fbpx

Coffee with a Cop: Traffic Violations

Coffee with a Cop – Traffic Violations

Written by Jim Skiera

Do you know what specific traffic violations are more likely to get your employee(s) pulled over?

The initial thought for this article was to talk to an officer about reasons drivers are stopped while driving vehicles commonly used by tree care companies (chip truck, bucket truck, dump trucks with trailers, etc.). We also wanted to find out what violations cause officers to tag vehicles out of service. Out of service violations become very costly for the business when you add up fines, repair bills, court and legal fees, and downtime that leads to lost revenue. 

To gain insight I spoke with six different officers from multiple police and sheriff departments in the Denver metro area. I started each interview with the same question: 

Of the commercial vehicles that you’ve pulled over in the last month/quarter/year, what suspected violation caused the pull over? 

The consistent answer from each of the patrol officers was they don’t treat commercial vehicles and drivers any differently than passenger vehicles. The officers I spoke with stated they primarily look for drivers of any vehicle committing the moving violations that regularly cause serious accidents and injuries. 

The top five infractions that are most likely to get a patrol officer’s attention and get a driver pulled over are:

  • Speeding: by far the top violation that gets drivers pulled over is speeding. More than 40% of all traffic stops are related to speeding. It is also the number one reason for serious accidents. Statistics show for every 100 speeding tickets issued there are 14 fewer auto crashes and five fewer auto accident-related injuries.  
  • Visible Equipment Violations: Broken or inoperable lights, broken or missing mirrors and other inoperable safety equipment required for drivers to communicate with or see other drivers on the road.
  • Cell Phone Use While Driving; Distracted driving is unsafe driving.
  • Following Too Closely or Improper Lane Changes: These two violations cause accidents by not allowing for proper braking distance and or response time of other drivers to safely avoid collisions.
  • Hazardous or Erratic Driving: Failure to stop, swerving in and out of lanes, drifting over the centerline, etc. are signals that a driver may be impaired, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, falling asleep at the wheel, or texting while driving.  

 

The first officers I spoke to were Patrol officers of which traffic stops are one of many responsibilities of theirs. When they do make a stop, the time spent with each driver is limited and they are not trained to do commercial vehicle inspections. They have limited experience with tagging vehicles out of service. Following one of my interviews, it was recommended I speak to an officer that performs roadside commercial vehicle inspections if I wanted information on why vehicles are tagged out of service.

I eventually was introduced to Deputy Chad Davey of the Douglas County Sherriff’s Office. Deputy Davey is responsible for Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections in Douglas County. He sets up mobile inspection sites around the county, on county roads and highways and all commercial vehicles are required to stop to be inspected before they can proceed. 

Officer Davey follows an inspection protocol that is used for all inspections. The first part of the inspection is about the driver. He checks for current and proper license, vehicle registration, insurance, drug or alcohol use and driving logs. The second part is a complete vehicle equipment inspection.

 

Question: What is the most common infraction you see with tree care related commercial vehicles during roadside inspections?

Answer: Deputy Davey said he could not specifically say there was a “most common” issue with tree service trucks. He said inspections are comprehensive and he has inches of paperwork of violations. Check the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) website of North American Level 1 Inspection procedures. 

He did give a few examples of common violations he finds with tree and landscape vehicles pulling trailers. The first is nonfunctioning electric emergency trailer brakes. Two things are common, one the battery for the brakes is not working, or the brakes themselves do not engage when tested. He said it’s common for drivers to just check to make sure everything is hooked up, but they don’t check to see if the emergency braking system works. Deputy Davey said probably half the drivers he meets during inspections don’t know they need to test the trailer brakes.

Another common violation is breakaway chains that are damaged from being dragged or are not rated to accommodate the weight of the trailer. He said chains on trailers get damaged. If an inspector sees the chain is worn more than 1/5 its diameter it’s a problem. He also said when chains are replaced, they need to be replaced with chains of the same rating, and often are not.

 

Question: What can a driver do to avoid being pulled over and having their vehicle tagged Out of Service during an inspection?

Answer: Roadside Commercial Vehicle Inspections are mandatory so you can’t avoid being pulled over. What you can do is limit your chance of being tagged out of service by performing daily inspections, completing inspection reports, maintaining your driver’s license and certificates and other required documentation, and keeping vehicles in safe working order. Have required documentation stored somewhere it is easily available when asked for by the inspector. 

