Fleet management economics are not just about predictive scheduling, inspection and maintenance. Yes, you can predict and control operating costs by keeping and analyzing records. But one thing you can’t do is predict accidents, other than predicting you will have one at some point. However, accidents – especially expensive ones – don’t have to be an unpredictable liability. In fact, most accidents don’t have to happen at all, although sometimes we as managers enable them.
A few years ago, I got a call from the sheriff of a small town in Tennessee. I was working for a contractor at the time, and one of our trucks had been found on its side in the trees off a small two-lane road. The cab was crushed and our driver was deceased, his body trapped in the wreck for several hours. This was not just a matter of having to cut away the cab. The driver, who was not wearing a seat belt, had been thrown below the steering column in the crash. The cab folded in and around him, and the truck was a total loss.
The reason I chose this story to make the following points is due to how the incident played out within the organization. Everyone was devastated by the loss of the driver. That was expected. But after a few weeks, the incident became the focus of accounting, and that’s when the safety department came under scrutiny. That’s because the highway patrol had completed the incident investigation, and they discovered three enabling elements that – had any of them been changed – would have prevented the accident from occurring. The driver would not have died, the truck would not have been totaled and the financial loss would have been avoided.
These three elements won’t be common to all incidents, but I’ve detailed them here to demonstrate to readers that most incidents are avoidable. In addition, I’ve also identified some cultural initiatives that can prevent the enabling of future incidents.
Element 1: The Route
The truck was a Freightliner twin-axle, 20-ton digger derrick. There were three main routes from the yard to the project site. It was 7:45 a.m., and the driver voiced concerns about traffic. According to his crewmates, he knew a faster route that was rarely used and would bypass the morning traffic. So, what was the value of the time saved? The incident investigation indicated the backroad route could have saved time only if the 35-mph speed limit was exceeded by 30 mph. The other two routes – an interstate and a four-lane highway – had fewer turns, fewer stops and speed limits of 55 to 65 mph. Perhaps more important was the construction of the roadways. In addition to having fewer turns, the two higher-speed highways had shoulders that varied from 26 inches at the narrowest to 96 inches at the widest. The shoulders became the most important issue because the rural road the driver had chosen had no shoulder. In several places, the road dropped off into rocky ruts just inches off the white line. The highway patrol’s analysis of the cause of the incident was that the right front wheel of the digger derrick dropped off the road into a rut, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.