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Lower Auto Insurance with Fleet Telematics

Lower Auto Insurance with Fleet Telematics

We all know that in today’s world, data is king.

Fortunately, tree services have access to so much more data now than they ever did before. This data can help business owners make sound decisions to improve their company. By using a fleet telematics system, a tree care company can gather vital statistics and data on their vehicles and their drivers thereby improving their bottom line in a number of ways, especially by lowering their auto insurance. 

With auto insurance costs on a steady rise, I want to look at three key ways a strong fleet telematics system can help lower your business auto insurance cost.

1. GPS Tracking

The more data an insurance company has, the more confident they feel in the prices that they offer to their customers. Tree care companies that install Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking software can summarize their data and give it to the insurance company to show how they manage their fleet and how they deserve lower auto insurance pricing. 

I do want to mention that, there is often a misconception that installing GPS tracking software within your fleet signifies a lack of trust between you and your employees. To quickly dispel any negative feelings about GPS tracking software, explain to your entire team the reasons for using the technology and how it will benefit them. Knowing where your vehicles are will help you provide more accurate information to clients regarding estimated arrivals to job sites, thereby increasing customer satisfaction. If a crew gets a job done faster than planned and has time to do another (more hours=more money for the crew), GPS can identify which vehicle to send to the next job based on current locations. Lastly, this will help you ensure vehicles are being used within company guidelines (which of course are described in the vehicle use section of your employee handbook, right?) limiting the liability to the company and helping to avoid an unsafe situation. 

2. Vehicle Maintenance

 

A strong fleet maintenance program shows the insurance company how serious the business takes preventative maintenance by attempting to avoid issues with their vehicles. This obviously will lessen the number of accidents and therefore claims an insurance company needs to pay out. 

 

Of course, the benefits of improving your fleet maintenance stretches beyond just lowering your business auto insurance. Limiting vehicle downtime maximizes your crew’s efficiency. A good telematics program will monitor things like engine hours, total mileage, as well as potential faults within the vehicle that your employees may not be able to see during the pre/post-trip inspections. Speaking of which, these inspections should be done as well as logged for DOT compliance. Check out this article for more information on DOT COMPLIANCE.

3. Driver Behavior

Distracted driving has destroyed the auto insurance results for insurance companies in recent years. There are so many small fender benders today that insurance companies are raising their prices to keep up with it and distracted driving is the main culprit. Simply put, if a tree service can monitor the driver’s behavior the chances of an accident get reduced dramatically. 

 

When your drivers know they are being monitored, they are more likely to drive with increased awareness and limit their distractions (texting or eating). This intentional focus on better driving is actually a good thing for them as no one wants to get in a car accident, but we all get over-confident in our driving abilities and take unnecessary risks while driving. Consider different ways to reward your drivers for strong driving habits to show them you support their safety. A good telematics system will also provide you with more data to show how/why accidents are happening, giving you the data to help prevent future accidents from occuring.

 

It is without a doubt that fleet telematics is here to stay and will have a significant impact on your bottom line, especially with your business auto insurance. Telematics provides the proof to the insurance company that a tree service will be a profitable risk for them and highlights reasons why that individual tree service should get lower auto insurance rates. I should also mention that as far as I’ve seen, tree services are not being penalized by insurance companies for poor driving habits.

 

I encourage you to check with your insurance agency and see if there are any options available directly with your insurance provider. If not, I encourage you to reach out to an ArboRisk team member to discuss how we can help you set up a telematics program free of charge.

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP

Hiring an In-House Mechanic

Hiring an In-House Mechanic?

If you’re contemplating hiring an in-house mechanic, you already know the decision is not an easy one. So many factors go into it that it often paralyzes the owner from making a decision.

While there is no magic number that fits every tree service perfectly, we typically do not see companies hiring a full-time mechanic until they have at least…

10 vehicles. That does not include trailers and mobile equipment, although definitely factors into the workload of the mechanic. 