Another recommendation for business owners is to include training about what is included in roadside inspections, so drivers understand what the inspectors are reviewing during an inspection. This should be specific to the vehicles employees are using and the state, federal and local restrictions for those vehicles.

Managing the risks for your business is an ongoing task. One area of significant risk is with your fleet and the drivers using the vehicles in that fleet. Preventing incidents that cause damage, injuries, and costly downtime requires commitment by all involved. It starts with the owner providing well maintained and properly operating equipment then complimented with qualified and licensed drivers trained to use and maintain the equipment efficiently, effectively, and safely.

If you have specific questions about roadside inspections, contact your local law enforcement department. They can assist with inspection checklists and regional laws and regulations. If you need help with driver safety and/or fleet management, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Safety Package!

Tom Dunn

5 Reasons to Run Your Own Driving Records

5 Reasons to Run Your Own Driving Records

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

You hire a new employee and let your insurance company know that they’ll be driving for you. A week or two later, you get a call from your insurance agent saying the new employee cannot be a driver because their driving record is terrible. Now you have a new employee who you don’t know what to do with because driving your company trucks is a requirement of the position that you hired them for. Sound familiar?

Of course it does. Every tree service has had issues with drivers and their insurability. However, the insurance issues are only a small part of the equation when it comes to managing your drivers. 

At ArboRisk, we recommend that all tree care companies pull driving record reports on all drivers, before they are hired and at least once per year while they are still employed with the company. 

When a tree service takes driver management into their own hands they begin to take back some control of the risk that their company faces every day when their employees are out on the road driving their company vehicles. 

In this article, I’ll give you five reasons to run your own driving records internally as part of your driver management. Pssst…a little hint, if number 1 isn’t enough for you, number 5 should be the deciding factor for instituting a driving record review process at your tree care company.  

 

  1. Less Accidents – Obviously, no tree service wants to have their employees and vehicles involved in car accidents, so the first step in avoiding them is to ensure the drivers operating your vehicles have a good driving history. I know you cannot entirely predict the future solely on looking at information from the past, but you can get a strong indication of how the employee may drive for you by reviewing their past driving history. If the driver has a history of accidents and/or other moving violations, the chances that they will get into an accident with your vehicle are greater than that with employees who have a clean driving record. 
  2. Hiring Decision – By running the driving record yourself, you will immediately receive the information needed to make the proper hiring decision and avoid an awkward and potentially dangerous situation if you find out the new employee is a terrible driver after they have already been behind the wheel of one of your vehicles. Eliminate this risk by knowing about their driving record before you hire them. 
  3. Expectations for Employees – Instituting a driving record process within your company, provides clear expectations for potential and current employees on their driving record. If their position requires them to be eligible to drive, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier if you just told them up front what those requirements will be? Many times when the insurance company tells you that a driver isn’t eligible to drive, it is for a long time employee. This just exacerbates the problem as it is probably someone who’s experience would be sorely missed on the crew if they cannot drive for the company. Establishing the expectations of what is accepted and what is detrimental to their employment, allows everyone to understand their responsibility in taking care of their own driving record. 
  4. Lower Auto Insurance Rates – We all know that insurance companies don’t want to see their insured tree care companies have vehicular accidents. Therefore, they will reward companies who have the best accident history and written policies and procedures with the lowest rate that they can. To do this, though, they need proof of what the tree service is doing to prevent the accidents from happening and the way you handle driving records within your company is the largest negotiation point you have. Showing the insurance company your driving record guidelines and the process you use along with the frequency of when you check the driving records will help tremendously when trying to lower the cost of your Business Auto Insurance. For other ideas on how to lower your auto insurance cost check out this article. 
  5. Duty of the Employer – I may have listed four other reasons before this, however, this is really the only reason you need to start pulling your company’s driving records. Have you ever heard of the phrase “negligent entrustment”? This is the basis that plaintiff attorneys use when suing a business for damages from a bad auto accident. The principle is simple, when a business allows someone to drive their vehicle they are entrusting them to operate it safely. If that driver ends up injuring or worse, killing another person, the business is held responsible for the actions of the driver. If the business did not review the driver’s driving record, they have negligently allowed them to operate the vehicle. Obviously, once the plaintiff attorney sees that the business did not take reasonable steps to prevent the accident, like knowing what the driver’s driving record is, they go after large settlements. It is the duty of the employer to have a process in place to monitor drivers and their records. Also, due to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, your insurance agency/company can only order a driving record for underwriting purposes, meaning to assess the likelihood of an accident, not for employment reasons. So asking your insurance agent/company for driving records does not fulfill your duty as the employer. 

