As a motor carrier, planning for the aftermath of a truck accident is crucial, despite it seeming counterintuitive. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has moved away from using the term “accident” and instead speaks of “crashes” as they have causes that can be addressed. Advance preparation enables motor carriers to take advantage of two benefits – immediate knowledge of the accident and the ability to respond with professionals.
Who is Your Go-Team?
Truck drivers usually know about accidents first and can alert the dispatcher or safety professional. This puts the motor carrier ahead of the crowd in responding. With the help of the “Go-Team,” consisting of a safety professional, an attorney, and an insurance claims adjuster, motor carriers have the chance to gather facts, identify witnesses, and possibly take photographs at the scene before evidence disappears and vehicles are moved.
It is important to train truck drivers and staff, who may receive calls from them, to follow three steps: call 911 and the carrier’s dispatcher or safety professional to activate the “Go-Team,” take photos, and gather details, and ensure safety first to prevent a mishap from becoming potentially catastrophic.
The “Go-Team” members bring expertise to assess the accident and necessary responses. The safety professional will watch for possible causes of the accident, while the insurance claims adjuster will evaluate the cost of repairs. The team can also help the truck driver with tasks such as exchanging information and identifying witnesses. The truck driver should refrain from making any comments beyond what is necessary to exchange information.
Safety and Critical Thinking
To be prepared for such situations, truck drivers and staff must be trained to follow these steps:
- SAFETY FIRST: The truck driver should call 911 and the carrier’s dispatcher or safety professional to activate the “Go-Team.” Train truck drivers to set the truck brakes and turn off the engine, activate hazard flashers, preserve a video of the event, set out warning flares or triangles, visually inspect equipment, and note the accident time and place in writing. Wherever the accident took place, there will be other vehicles and drivers who are not expecting to encounter a crash or disabled vehicles. Always watch out for oncoming traffic. The truck driver should ask others to help slow and direct traffic, but make sure everyone involved stays in a safe place when doing so. Oncoming, inattentive drivers may make sudden, last-second maneuvers when they become aware of the crash. The truck driver should not move the truck or other vehicles unless there is an immediate safety reason or law enforcement directs them to do so.
- MAKE CRITICAL CALLS: The truck driver and dispatcher or safety professional should handle the information exchange. The truck driver and “Go-Team” members should gather names and contact information of anyone else at the scene, including bystanders, law officers, tow truck drivers, and EMTs. Their recollections of the accident scene could be helpful later in litigation or claims settlement. The responding law officer and the dispatcher or safety professional will want to know the time and location of the accident, how many vehicles are involved, and whether there are injuries, including the truck driver. These calls will bring the necessary help to the accident scene and provide the truck driver and motor carrier with the legal and insurance protection they deserve.
Gather the Evidence
It is of vital importance to make sure you get all possible details relating to the incident in question. Consider the following:
- TAKE PHOTOS AND GATHER DETAILS: Accidents are unforeseen, and nobody is on location to document the conditions immediately before the crash. The truck driver must start documenting once everyone is safe and critical calls are made. Photographs are the best way to preserve evidence, and truck driver training should include how to use a cell phone camera or a disposable camera in an accident kit. Most cameras have a time and date feature – it should be turned on. The truck driver should take photos of all vehicles involved in the crash, including the truck, from all four sides, capturing license plates. The truck driver should also take photos of anything distinctive about the site, such as an icy patch, a fallen branch in the road, confusing traffic markers, or a blinking streetlamp. It is essential to step back and take photographs that place the accident in the context of the road and surroundings because law enforcement may soon have tow trucks moving the vehicles. The truck driver should not photograph injured parties if they are in their vehicles but can take their photos if they are unhurt, or others are out of their vehicles.
Two things not to do at the scene of a truck accident are to volunteer for a drug and alcohol test if the responding law officer has not required it and undergo a second inspection of the truck if law enforcement has given it a clean bill of health.
Is Your Go-Team Ready?
The motor carrier’s “Go-Team” should identify potential causes of the accident, assess damages, and evaluate the probable cost of repairs. The team must also help the truck driver with the exchange of information and identify witnesses. If the “Go-Team” members are not present, the truck driver should avoid making comments beyond what is necessary to exchange information. The team should report through the attorney to preserve “attorney-client” privilege and help protect “Go-Team” findings from discovery during litigation.
The motor carrier should also consider setting up and training regional “Go-Teams” or finding trusted advisors to assist a driver in need. Is your “Go-Team” ready to go at a moment’s notice? Do not waste the opportunity to gather facts and assess what happened.
Some state laws require drivers to move vehicles involved in a “minor” accident off the roadway. However, the truck driver should quickly take photos of the scene.
The truck driver should retrieve the truck’s fire extinguisher and have it ready in case of fire. Safety first means protecting people and property from further harm, not trying to return everything to normal. Similarly, the truck driver should visually check the physical condition of others involved in the accident, and if needed, render medical aid only as necessary and within the truck driver’s expertise.
The Real Reason Planning is Important
Planning for the aftermath of a truck accident is crucial. Consider these steps:
- Call 911 and the carrier’s dispatcher or safety professional to activate the “Go-Team,”
- Take photos and gather details and ensure safety first to prevent a mishap from becoming potentially catastrophic.
- The “Go-Team” members bring expertise to assess the accident and necessary responses.
- The motor carrier should also consider setting up and training regional “Go-Teams” or finding trusted advisors to assist a driver in need.
Advance preparation enables motor carriers to take advantage of two benefits – immediate knowledge of the accident and the ability to respond with professionals. It is important to have a team of professionals on call to respond, including a safety professional, an attorney, and an insurance claims adjuster. The truck driver usually knows about accidents first and can alert the dispatcher or safety professional. This puts the motor carrier ahead of the crowd in responding.
While accidents are unforeseen and often emotional events, planning the motor carrier’s response, assembling the “Go-Team,” and training everyone involved is crucial. Trucking has the advantage of immediate knowledge and the ability to bring professionals to the accident scene, which works only when there is advance preparation. Thus, making an accident plan now is essential.