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Taking A Closer Look At Liability Through The Lens Of MVRs

Is your fleet monitoring program up to the task when it comes to monitoring for risky behavior? If you aren’t identifying unsafe situations, you could be unnecessarily exposed. Have you considered continuous motor vehicle record (MVR) monitoring as a solution to approaching truck driver management and real-time behavior management?

For many years both state and federal governments have let MVRs fall by the wayside as tools to assess and modify fleet policies and operator behaviors. Perhaps a hiring manager would pull the record prior to hiring or during an annual review, but otherwise, MVR pulls were generally infrequent and unused. Today, many are recognizing that liability can be managed through increase truck driver MVR reviews.

Looking at Liability

Ask just about any fleet owner or motor carrier and they will tell you liability costs continue to rise, pretty much across the board. In fact, according to the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), accident costs in 2015 averages around $38,000 per incident. When you add health benefits and other accident-related cost, that number could climb to up to half-a-million dollars or more.

When you consider those kinds of costs, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of every possible method of reducing risk? Continuous MVR monitoring provides motor carriers with meaningful data points of monitoring risk profiles associated with their truck drivers. When combined with other fleet safety systems, a fleet manager can take a holistic and scalable approach to monitoring and training their truck drivers.

When the numbers are crunched, NETS study compared off-the-job crashes to those that occur on-the-job and the numbers are pretty staggering. When a truck driver gets into a crash off-the-job where a person is injured, employer costs can range around $5,000. On-the-job and that number rises to around $73,000. Liability claims shoot that number into the six figures.

Liability and crash litigation liability expenses directly hit a motor carrier’s bottom line, but more than that there is a human toll to consider. Yes, incidents like these can send revenues tanking, but they can also have long-lasting impacts on families.

While continuous MVR monitoring isn’t the cure-all for accidents, as they will still happen, when combined with other safety and monitoring systems, it can have a big impact on a motor carrier’s overall safety measures. Receiving ongoing reports regarding your operator’s MVR can lower a fleet’s liability exposure.

Types of Liability

There are different types of fleet liability that a motor carrier must consider. When it comes to an accident, fleets can face two different liability types: direct and vicarious. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

  • Direct Liability: A fleet can be held directly liable if a person within the company becomes liable to another based on their own action or omission.
  • Vicarious Liability: This legal principle states that a party can be held liable for the negligent actions of another party. If two parties have a special relationship, such as owner-operator to fleet, the fleet can be held responsible for the actions of the employed party. Vicarious liability could be imposed in a situation where an employee commits a wrongful act within the scope of their employment.

There are situations where a company might be better off claiming vicarious liability rather than being directly liable. In many states, punitive damages can be avoided if the driving history of the offending party doesn’t come into evidence. The only drawback to this situation is if the truck driver in question is held liable, the fleet can be held to quite a large summary judgement.

There are also two types of negligence, both of which directly relate to liability. The potential liability risks will vary depending on the local jurisdiction, but the two types of negligence include:

  • Negligent Entrustment: When a company or individual is held liable for negligently entrusting someone with “dangerous instrumentality,” which includes a vehicle, in a situation where said instrumentality causes death or injury to a third party.
  • Negligent Retention: If an employment-related claim involving a plaintiff saying an employer failed to release an employee they knew was behaving in an irresponsible manner. One example of this would be a motor carrier retaining a truck driver despite several known DUI violations.

Claims of negligence relating to a fleet generally comes down to fleet leadership not exercising their due diligence with reasonable caution or care where appropriate.

Move Beyond Good Enough

While the “good enough” approach worked well in the past – pulling once a year or less – it is a risky proposition nowadays. Not only does a fleet increase their overall risk exposure, but if major infarction is revealed about one of their truck drivers, they could face public backlash.

For example, what if a fleet pulls a truck driver’s MVR once a year, but they end up with a violation the day after their annual pull. You have essentially given them a one-year grace period in which just about anything can happen.

Another example would be a truck driver not maintaining a valid license. This represents an unacceptable safety risk for fleets. If you have a continuous MVR monitoring program in place, you will be immediately notified of any changes in eligibility. This way the risk can be mitigated immediately.

When a truck driver’s risk profile is heightened, he or she may be more likely to be involved in an accident. This scenario results in unnecessary and increased liability. Motor carriers must ensure they are proactively addressing issues related to truck driver eligibility. In this way, continuous MVR monitoring provides an effective hedge against expensive liability lawsuit.

Making the Most out of MVR Monitoring in the Court of Law

Not only does continuous MVR monitoring offer fleets an effective early detection, efficiency, and money-saving solution, but it also greatly improves your fleet’s reputation in case a liability case does arise.

The fact is this, a plaintiff’s attorney is very good at finding issues with a truck driver’s license should the case end up in court. If your fleet is employing a risky truck driver, claiming ignorance of a violation will not absolve it from responsibility in the event of a lawsuit.

Another avenue of approach a motor carrier can expect from a plaintiff’s attorney in court will be the fleet’s perceived inability to spend money on a low-cost safety solution. Why would a motor carrier not spend such a small amount of money on a fleet safety endeavor that can yield big dividends?

Furthermore, a jury will be more inclined to question other safety practices and policies if the fleet is inconsistently pulling MVRs or only pulling them for annual reviews. Trucking companies have an obligation to keep close track of the driving status of truck drivers on their payroll. And this goes for everyone from senior executives to sales managers and service technicians.

Starting the Process at Hiring

Considering driver safety initiatives should start as soon as the employee walks through the front door, the same should be said for continuous MVR monitoring. While there will be an initial review to discover any problems, it should be ongoing to prevent unnecessary risk and liability exposure.

Most fleets follow a standard model of annual review, with a 15-minute evaluation of driver records for an example fleet of 500 – 1,0000 vehicles. This simply does not provide enough time to complete the due diligence necessary to ensure a comprehensive level of fleetwide safety.

Instead, continuous MVR monitoring programs provides alerts and updates when violations, suspensions, and convictions occur. No longer will fleet managers have to spend tons of hours manually reviewing records to find problems. Instead, notifications will be spread out through the year. Identifying risky truck drivers becomes easier and allows fleets to offer the individualized attention their employees require.

Even better, continuous MVR monitoring is a low-cost solution. The average cost per truck driver for continuous MVR monitoring programs averages around $15 per year, per truck driver. The fact is, the administrative requirements are low, so having these alerts set up should be a simple matter for fleets both big and small.

Imagine if you prevent just one major safety event from occurring because of continuous MVR monitoring, the service pays for itself many times over. If your fleet works across state lines, some continuous MVR monitoring programs provide an interconnected network that can be advantageous when working on an interstate basis.

The fact is, in today’s day and age, motor carriers need to be utilizing every safety and monitoring measure they can. To compete with other motor carriers who are demonstrating a commitment to safety through every means possible, fleets should be investing in low-cost, high-safety programs like continuous MVR monitoring. Having it as part of your comprehensive safety management portfolio could be just what your business needs to reach new heights.

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