, but having pre-arranged rates with a recovery company can keep those costs in check.

“Over the years, we have sat with the highway blocked while people tried to arrange credit,” says Woolley, recalling a time a road was blocked for five hours because a gravel truck driver couldn’t find a recovery company that would accept his credit card.

Woolley says trucking companies that haven’t been involved in an accident for some time are often shocked when they find out what it costs.

Recovery companies have done a better job than the general trucking industry in establishing rates that reflect the ever-rising cost of their equipment.

“I have a crane that would cost $750,000 to replace today. Most of the tow trucks I bought in 2001 were $375,000 each. Today they’d cost $425,000-450,000,” Martin points out. “When the customer calls for a major accident you don’t send something that just gets by, you have to send something that can handle the job safely and expeditiously. Usually better operators come with those vehicles.”

Recovery companies and the police both urge trucking companies to develop a recovery plan and ensure it can be executed. That means keeping a copy of it in the truck, ensuring the driver knows about it and making sure there’s a contact person available any time of the day or night.

“Some transport companies don’t even have a 24-hour phone number where you can reach their safety and compliance people,” Martin says.

Another critical component to a good recovery plan is the involvement of the trucking company’s insurer, says Will Mandau, vice-president of claims with Markel Insurance.

“The biggest part of the plan is reporting early to your insurance company,” he stresses. “From an insurance perspective, it’s critical this comes in quickly.”

Often the power unit and the cargo are insured by different companies, causing confusion about who’s on the hook for what. Mandau stressed alerting the insurer of an accident as quickly as possible is just another way to keep the costs under control.

To establish a recovery plan before it’s too late, contact your local police department, a reputable heavy-duty towing and recovery association and your insurance provider.

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