Prelude to a Collision

Accidents are expensive. Safety is cheap. Invest in defensive driving training.

November 11, 2011

3 Min Read
Prelude to a Collision

By Matt Gartner, XL Specialty Insurance Co.

Garbage and Trash Service Employee Killed in Accident.” “Skateboarder Killed by Garbage Truck.” “Man Killed in Garbage Truck Mishap.” “Employee Trapped in Garbage Truck and Killed.” These headlines appeared in U.S. newspapers over a one-week period.

Maneuvering a 25-ton piece of equipment through congested streets is no easy task. Figure in all of the other mechanics of operating a garbage truck and it’s easily one of the riskiest of jobs around. Given the risks drivers face every day, providing an ongoing training program can help prevent traffic mishaps and deadly accidents while keeping your insurance premiums under control.

Accidents, even minor ones, are costly. Lost work hours, time spent with insurance adjusters or filing claims, the costs associated with vehicle repair, out-of-pocket expenses and damage to your public image are just a partial list. Possible lawsuits or an environmental cleanup can add to the staggering price tag.

The primary causes of the accidents like those listed above are a lack of driving skill, impatience and carelessness. Speed management, lack of defensive driving skills and aggressive driving are also common causes that show up in accident analyses. 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 and other loss prevention measures.

Some safety tactics that have proven effective are quite simple. For example, a frequent sight on many trucks and company vehicles are “How’s my driving?” stickers. These stickers and the accompanying reporting services aim to help companies prevent accidents and save money by lowering vehicle speed, conserving gas and, of course, avoiding an accident. Their popularity has even extended to families of teen and elderly drivers who may need a little extra attention as their driving skills may be novice or diminished and would not be hurt by another set of watchful eyes.

Defensive driving courses also 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 to be better prepared to act on them.

While defensive driving sounds a bit aggressive, it really demands that drivers exercise courtesy and consideration toward others as well. Broadly speaking, it requires that drivers learn to recognize hazards; anticipate other drivers’ 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. Defensive driving commonly outlines six simple steps:

• Look down the road. Drivers develop the habit of looking beyond the present traffic situation for hazards down the road, 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. Drivers learn techniques to stay in control while behind the wheel.

These steps are intended to create a situation in which the driver has more space to maneuver should a hazard arise, increase visibility and give the driver time to evaluate the situation in order to make a good decision. Ultimately, the result of driving defensively is that the driver maintains a high level of control, both mentally and with the vehicle.

Increased training, a commitment to continuous retraining and strong regular encouragement of safe driving and safety awareness are certainly cheaper than paying for an accident.

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