Defensive Behavior

What do the following types of accidents — lane changes, sideswipes, collisions at intersections, turning squeezes, pedestrian strikes and backing accidents — have in common? Unfortunately, garbage haulers have been involved in all of them. However, it is not difficult to implement the training necessary to help prevent such traffic mishaps.

The primary causes of the accidents listed above are a lack of driving skill, impatience and carelessness. According to the Federal Highway Administration's Preventable Accident Manual, the best way to prevent such accidents is through increased training. Many insurance companies help their clients implement corrective measures and training programs. Defensive driving courses remain popular among many fleet-operating businesses, including waste firms.

Defensive driving means driving safely and correctly in spite of adverse conditions and the poor decisions and errors made by others on the road. It teaches drivers to anticipate problems and prepares them to react to those problems.

By adopting this mindset and adopting a six-step defensive driving sequence, the driver creates an environment in which he or she has more space to maneuver his/her vehicle should a hazard arise, as well as increased visibility and more time to evaluate the situation to make a good decision. The ultimate result of driving defensively is that the driver maintains a high level of control, both mentally and with the vehicle.

While defensive driving teaches drivers how to actively avoid a crash, it also demands that drivers exercise courtesy and consideration toward others. Broadly speaking, it requires that drivers learn to recognize hazards; assume other drivers will make mistakes; adjust the speed, position and direction of their vehicles to be able to maneuver safely; look far ahead and frequently to the sides and rear of a vehicle; and scan completely around a vehicle before changing speed or direction.

Various courses take different approaches to teaching defensive techniques. One insurance firm, for instance, offers a course called “The Safe Approach to Commercial Driving,” which outlines a six-step approach toward defensive driving. The steps are:

Look down the road — Drivers develop the habit of looking beyond the present traffic situation for hazards down the road by expanding their field of vision.

Know the surrounding environment — Drivers learn the importance of scanning around their vehicles to become familiar with the environment.

Be considerate of others — Drivers are taught the basics of communication, right-of-way and sharing the road.

Expect the unexpected — Drivers learn to plan ahead to avoid surprises like tailgate traps. They develop a constant awareness of their surroundings and vehicle position while driving.

Be decisive — Drivers are taught how to make good decisions and act in a safe and timely manner.

Maintain focus — In this step, drivers discuss techniques to stay in control while behind the wheel.

The length of defensive driving courses can vary. For instance, a course can be presented in up to 12 sessions throughout the year, or drivers can complete the course in an intensive one-day class. Certificates are often issued upon completion of courses.

By practicing defensive driving techniques, waste firms can carry out their duties in the safest manner possible and keep their vehicles and personnel on the road.
Kate McGinn
XL Specialty Insurance Company
Exton, Pa.