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Commercial Vehicles and Crash Reporting

Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team

Reducing the frequency and severity of motor vehicle crashes requires thorough fact-finding when crashes occur. Let’s review the responsibility of drivers and management in investigating crashes and the need for thorough crash records and analysis to determine the underlying factors that cause crashes.

Crash, as used in this report, is any motor vehicle-related incident that results in a fatality, injury, or property damage. Currently, multiple terms are used to describe a mishap involving a motor vehicle, including accident, incident, and collision. Rather than try to blend these terms, the description ‘crash’ will be used in this report.

Crash reporting, recording, and analysis should be approached from two avenues. The first aspect should consider the legal issues involved with the crash - those items that will likely be brought up in an insurance claim or court. The second aspect should be focused on an analysis of whether the crash was preventable, regardless of the legal considerations.

This report describes the various areas of responsibility of drivers and management in investigating crashes and discusses the need for thorough crash records and analysis to determine the underlying factors that cause crashes.

Commercial Driver Accident Responsibility

The driver's initial actions at a crash scene are often critical to minimizing financial loss resulting from the crash. The driver may be under extreme stress at the crash scene; thus, the procedures to follow must be clear, concise, and thoroughly understood. To help facilitate this, an informational packet containing instructions and forms for use in the event of a crash should be carried in a vehicle at all times. To document conditions at the crash scene, photographing the scene with a cell phone or by using a disposable camera provided in the vehicle can prove very valuable in subsequent crash analysis (e.g., location, vehicles, cargo, and skid marks); however, crash victims should not be photographed.

After protecting the crash scene and assisting anyone who was injured in the crash, the driver needs to collect all pertinent information at the scene in a preliminary crash report. Thoroughness in performing this task will be of great help in assessing the crash. Once the driver has obtained the basic information for the preliminary crash report, the driver should notify his/her company.

Management Responsibility in Accident Investigation

When a driver calls to report a crash, the person receiving the information should have a checklist for recording the crash data. This will aid in collecting all vital facts so that it can be determined whether someone should be immediately dispatched to the crash scene. If there are any fatalities, multiple serious injuries, or extensive property damage, it is desirable to immediately send someone to the crash scene to initiate an investigation. If the driver is injured or killed, someone should be immediately dispatched to the crash scene to represent the company. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations or company policy may require the testing of the driver for the use of controlled substances following a crash.

All crashes should be investigated to some extent. Management needs to know exactly what happened and why it happened in order to determine what might be done to prevent a similar occurrence in the future. Key personnel should be trained in basic crash investigation, and the investigation should be started as soon as possible while witnesses’ memories are fresh and any evidence is still available. The investigator should determine how the crash occurred, what physical evidence might be available, and any factors contributing to the crash. The investigator should be able to reconstruct the events leading to the crash and record those facts for future reference. Photographs are often helpful for recording conditions at the crash scene and to document damage; however, crash victims should not be photographed.

Commercial Vehicle Crash Records

A company representative should complete a crash report to be sent to the company's insurer as soon as possible, as well as any state or federal government reports that may be required. A permanent file should contain all the pertinent information concerning the crash, including:

  • The preliminary crash report from the driver;
  • Copies of crash reports submitted to various agencies; and
  • Crash investigation data, police records, witness reports, and any other information which might be useful in evaluating the crash.

In addition to the individual crash file, all vehicle crashes should be recorded, in chronological order, in a "crash register," to provide management with an overall summary. Analyzing the crash register may indicate problem areas or trends that would not otherwise be obvious by reviewing crash reports separately. The crash register should include at least the following information:

  • Date of crash
  • Name of driver
  • Vehicle identification number(s)
  • Location of crash
  • Brief description of crash
  • Number of fatalities
  • Number of injuries
  • Amount of property damage

Motor carriers subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) must maintain a crash register with specific information. For information on the FMCSR requirements, see Commercial Vehicle Report CV-50-10, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations - General Requirements.

Commercial Vehicle Accident Analysis

Proper crash analysis involves gathering of facts, arranging them in a usable format, and analyzing what transpired. A properly developed crash reporting and recording system will allow management to determine not only "primary" causes of crashes, but also "contributing" causes, which might be otherwise overlooked.

The investigation of each crash should not merely seek the specific act that was involved, but should go further into the conditions responsible, so as to avoid problems in the future. The investigation must include areas such as:

  • Checking the driver's record for similar occurrences, length of service, and indications of poor attitude or lack of skill.
  • Questioning whether a proper job of selection was done, whether training was adequate, and if the driver was properly supervised.
  • Determining if there were previous indications that should have warned of an impending crash.
  • Evaluating if scheduling or routing could be improved.
  • Ascertaining if there was any indication of improper maintenance procedures or if an equipment deficiency was involved.
  • Evaluating any conditions related to the vehicle's cargo.

A detailed investigation helps to identify the areas in which either specific or general corrective action should be taken. The information derived from the crash analysis should be maintained in a separate file from the “official” crash record and be used constructively to educate employees or change procedures in an effort to prevent future occurrences.

Determining the Preventability of Commercial Vehicle Accidents

A determination should be made as to whether the crash was "preventable" on the part of the company's driver. This is irrespective of the legal conditions involved with the crash, as preventability relates to "defensive driving" and not legal culpability. A preventable crash is one in which the driver failed to exercise every reasonable precaution to prevent the crash. In order to avoid becoming involved in a preventable crash, it is necessary for a driver to understand the concept of, and to practice, defensive driving. Defensive driving is driving to prevent crashes in spite of the incorrect actions of others or adverse driving conditions, such as weather, traffic, lighting, vehicle, or road condition, or the driver's physical or mental state.

The determination of preventability should be entered on the driver's individual record card, thus giving management a complete synopsis of the person's driving history. Reviewing that record may indicate that remedial training or disciplinary action is necessary.

For additional information, see Commercial Vehicle Report CV-45-01, Determining the Preventability of Motor Vehicle Crashes.

Crash Review Board

Where feasible, a Crash Review Board (CRB) should be formed. The CRB is a peer group panel consisting of management representatives and drivers. The purpose of the CRB is to evaluate crashes with the purpose of improving the safety of operations. The number of representatives on the Board will depend on the size of the business, but should always be an odd number to avoid “tie” situations. Members can include department representatives from management, dispatch, maintenance, drivers, and safety.

The CRB should convene as soon as possible after the facts of the incident have been verified. The CRB’s decision should provide a clear explanation of findings and what can be done to improve the operation (e.g., if the crash was preventable by the driver, if the driver needs training, if a change in the way vehicles are equipped is necessary, or if maintenance procedures need to be modified).

Commercial Vehicle Crash Reporting Summary

As every crash results in a reduction of company assets, the management of any business that operates motor vehicles, irrespective of size or type, should consider the elimination of all crashes as a major goal. In order to achieve this, a system of reporting, recording, and analyzing the facts surrounding vehicular crashes must be established. These procedures should be reviewed often to assure that all those involved know their role in an crash investigation and that the procedures provide for a thorough analysis of the events that led up to the crash.

For more information on commercial vehicles and protecting your business, check out the American Family Insurance Loss Control Resource Center.

COPYRIGHT ©2015, ISO Services, Inc.

The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.

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