So, how do you determine if your company is ready to hire a full time mechanic? Ask yourself and your leadership team these questions to guide your decision making. 

Future of Your Fleet 

This is often the starting point for deciding whether or not to hire a full-time mechanic. Depending on where you see the size of your company and fleet going in the future should determine when to hire an in-house mechanic. 

  • Do you plan on growing your company and adding more vehicles or equipment? 
  • Are you planning on getting more tech-heavy vehicles or equipment? 
  • Would your production crews become more efficient with newer vehicles or equipment?
  • Are you considering using fleet management software? 

Current Cost of Repairs

Many tree services do not pay close attention to the cost of mechanical repairs, though knowing this or at the very least having an idea of the cost to your business for repairs can quickly justify the extra expense of an in-house mechanic. 

  • How much did you spend on vehicular repairs last year?
  • How much production downtime have you suffered from a vehicle or piece equipment that needed repairs? 
  • How many jobs did you lose because of an out-of-service vehicle or piece of equipment?
  • Could any of that downtime or lost jobs have been prevented with regular maintenance?

In-House Mechanic Logistics

Assessing whether or not your company has the capacity for an in-house mechanic is another important factor to consider.

  • Do you have enough physical space for a mechanic to operate fully within your current shop?
  • What additional tools (hand tools, diagnostic tools, lifts, etc.) are needed to allow the mechanic to perform the work needed?
  • Do you have the management team in place to support an in-house mechanic? 
  • Are you able to comply with the environmental regulations that come with operating a repair facility?

Additional Items to Consider

  • How are you currently ensuring compliance with your state and federal DOT? 
  • Do you currently have vehicles and or any specialized equipment that cannot be serviced by an in-house mechanic and need to be worked on by certified technicians?
  • Do you have a recruiting strategy set up to find the best mechanic possible? 
  • What employee benefits are you able to provide to the mechanic?

While these questions are by no means an exhaustive list of all that needs to factor into the decision making process, they will help you begin to answer the question for your tree care company. 

If you are struggling with this part of your business, contact an ArboRisk team member today to learn about how our Thrive program can help your business Become Extraordinary!

Written by: Eric Petersen

4 Keys to Driver Management

4 Keys to Driver Management

“Oh yeah, I’m a good driver”.

How many times have you told yourself that? I bet you’re laughing at yourself right now, because everyone thinks that they are a good driver. Reality is, if everyone was good at driving, there wouldn’t be as many accidents as there are. 

Finding ways to manage your drivers is of utmost importance when attempting to reduce the risk to your company. Plus as Malcolm Jeffris pointed out in his article 4 Ways to Lower Business Auto Insurance Costs, proper driver management is a key component of lowering your business’ auto insurance cost. 

Here are my 4 Keys to Driver Management.

  1. Hiring Good Drivers – Obviously it’s much easier to be confident with your drivers when you start with good drivers, but how do you get there? It’s not a simple solution that we can cover in one paragraph, however, you must intentionally create a recruiting process to attract enough potential employees to your company. From there use keys #2 and 3 below to hire the best drivers. If you want help in creating a hiring and recruiting process register for our Hiring & Recruiting Masterclass.
  2. Motor Vehicle Records (MVR’s) – Looking at an employee or potential employee’s driving record is a good way to start to understand their driving skills. Create a simple procedure within your company to ensure you analyze these records on an annual basis using an eligibility guideline to determine what an acceptable driving record looks like. For more information on how to create a MVR review process read our article Driver Risk Management
  3. Driving Test – Once a driver has passed the MVR review, it is now time to actually see what they are capable of within your vehicle(s). Creating and administering a driving test is the truest way to determine whether or not an employee should be driving one of your vehicles. From our experience, too many companies skip this step and send drivers onto the road operating vehicles they are not familiar with. Remember, we all think we are good drivers! This article will help you create a simple driver test for your tree care company.
  4. Dash Cams and Telematics – My final tip to managing your drivers may make some people uncomfortable; the use of technology in the form of dashboard cameras and telematics software. Using technology within the vehicle gives you the ability to get data and information on your drivers and vehicles in real time as well as helps resolve any incident or accident that vehicle is involved in. Dashboard cameras have the option to not only look out in front of the vehicle, but also scan the interior of the cab to monitor the driver and passengers’ behavior. With telematics software, a tree service can gather so much data about the vehicle and how it is being operated. From knowing where the vehicle is, to how long it has been idling, to fluid levels, using a software system to understand your vehicles can go a long way in keeping your drivers safe. Installing technology into your vehicles might feel like you are spying on your drivers, but if you truly want to keep your team and others safe on the road, knowing real data about the driving tendencies and vehicle performance is critical. 

