Mark Murrell, CarriersEdge
For any business operating trucks, insurance is often a wild card. In some years, insurance agencies want your business and offer stellar rates. In other years, there seems to be a tighter market where rates escalate. That appears to be the mood of the market going into 2020, especially since its been reported that insurance companies in the trucking segment have been posting 120 percent loss ratios over the past several years. That ratio has been impacted by several “nuclear” verdicts – one large carrier, for example, was recently ordered to pay more than $40 million in damages from a fatal accident that occurred in 2017. What’s more, several large carriers closed doors this year, many citing the soaring cost of insurance as a catalyst to their demise.
In the process of working with fleets and insurance providers on driver training, we’ve found the issues that can prove to be the most damning for fleets in court often occur when fleets don’t give as much thought to their driver training program as they should.
One significant trigger is evidence of insufficient or negligent training in the fleets’ own records. Claims specialists at leading insurance providers say that during the deposition process or in court, the plaintiff’s attorneys will often ask for the fleets’ training records. “Attorneys have a checklist of things they ought to be requesting,” Don Huston, senior claims specialist with Sentry Insurance, told me. “We’re seeing the records-request letters more often.”
Another potential trigger? Lack of evidence the training programs were ever implemented. After all, however good it may be, its mere existence isn’t a good defense if there’s no record of implementation. Risk management experts tell me that without something to verify training took place, courts will likely assume it didn’t.
With insurance companies holding the cards on which fleets they will cover, and how much of a premium they’ll charge, how do you best position yourself to be “Insurable” at the best rate?
Accident history is obviously the top indicator, but insurance companies look to see what you’re doing to prevent accidents in the first place.
When analyzing your company at insurance renewal time, risk consultants review the company’s track record, and what the company has been doing in all areas of safety. The consultants then provide that information to underwriters who have to price the risk. Driver training is always something the risk consultants look for, and there are clear differences between fleets that manage this well, and fleets that don’t.
The good news is that developing a verifiable training program is not rocket science, and the basics can be adapted by anyone who wants to get on the right track and build a high-quality improvement program.
Keep it Going
Providing solid training at orientation is a great way to get drivers started off well, but don’t stop there. Ongoing, regular refresher training keeps drivers thinking about safety long after orientation is done. With an increasing selection of online tools available on the market, quarterly or even monthly training assignments are easier than ever to deliver. Those assignments can combine safety and regulatory basics with some company-specific details, and be designed to take advantage of seasonal issues. For example, winter driving in the fall; dealing with construction and pedestrians in the spring; school bus and student awareness in late summer; etc.
By mixing up different topics, combining basic regulatory tutorials and testing with company, equipment, and even customer-specific content, the sessions stay fresh and keep drivers on their toes.
To really build a best-in-class driver training program, have that training incorporate online, classroom, and practical training elements so drivers get to experience the subjects in different ways – we recommend one quarter having an online refresher about some part of the daily inspection, then the next quarter it’s a practical activity demonstrating those inspection skills.
Track what Happened
Lawyers explaining how to avoid “nuclear verdicts” in court always talk about having proof of everything the company does. The oft-repeated phrase is “if you can’t prove you did it, it didn’t happen.” Keeping track of training activities is a critical part of that.
“Tracking activities” used to mean having a sign-in sheet for driver meetings, but that’s no longer sufficient – the driver may have signed in when they arrived, but he or she stay for the whole session? Was anything learned? Those are questions a litigator could easily ask and how would you respond?
More complete tracking of activities – what people did, when they did it, and how well they did – is critical to demonstrate that the training program is actually working the way it should. That should include data tracked through online tools, checklists for practical activities, and tests or other proof-of-learning that happens in classroom courses. Online systems are great for tracking that, plus they can generate reports on demand. Paper files are fine if they’re organized and complete.
Organized is the key word here – nothing says “sloppy, negligent fleet” quite like a giant box of disorganized paper driver files. Keeping driver files and training history organized is much easier to do with an online system to manage it, which is part of the reason insurers and risk consultants often recommend them.
Once those quarterly sessions are up and running, it’s tempting to think that all the work is done. But, just having people complete training isn’t enough – you need to follow-up and make sure they’ve actually learned something. Insurers are trying to determine how well the fleet manages its risk, and having a great training program is certainly a solid start, but it’s only a start. The training program, if everything is tracked as recommended above, provides a mass of data. Doing something with that data is how you truly manage the risk.
Are all drivers completing the assigned training on time? If not, what are you doing about it? For drivers who struggle to complete things, or show gaps in knowledge or ability, how are you helping them?
If you’re not doing anything in those areas, then you’ve only got half the puzzle solved. If you don’t make sure that people are absorbing the training information – that it’s sticking — and measuring the improvement in performance as a result, then it’s really hit and miss as whether it’s going to do anything to improve your risk profile. Some people will certainly learn something, and some things will get better, but it’s definitely not a reliable, diligent process. You also won’t really know what parts are working, so you won’t be able to improve the overall program.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a program where you review the results of the quarterly assignments and work with the people who are struggling, it ensures that everyone is participating. This gives you much better data on what parts of the program need additional refinement, and ensures that you’re seeing the results you expect. That not only delivers a better return to the business, but also demonstrates a strong commitment to improving safety in the fleet.
That’s the kind of thing that the underwriters like to see. And if they see that, then you’re well on your way to being an insurable fleet.
Mark Murrell is co-founder of CarriersEdge, a leading provider of online driver training for the trucking industry, and co-creator of Best Fleets to Drive For, an annual evaluation of the best workplaces in the North American trucking industry produced in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association. He can be reached at www.carriersedge.com.