Collisions happen. And the ones that involve tractor-trailers have been known to leave plenty of damage in their wake. Strictly in financial terms, the related losses can involve everything from vehicle repairs to personal injuries, ruined cargo and environmental contamination.
Actions in the 24 hours which follow these crashes will determine just how big the financial losses become.
Formal Loss Prevention Plans guide fleet personnel through each crucial step in these early hours, identifying everybody’s role along with the updated contact information which ensures people can be reached when they are needed most.
Steps in proven plans stress the need to:
Put safety first – In the first moments after a collision, a driver’s focus should be on safety above everything else. Everyone needs to be checked for injuries but not moved unless they are in imminent danger, while signals, reflectors and flares are placed to offer the warnings which can prevent secondary collisions. Supplies in a spill kit could also be deployed to keep a minor leak from transforming into a full-scale environmental disaster.
Make the right calls – The driver’s first phone call sets a formal Loss Prevention Plan in motion. An identified fleet safety contact at the other end of the phone offers a calm voice, sees if the driver is OK, stresses the need to cooperate with authorities, and then calls police. The next call is made to an insurance company or broker, who will be able to marshal additional resources such as accident investigators or legal teams. Once a lawyer is involved, discussions are protected as a matter of lawyer-client privilege.
Identify the witnesses – As one of the first people on the scene of a collision, the driver plays a key role in collecting witness statements when everybody’s memory is clear. The checklists and forms found in formal Collision Reporting Kits – a valuable resource which can be filed away in any truck cab — will ensure no relevant detail is overlooked. You’ll want to be sure to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of all drivers involved, along with licence and plate numbers. And of course, you’ll need to get their insurance information as well.
Protect the evidence – In addition to drawing a diagram of the collision scene, drivers can use a reporting kit’s disposable camera or even their cell phone to capture important evidence. The best photos will record any damage alongside an object like a hand or person to provide a sense of scale. Stepping back from the damage, other images can illustrate weather conditions such as fog, obscured street signs, skid marks, or gouges in the pavement. Even the images which appear to show a fleet is at fault can ultimately support a broader investigation.
Keep appointments for alcohol and drug tests – Drivers who participate in alcohol and drug testing programs can be asked to blow into Breathalysers or provide urine samples after a collision. The schedules for these tests need to be honoured since any delays could affect results.
Inspect the equipment – The condition of any equipment in the wake of a crash can highlight everything from the extent of damage to factors which may have contributed to the collision itself. Worn tires or poorly adjusted brakes, for example, may have affected stopping distances. This is why fleet safety teams will want to accompany ministry or department of transportation personnel during any vehicle inspections. Data from an engine’s Electronic Control Module (ECM), meanwhile, can be downloaded to identify details such as the truck’s speed in the moments before a collision.
Collect and protect the paperwork – Comprehensive investigations rely on an array of paperwork, from vehicle safety and maintenance documents, to driver records, reports of past violations and completed logbooks. Each document holds a piece of the puzzle. Fleets also need complete files to protect against charges of withholding, hiding, changing or destroying evidence. A copy of the contract for the truck’s load, meanwhile, can identify responsibilities around the cargo itself.
Search for more witnesses – Witnesses are not limited to people on the roadway. Surrounding homes, businesses and bystanders can be canvassed to find anyone else who saw the crash or observed related driving conditions. Some locations may even be equipped with surveillance cameras which recorded the crash itself. But since many security systems will only save images for a limited period of time, the video files need to be protected before they are lost forever.
Collect every agency report – A collision’s story is told by more than police and fire departments alone. Other agencies may be gathering information. In the U.S., for example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will focus on workplace injuries, while the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or regional Motor Carrier Safety Unit (MCSU) may also conduct reviews.
Search the web – Reports from newspapers, radio stations, television networks and bystanders will often be posted on the internet. A quick search of the Web might identify more witnesses or uncover other important details. And a visit to YouTube or other video service could supplement the images collected on a driver’s camera.
Plan the strategy – Members of the fleet’s management team will need to set a strategy for the days ahead, identifying a spokesperson, key messages and other important steps. Media relations experts might also be called upon to refine messages, since any reported quotes can be used in future lawsuits. Meanwhile, the lawyers who represent the fleet will want to speak to drivers and safety teams to discuss the best approach before making any formal police statements. But any calls from a lawyer who represents an injured party are best directed to the fleet’s insurer.
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