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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

Driver Risk Management

Driver Risk Management

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

One of the largest employee management issues that we hear about from our clients is that of how to deal with drivers that have bad driving records. With a slim talent pool to choose from, many tree care companies hire individuals on the spot without doing a driving record check. All too often, that new hire has issues on their driving record that either prevents them from being insured or soon after being hired displays undesirable conduct in a vehicle or on the job site.

While not a perfect science, analyzing an employee’s driving record is a great way to predict their future behavior. If you are not running Motor Vehicle Reports (MVR’s) aka driving records on each of your employees and prospective employees, follow this step by step process to get started.

This risk management activity will position you to minimize vehicular accidents, limit injuries, increase productivity and provide you with ammunition to give the insurance company to lower your insurance cost.

 

Understand Your State’s Law – The rules regarding employer’s viewing driving records for employees or potential employees varies state by state. Check with your state to determine whether or not you, as the employer, can access a person’s driving record. You most likely will need to have received written permission from the driver in advance. Many states allow you to gain access to the driving record directly through an online portal, making this a fairly easy process for your administrative staff to complete. It’s important to note that there typically is a charge for doing so, anywhere between $5 and $15 per record depending on your state. In states where the driver needs to make their own request, make it easy for them to do so with simple directions on how to acquire their MVR. You may also want to consider reimbursing a potential employee for the cost of the MVR.

Create Written Policy – After you know what your company can do within your state for ordering MVR’s, write out your driver policy. The policy should walk through the steps that your company and each driver (or potential driver) must take. Answer these questions to create your policy:

  • Who will be responsible for pulling and paying for the MVR’s?
  • What type of violations will be acceptable on an employee’s driving record? (ask your insurance company for help creating these guidelines)
  • Will you require a Driving Test before an employee is allowed to drive a vehicle?
  • What will the Driving Test involve and who will be responsible for administering it?
  • What forms or supporting documents do you need to include? (MVR Authorization Form, MVR Guidelines, Driving Test Scorecard)
  • What disciplinary actions will the company take upon learning about any violations or accidents?
  • What personal driving violations are the employees required to inform the company of? (ex. Operating Under the Influence, Reckless Driving, etc.)
  •  Are any positions within the company allowed to take a company vehicle home and or use it for personal use?
  • Will employee family members be allowed to drive the vehicle?

Verify MVR Guidelines with Insurance Company – Send your company’s written policy with your MVR Guidelines included to your insurance agent for review by the insurance company. Most insurance companies utilize similar standards for driving violations, however, it is always best to ensure that you are both on the same page. This also shows the dedication to proper risk management that your tree service believes in which will help for better insurance pricing throughout your relationship.

Run MVR’s Annually – Your insurance company will most likely run your employee’s driving records about 60 days prior to your insurance renewal. Unfortunately, they will not share any information with you unless a driver is ineligible to drive based on violations or accidents that the employee incurred the following year. Because the insurance company will not share this information with you, we suggest that you run your own set of MVR’s 90 days prior to your insurance renewal. This allows you time to take disciplinary action before the insurance company forces you to and eliminates the potential for a serious accident by putting you in control of the drivers for your fleet. No one wants to have a bad accident occur with a driver who has a subpar driving record. This is a gold mine for any plaintiff attorney who gets involved. They will extort you and your company for negligence in allowing a dangerous driver to operate one of your vehicles.

Enforce Disciplinary Action – Follow your company’s disciplinary process that you established in your written program. Many tree services have difficulty in hiring qualified employees that also meet driving regulations to begin with and then are more lenient when a violation does occur. Doing this opens your company up to more liability exposure and could create an employment lawsuit if you enforce the rules differently between employees. Once you write your disciplinary actions, follow them for everyone within the company, even the owner.

 

Because every tree care company has a large exposure on the road (traveling daily to and from job sites and driving large vehicles), the management team must take every precaution they can to minimize that exposure. Implementing a driver policy will help you avoid unnecessary accidents and unproductive administrative issues within your company.

For help creating a policy like this or other risk management processes, contact an ArboRisk team member today.

Margaret Hebert

Q&A with Aerial Lift Specialist Dave Webb Jr.

Q&A with Aerial Lift Specialist Dave Webb Jr.

Written by Mick Kelly

As more and more tree care companies transition from climbing to working out of aerial lifts, the need to talk about safe ownership and operation of these pieces of equipment has become evident. Many times we hear from companies that they don’t know their aerial lift should be inspected annually and/or where or how to get the inspection done. 

At ArboRisk, we wanted to give you some basic information and provide a resource to help you out, so I sat down with Dave Webb Jr. of Wellbuilt Equipment to talk a little bit more about his background and knowledge of aerial lifts. His family has been in the aerial lift business for over 30 years – so they know a thing or two about what you should be looking for with your lifts!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the lift industry.

My name is Dave Webb Jr. and I work at Wellbuilt Equipment. We’re a family owned and operated full service aerial lift company based out of Crete, IL. My dad started our company in 1987 in our back yard with just a couple of lifts. Since then we have grown to over 500 machines in our rental fleet and a staff of almost 30 people. 

