What is an Accident?
This may seem like a really lame question, but the FMCSA defines an Accident very specifically.
Unless specifically defined elsewhere, in this sub-chapter:
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2) of this definition, an occurrence involving a commercial motor vehicle operating on a highway in interstate or intrastate commerce which results in:
(i) A fatality;
(ii) Bodily injury to a person who, as a result of the injury, immediately receives medical treatment away from the scene of the accident; or
(iii) One or more motor vehicles incurring disabling damage as a result of the accident, requiring the motor vehicle(s) to be transported away from the scene by a tow truck or other motor vehicle.
(2) The term accident does not include:
(i) An occurrence involving only boarding and alighting from a stationary motor vehicle; or
(ii) An occurrence involving only the loading or unloading of cargo.
Why does your SMS Profile Show an Accident for a Blown Tire?
I have seen several cases where an officer used a simple tire blowout as a reason to list it as an accident and it shows up on the carrier's SMS Report. After searching high and low and reading way more than I wanted to, I found the a document that specifically states that a tire blowout is not in of itself considered "Disabling Damage," even when a tow truck is called to move the vehicle to a safe location. Check out Page 20 under Disabling damage. This is a research paper, but so far it is the only thing I have found that addressed the issue directly. It is in the DOT's own library, so I am going assume that it was validated prior to them uploading it. The FMCSA paid the University of Michigan $234,315 for this study, which is a whole other topic that at some point I may write a blog about. It makes me wonder if I should get into research though....
(I have emailed a request for clarification as well, I have not received a response yet... shocking right!)
Five Tips to Prepare for an Accident
1. Train your drivers
Train your drivers on what to do in case of an accident, preparing your driver in advance is the best way to ensure that if the unfortunate event actually does occur, they will know exactly what to do. This should include several areas, not just who to call at your office. They should understand the exact order of the steps they need to take, what to say, who to call, etc.
2. Train your supervisors
Train your supervisors on what to do in case of an accident. Preparing your supervisors in advance is just as important as training your drivers. They should know exactly what they need to do when a driver or officer calls in to report an accident. Remember that your driver, supervisor, and yourself are all potentially going to be called in for deposition if litigation does occur.
3. Know the Post Accident D&A Testing Requirements
Not all DOT Recordable Crashes require a Post Accident D&A test. There are several issues with testing a driver after a crash that can get you into hot water. Not just with the FMCSA, but also potentially with labor laws and driver rights. Then you have litigation, and attorney's will specifically look at your D&A Testing policies. Understanding and implementing the correct testing protocols is key. The biggest mistake I see carrier's making after a crash is that they are performing DOT, post-accident tests when they are not allowed to. When I question the reasoning, a lot of them just assume that all DOT recordable crashes require a DOT D&A test. Although there are other variables, the biggest error I see is testing a driver when he has not been given a moving citation.
4. Have an In-house Accident Review Panel
Putting together an Accident Review Panel or Board doesn't need to be a big ordeal. One mistake that I see carrier's making when they organize this board is they don't have driver peers on them. They only have supervisors or company execs on the board, and they end up missing out on some very valuable experience and feedback. Not to mention the buy-in and driver moral that can only help you in driver retention. This board isn't required, but it does go a long way in showing that you have a solid safety program.
5. Receive Post-Accident Guidance from a DOT Expert
Take an ONLINE COURSE that is all about Accidents. This course covers what drivers need to do before and after a crash. This includes examples of training criteria, step-by-step instructions for drivers and supervisors, what items should be in every truck at all times, when to test and when not to, how the investigators look at your crashes during the review process, and how attorney's may twist it all around to make everything your fault.
Bonus: What risks are there when you don't have an Accident Action Plan?
One accident could bankrupt your company or land you in jail.
More and more drivers are going to prison after being involved in a CMV crash when fatalities are involved. In some cases, it wasn't that the driver intentionally did anything wrong or even knew he did anything wrong. Maybe it's what you would think would be a minor ELD violation, that can lead the prosecutors to insist the driver was fatigued and therefore negligent- like not taking the 30 minute break!
A few more things that attorney's and prosecutors look for: ELD/GPS/OBD records, the lack of records, time of the accident, police report (driver comments), payroll records, medical history and much more. They will dig into every aspect of how you hired the drivers, their DQ files, what made you think they were qualified, the vehicle files, the driver's HR records, or any records of reprimands.
It isn't just truck drivers going to jail, it is supervisors and executives too. There are a few cases found where supervisors or executives have been charged, and in some of them found guilty and sentenced to jail time. In most cases they are for either falsifying documents, knowingly allowing falsification to occur, or requiring drivers to operate CMV's when they know it would be in violation either by the driver or vehicle.
How to Mitigate or even Eliminate your Risks
Operate your business as if you are going to have an accident and justify everything. Nobody goes out and thinks, "Hmm, I think I will get in a crash today." Well, at least not a sane person thinks that. You and your drivers probably don't have that on the top of your mind when you start your day. Here's the thing, that is probably exactly the way every driver or supervisor that has been involved in a crash was thinking too. Maybe I should say, not thinking. If you operate your business with the reality that at some point you may have to justify why you allowed that driver to drive or that vehicle to be out on the road, you are going to be a lot better off than if you just hope it doesn't happen at all.
Get the training on Accidents that you really need. Look, we know that trying to figure everything out needs to be easier. When I started over 20 years ago Google didn’t even exist, there were hardly any resources available, and the FMCSA didn’t help much either; they were great at issuing huge fines though. That is why I made it my mission to help you avoid the same mistakes I did.
To help me in that mission and by a lot of client requests, I created our online training program. Some topics covered:
Know What to do Before and After an Accident occurs
Learn Key Points Investigators Use During an Audit
Learn Key Points Attorney's and Prosecutors Use During Litigation
Insights on creating a Accident Review Board
Bundle Up & Save
Of course you can purchase each course individually, but you can also bundle them together for almost 50% off the price you would pay for all courses separately!
CONTACT US if you have questions or to find out about other services we offer. I promise not to be a pushy salesperson or offer anything that won't actually help you!
Tyna Bryan is the CEO of D.O.T. Readiness Group and DOTReady Software. With 20+ years of experience working in the industry, Tyna has owned and managed several companies as well as consulted for hundreds of companies all over the United States. If you get the chance to meet Tyna, she's a spitfire who knows her stuff! She has been consulting and training on DOT compliance and regulations exclusively since 2009.