Simply put, proactively managing your drivers will help you minimize accidents and injuries while increasing your company’s profitability. For help managing your drivers or other risk management processes, contact an ArboRisk team member today. 

Written by: Eric Petersen

Take Control of Your X-Mod

Take Control of Your X-Mod

The Experience Modification(x-mod). Without a doubt one of the most significant impacts you can have on your overall insurance costs and often one of the most overlooked pieces as well. Year after year insureds will look forward to the tree care class code(0106) going down due to the industry getting safer. For example, over the last few years, the rate in Wisconsin has decreased from around 12% of total payroll to just under 10%. That is almost a 20% decrease! Sorry to the folks in other states dealing with higher rates, BUT, there is a way you can impact your worker’s compensation cost by more than 20% and that is by taking control of the experience modification.

What is it? 

 The experience modification looks back at your last 4 years of worker’s compensation experience and disregards the most recent year to allow time for claims to develop/close out. See example below for 2021 experience modification:

 

The rating, which is typically below, at, or above 1, is essentially a comparison of your business versus the insurance industry’s expectations for a business in your class code. If you’re below one, you’re doing better than the average tree care company and if you’re above one, you’re doing worse than expected. That number is then multiplied by your overall premium to calculate your worker’s compensation cost.

What does it look at?

We must first understand what the experience modification looks at in order to take control of it. In short, the mod looks at three major areas:

  1. Company Size and Class Code

Larger companies will have more payroll and therefore more potential for lower x-mods. If your company has $2 million in payroll and only has 1 $5,000 claim, your experience modification will be lower than a company who has $200,000 in payroll and also has 1 $5,000 claim with the same class code.

2. Frequency Vs. Severity

Per the National Council on Compensation Insurance(NCCI), the x-mod calculation recognizes that the cost of an accident is much less predictable than the fact that an accident happened in the first place so frequency impacts the x-mod more than severity. I.E. 10 small claims of $5,000 would impact your x-mod more heavily than 1 big claim of $50,000. 

3. Claim Status

In the past you may have heard us reiterate the importance of getting your employees back to work as soon as possible. I encourage you to check your state’s specific rules, but oftentimes you can get your employee back to work on light duty to avoid the claim becoming a “lost time claim”. The x-mod reduces medical only claims, a claim where the employee does not receive lost wages and only has medical bills paid for, by 70% in comparison to a lost time claim. 

It also looks to see whether a claim is still open or not. Open claims will impact your x-mod at a higher rate than closed claims. Be sure to follow up with your work comp carrier to ensure that claims are getting closed out on time.

What Can You Do?

Managing your x-mod can obviously be a very detailed task. Work closely with your agent to ensure you’re doing the best you can based on your claim history. Below are a few quick pieces you can look at to control your x-mod as best as possible.

