Preventability programs are a cornerstone of risk management in the commercial trucking industry. Coupled with trucking insurance and safety-oriented operational approaches, these programs can help reduce the likelihood of a serious crash, potentially saving thousands or even millions of dollars in expenses for trucking companies. Even with their benefits, however, preventability programs – particularly regarding a company’s definition of “preventable” – can come back to haunt business owners. In this guide, we will explore preventability programs that reduce or eliminate the potential for admission of fault in a collision incident.
Preventability Programs: An Overview
Preventability programs were developed in the trucking sector to help improve safety strategies for drivers. These programs help to manage the expenses associated with on-the-road vehicle collisions and the liabilities that arise from collisions. The concept gained national attention when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed significant changes to its own Crash Preventability Determination Program.
The purpose of the FMCSA program is to collect and analyze data on vehicle crashes in the commercial transportation sector. Beginning in 2017 as a demonstration program, the agency reviewed nearly 6000 crashes to determine if the incident could have been prevented by motor carriers and their drivers. In 2019, the demonstration program was proposed to be made permanent and the proposal was accepted. Fleet owners have adopted the framework of the FMCSA program for their own in-house preventability programs to minimize the financial and liability impacts of vehicle crashes.
The Definition of “Preventable”
When developing a preventability program, many trucking companies have discovered potential pitfalls that can result in significant liability exposures and claims against trucking insurance policies. The key is in how those programs define “preventable”.
According to FMCSA 49 CFR 385.3, a preventable accident is defined as “an accident (1) that involved a commercial motor vehicle, and (2) that could have been averted but for an act, or failure to act, by the motor carrier or the driver.” For the purposes of discussion about preventability programs, this definition is also applicable to all fleet motor vehicles such as buses, delivery vans, and tractor-trailers.
Why is this definition important? There are two primary reasons:
- The definition of “preventable” removes the concept of reasonableness from the determination, differentiating determination from a determination of negligence (failing on the part of a driver to act in a manner that is “reasonable” under the circumstances leading to a crash).
- The definition, when adopted and used in fleet preventability programs, aligns the process with federal requirements. For liability purposes, this adoption establishes a “privilege of critical self-analysis”.
Protecting Against Litigation Risks
Fleet owners know that even with robust trucking insurance and safety-oriented approaches to driver conduct and fleet operations, the specter of litigation looms large. Thankfully, fleet owners can take steps to reduce litigation risks.
Timing is critical when discussing preventability determinations. To protect against liability claims, fleet owners must establish a level of accidents for which the company will defer any preventability determination until after litigation is completed. In many cases, this means waiting until after a trial. Creating and consistently adhering to a policy which governs which accidents this determination delay applies to can reduce liability risks.
An added benefit of this tactic is that it improves the concept of fairness to both the fleet driver and other parties involved in a collision. By holding off on determination until all the facts have been collected and litigated, all parties have a better chance of reaching a fair and equitable conclusion.
Preventability programs are an essential part of a broad risk management strategy for commercial trucking companies. These programs have significant benefits but can also be used against fleet owners in lawsuits. By adopting a consistent approach to litigation and by delaying a preventability determination until the facts are collected, you can ensure fairness while minimizing the chances of a legal claim going against you. Trucking insurance is a valuable part of risk management. Coupled with a consistent and fair preventability program that aligns with federal regulations, this insurance protects the financial assets that help to keep America’s commercial fleet operating smoothly.
About Western Truck Insurance Services
Western Truck Insurance Services is a commercial truck insurance agency with roots dating back to 1954. We have evolved into a highly respected, professionally managed, truck and transportation insurance brokerage. The hallmark of our organization is our desire to provide unparalleled service. We go way beyond what you expect to receive from an insurance brokerage. Equipped with state of the art automation, Western Truck Insurance can provide you with lightning fast truck insurance quotes, customer service, Insurance certificates, and coverage changes. Contact us today at (800) 937-8785 to learn more!