 

Ultimately, by running your own driving records, you are taking control of the risk that your drivers and vehicles bring to your company and lessening the headaches that come with problem drivers. Check out this article to learn how to set up a Driver Risk Management procedure within your company. 

Lastly, if you are looking for one-on-one help in managing your drivers, sign up for our Thrive Safety Package today.

Tom Dunn

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Written by Mick Kelly

One of the first concerns that a new business owner has is how to deal with the hiring, firing and discipline of employees as well as wondering what the consequences your employees’ actions may have for your business. 

Not only is the risk of being sued by an employee very real and on the rise, the risk of being sued because of the actions of an employee, outside of the scope of their work, is also very real. 

This is where Employee Practices Liability Insurance or EPLI comes in!

What is EPLI

EPLI helps protect businesses against claims and lawsuits arising from improper or unfair acts brought by employees. EPLI includes coverage for the cost of defending a case in court and the damages from a judgement or settlement that may arise from a lawsuit. Legal costs are typically covered in the event of a win or loss.

EPLI covers against claims from: 

  • full-time and part-time employees 
  • temporary and seasonal employees 
  • applicants for employment
  • independent contractors

Examples of lawsuits that can be brought against an employer include:

  • Unfair discipline
  • Wrongful termination
  • Unfair demotion or negligent evaluation
  • Breach of employment contract
  • Failure to employ or promote
  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination – age, race, sex, religion, etc
  • Libel, slander, defamation of character
  • Invasion of privacy
  • And more

Most small business owners think such claims will never come against them since the have the best employees or their employees just “aren’t like that” – but the claim may come from the actions of someone else within your organization or from a mistake from the employer. Even a “heat of the moment” dismissal may result in an ex-employee seeking damages for wrongful termination.

EPLI is typically a claims made policy – meaning you must have it at the time of the incident in order to have coverage.

How much does EPLI cost?

A rough rule of thumb is EPLI costs between $25 – $40 per employee but pricing does vary per carrier

EPLI Premiums, are typically based on the these factors:

  • Type Of Business 
  • Number of Employees
  • Coverage Limits
  • Deductible
  • Past EPLI claims history

Many carriers will offer EPLI as an add on to the business liability policy but in the incidences where they don’t, EPLI policies can be purchased as stand alone policies. 

 

How much coverage should you carry?

This question varies from business to business. Most small business’s don’t have the thousands of dollars that it would cost to defend an EPLI case and a way to offset that is to pay a monthly premium for the EPLI coverage. 

It should be noted that most EPLI policies have a deductible and that the cost of the monthly premium plus the deductible along with the likelihood of a claim should all be factored in before deciding to purchase the policy. 

A company with a well run HR department may feel more comfortable forgoing the coverage in the knowledge that all the correct steps are being taken in regards to discipline, termination, hiring, etc. however, even a highly skilled HR department doesn’t mean you’re immune from lawsuits.

What EPLI doesn’t cover

 EPLI exclusions include:

  • Criminality or violations of state/federal laws – EPLI will not cover you against a criminal act or if you are in violation of state or federal laws. It may cover you up until the point you proven guilty but not beyond that.
  • Punitive damages
  • Worker’s compensation claims
  • Contractual liability or breach of contract 

 

EPLI with Third Party coverage

This is an add on to EPLI coverage. While EPLI covers you against employee lawsuits, Third Party coverage covers you against the actions of your employees towards others such as customers or clients. These lawsuits are typically discrimination or sexual harassment in nature.

In a labor market where it’s become very difficult to hire and a lot of business’s are hiring “a body” to get by, this coverage can be helpful. While all businesses want to vet their employees to the highest standard and only hire people of the highest moral quality, it’s not always  possible to be certain of either and EPLI coverage with Third Party coverage can be a way of mitigating that risk.

That being said, Third Party EPLI claims for smaller businesses are far more common in the food and accommodation and retail services than they are in contractor fields. The additional 15 – 20% cost associated with it should be weighed up against the likelihood of employee interaction with clients and customers.

For more information on EPLI, contact a member of the ArboRisk Insurance team! ArboRisk also can work one-on-one with you to create an extraordinary business through our Thrive Risk Management New Heights package!

Tom Dunn