  1. Implement a safety program, including regular safety meetings.
  2. Start a safety committee
    • It may be helpful to have specific members of your business responsible for the x-mod rating. An x-mod rating is a good way to measure the effectiveness of your safety committee.
  3. Injury Reporting/Return to Work Program
    • Claims don’t always happen often. Your company NEEDS to have an injury reporting program so employees and staff know what to do in the case of an injury. On top of that, you should have a light duty program to give to the doctor detailing what kind of work is available to the employee if they are on restrictions.
  4. Accident Investigation
    • Having an accident investigation program is particularly helpful for mitigating the number of claims. Make sure your staff is reviewing the what and why for accidents so you can prevent them from happening in the future.
  5. Claim Management
    • Have someone in your office responsible for managing injuries after they happen. Make sure all the information is shared with your work comp company and that the employee is back to work as soon as possible. Again, make sure the claim gets closed out once everything is settled.
  6. Annual Review
    • Especially if you are a larger company, make sure you are reviewing your x-mod with your agent at the end of the year. This is a good way to make sure you’re on top of any claims that did occur and nothing slipped through the cracks. 

Some of the best experience modifications I’ve seen are as low as .70. As you can probably tell, the companies with lower x-mods also get better rates and potential for better dividends. That means you’re looking at more than a 30% discount on your overall worker’s compensation costs! If you have any questions on how the experience modification works, or questions regarding your rating specifically, feel free to reach out to an ArboRisk team member. There are also some good resources detailing the experience modification calculation on the NCCI website. Thanks for reading and good luck getting control of your x-mod!

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP

4 Ways to Lower Business Auto Insurance Costs

4 Ways to Lower Business Auto Insurance Costs

Since joining the insurance industry in 2016, auto insurance has overshadowed many of the other insurance lines due to its rising costs and inconveniences brought to the insured. Whether it is from trouble adding a vehicle due to its value/size, or difficulty adding a driver due to their record, it is easy to feel as if you’re at the mercy of the insurance company without actually having any control over your auto insurance policy. On top of that, the rising costs of vehicles, increasing number of accidents, and even the increase in amount of natural disasters are all contributing to rising auto insurance costs. However, there are still a few ways you, the insured, can take control of your own auto insurance costs.

1) Driver Management-Pre-Hire Screening, Training, MVR Review
a. Pre-Hire Screening – Hiring good drivers is critical to not only having low auto insurance costs, but having your company properly represented out on the road. Make sure you have a formal hiring process including job descriptions, formal interviews, background checks, and MVR guidelines.

b. Your company should also have a safe driving test that drivers need to pass in order to drive in your fleet. You’ll want to have an exam for each type of vehicle. At minimum a test should include: pre-trip inspection, starting, stopping, turning both directions, backing up and parking, etc. however, you may also want to include trailer attachment and/or permanently attached equipment operation (aerial lift, dump body, etc.).

c. Make sure your potential employees sign an MVR authorization form and that you’re running their driving records prior to hiring them. These should also be ran annually or even semi-annually for review. For general MVR guidelines, reach out to an ArboRisk representitive.

2) Fleet Management-Vehicle Inspection, Usage/Storage, Compliance
a. I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories of a hitch breaking out on the road resulting in an unleashed chipper/trailer heading towards a third party vehicle. Think Final Destination. Point is, have a formal pre/post trip vehicle inspection program to make sure everything is in order before and after the vehicle hits the road. Good maintenance will also help avoid vehicle downtime in the future.

b. Consider having a formal usage policy in your employee handbook or fleet safety program. This will help avoid employees driving company vehicles off the job and causing unneccessary accidents. The way vehicles are stored is also important. Think about spreading your fleet out as much as possible in case there is something like a fire/natural disaster at your location.

c. I’d recommend having someone in your company that is in charge of compliance. Think about your state’s DOT laws, along with any other state you may operate in. Insurance companies will run reports that will give them a background on any compliance issues which may impact your overall costs.

3) Telematics/GPS
a. Fleet telematics systems are growing in popularity, as they allow the insurance company to get a more accurate picture of how the vehicles are being used and how the drivers are operating. A good telematics program would allow the business owner to see where vehicles are at all times, any speeding incidents or sudden stops, distracted driving, and even vehicle issues. Ask your carrier directly if they offer a telematics program and if there are potential discounts for implementing it. You can also look at cell providers like Verizon or AT&T, as well as directly to third party providers.