I’m a second-generation aerial lift mechanic. I started working at Wellbuilt when I was 12 and became a mechanic when I was 18. I’m over 20 years into the industry and about 16 as a mechanic. Despite being in the management team here, I still work on equipment every day. I love getting dirty and fixing equipment, and hope to continue that path as long as possible. 

Explain the process of the annual inspection and why it’s so important?

First off, annual inspections are important to keep tabs on not only common wear and tear items but also long-term maintenance items and breakages that may occur on equipment. Many of our customers bring in their equipment quarterly for inspection and maintenance, but most are on a yearly rotation. 

The process of an inspection at our shop is very in depth. From top to bottom we touch everything on the machine. This includes checking electrical connections, torque checking every nut, bolt, hose, pin, mount, you name it, load testing, performing preventative maintenance and ensuring all proper decals and placards are in place. 

For more information regarding inspections, click here to visit our website!

How and where can you become a certified lift operator?

You can become a certified lift operator through an IPAF location (such as ourselves) or other independent aerial lift companies. We require that whomever is performing the training is familiar with the brand and model of the machine they are using to certify operators/users.

Do you have a brand and model of lift you recommend?

We sell two brands that we have partnerships here in the US with – CTE and Palazzani (Spimerica). Both have an industry leading 2 year warranty and excellent service and support. 

We try not to pick favorites as no brand truly checks all the boxes when it comes to design and customer service. We work on every brand of spider lift out there as well as over 60 brands of aerial lifts and other equipment. Brands and models vary heavily in features and cost, we try not to force a particular brand on a customer, but rather point them in the direction that best suits their needs. 

For more information on aerial lifts or inspections, visit Wellbuilt Equipment’s website here: https://www.wellbuiltequipment.com/

If you need further assistance with safety, please reach out to a member of our ArboRisk team. We have many resources that can help you with this, in addition to our Thrive Safety Package, which gives you one-on-one help creating the safety culture that you desire.

Margaret Hebert

Management’s Role in Safety

Management’s Role in Safety

Written by Margaret Hebert and Eric Petersen, CIC

We often hear that safety starts at the top, however, what does that actually mean? In this article we’re going to dig into the role that management plays in instituting a culture of safety within a tree care company. 

When building a safety and health program, many companies turn to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for guidance. Sure enough, OSHA lists Management Leadership as the first of its seven core elements and for good reason. 

Management of an organization, the business owner(s), managers, supervisors, etc., provides the leadership, vision, and resources needed to implement an effective safety program. Being at the top of the organization, management must embrace and communicate a few basic principles:

  • Make worker safety a core organizational value.
  • Provide sufficient resources to implement and maintain the safety program once it is developed.
  • Visibly demonstrate and communicate their safety commitment to workers.
  • Set an example through their own actions.

According to OSHA, management leadership of a safety program can be broken down into four action items.

Item 1:  Communicate your commitment to a safety program.  A clear, written policy helps you communicate that safety and health are primary organization values – as important as productivity, profitability, service quality, and customer satisfaction. After all, without safety, none of these other things can happen.  

Item 2:  Define program goals.  By establishing specific goals and objectives, management sets expectations for everyone on their team and for the program overall. The goals and objectives should focus on specific actions that will improve workplace safety and health. Establish realistic, measurable goals for improving safety and emphasize preventing injury and illness rather than focusing on incident rates.  

Item 3:  Allocate Resources. Management has the authority to provide the resources needed to implement the safety program, pursue program goals, and address program shortcomings when they are identified. To do this effectively, management must integrate safety and health into the planning and budgeting process. Estimating the resources needed to establish and implement the program and allowing time in workers’ schedules for them to fully participate in the program are two critical components to an effective safety program. Remember to include all of the following when considering what safety resources your company needs: capital equipment and supplies, staff time, training, PPE and Safety Data Sheets.

Item 4:  Expect performance.  Management leads the program effort by establishing roles and responsibilities and providing an open, positive environment that encourages communication about safety and health. They will identify a front line person or persons (even a safety committee) to be responsible for safety performance. That person or committee charged with safety responsibility will need to make plans, coordinate activities, and track progress. Providing positive recognition for meeting or exceeding safety goals aimed at preventing injury and illness (e.g. reporting close calls or near misses, attending training, conducting inspections) is also a crucial management function. 

In case you are wondering what OSHA’s seven core elements of safety and health programs, they are as follows:

  1. Management Leadership
  2. Worker Participation
  3. Hazard Identification and Assessment
  4. Hazard Prevention and Control
  5. Education and Training
  6. Program Evaluation and Improvement
  7. Communication

If you have any questions on what role your management team should be playing in your safety culture, please reach out to a member of our ArboRisk team. We have many resources that can help you with this, in addition to our Thrive Safety Package, which gives you one-on-one help creating the safety culture that you desire.

Margaret Hebert
Margaret Hebert