4) Insurance-Present Safety Material, Deductibles/Physical Damage, Value
a. Once you’ve worked hard to put these safety measures in place, make sure your agent and insurance company know what you’ve done. The ability to show an insurance company these written measures will surely help you get better auto rates.

b. Ask your agent what options you have for vehicle deductibles and physical damage coverage. For older vehicles, you may want to consider self insuring and not paying for physical damage coverage. For larger vehicles, it may help your overall cost to increase the deductible as high as $5,000 or whatever you feel comfortable with. As Eric always says, there is nothing wrong with self insuring, you just want to know what exactly you are self insuring.

c. Vehicle value has a significant impact on your insurance cost. Some insurance companies may not be comfortable insuring large vehicles such as knuckleboom cranes. Check with your company prior to purchasing a big vehicle and make sure you’re considering the value to the cost of insuring the vehicle.

As I mentioned, the technology in vehicles is constantly improving which in turn leads to higher costs of repair. What used to be a small fender bender can now lead to needing a new blind spot monitoring system. Although that may be out of your control, there are still many ways to directly impact your overall insurance costs. Driver and fleet management will not only help with your direct insurance costs, but your indirect costs such as vehicle downtime, and unnecessary maintenance costs.

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris, CTSP

Working with Your Insurance Agent

Working with Your Insurance Agent

 “What do you need to make this change?”  “Do I pay you or do I pay the company?” “What do I do in the event of a claim?”   

These are some common questions you may have for your insurance agent.  As a tree service owner you are already busy with hundreds of tasks each day and insurance questions can be just one more thing to make you stress out.  That is why it can be helpful to know the best way to work your insurance agent. 

Here are some helpful tips that can make working with your insurance agent a smooth process:

1) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask.  I often hear “this may be a stupid question…”  It may sound cliché but there is no such thing as a stupid question.  As licensed professional insurance agents, we are here to help you.  It is much better to ask a question regarding coverage before something happens than asking after an incident occurs.  

2) Be organized when calling/emailing.  Agents understand how hectic your days are and how many different directions you are being pulled.  However, when reaching out to your agent know why you are calling/emailing and what you are asking.  Being clear in your request will help your agent be able to answer your question in a timely and accurate fashion

3) Be detailed.    If you are calling/emailing to add a piece of equipment or vehicle, make sure you have the proper information.  Typically an agent will need year, make, model, serial number or VIN, and value to add a piece of equipment or vehicle.  Having the title or a picture of it will help make sure that info is readily available.  When adding a driver, an agent will typically need name, date of birth and driver’s license number and state.  Having this information will save unnecessary back and forth.  

4) Open and Honest. To go along with being detailed, it is extremely important to not omit details that may change your coverage need. Many insurance policies are specifically written for the business operations that were initially declared. If you begin offering a new service or start working in another state, you need to discuss that with your insurance agent to make sure the coverage you think you have is actually there. 

5) Claims.  Claims are never fun and can often be unnecessarily stressful.  When a claim does happen, start by taking a ton of pictures. Claims can get your mind going in a million different directions, so the pictures help you keep the facts straight and give the adjuster the proper idea of what happened. Of course, being prepared before you need to file a claim is best. Click here  to read an article on how to be prepared for an accident or injury. 

6) Be Patient.  My number one priority as an insurance agent is to help you, the customer.  However, we don’t always have the answer right away and sometimes we are at the mercy of the carrier when getting these answers.  Keeping in my mind we are here to help, a little patience can help keep a situation from getting frustrating.

All insurance agents strive to provide the best service possible to their clients.  Remembering these helpful tips will help foster the important relationship between service agent and customer. ArboRisk specializes in the tree care industry, helping tree services of all sizes become extraordinary. If you are continually trying to explain what you do to your insurance agent, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today and feel the difference of working with an agency that truly understands what you do. 

Written by:  Ryan Watry