The current labor shortage has many organizations thinking about lowering their experience and qualification standards for many hard-to-fill positions. Due to the potential for severe worker injury and death from an auto accident, as well as the substantial liability exposure, strong driver qualifications should remain in place. This applies to full-time drivers as well as those who drive as part of their job duties. In fact, due to the current auto risk environment organizations should be strengthening their fleet safety program at this time.
Fleet risk environment
Auto accidents are the leading cause of on-the-job fatalities in the U.S., making up approximately 22% of all worker deaths.1 Auto fatalities have risen 24% in the last two years! Risky behaviors such as speeding, distracted driving, alcohol impairment, and not wearing a seat belt are major factors leading to this unprecedented increase.2 Liability costs from accidents have risen considerably. Third parties are more likely to retain an attorney for minor crashes. Plaintiffs are expecting much more for their damages; $1 million is not much in many plaintiff attorneys’ minds these days. Nuclear verdicts, awards in excess of $20 million, have risen sharply over the last 10 years.3 Vehicle downtime following an accident has increased, due to difficulty in getting parts as well as repair facilities having a shortage of qualified staff. Organizations need to have strong fleet safety programs in place to address this deteriorated environment.
Who you put behind the wheel matters
- The most extensive studies on accident causation found the driver to be the primary causal factor in 94% of accidents for vehicles under 10,000 GVWR4 and 87% for vehicles greater than 10,000 GVWR.
- Experienced drivers have the benefit of encountering many driving situations over the years that have improved their driving skills and knowledge. They are more likely to drive defensively in situations that have resulted in negative consequences in the past, such as an accident or near miss. Best practice is for drivers to have a minimum of five years of general driving experience, two of which involve driving the type of vehicle to which they will be assigned.
- There is a strong correlation between past violations and future accidents. Drivers with poor motor vehicle records (MVRs) are more likely to have future accidents.5
- An accident caused by a driver with inadequate driving experience, a poor MVR, or substance abuse problems can result in allegations of negligent hiring and entrustment. This can increase an organization’s liability and lead to punitive damages. Some states do not allow punitive damages to be covered by insurance.
Keys to properly qualifying drivers
- Establish minimum driver qualifications: proper license, relevant experience, driving record, knowledge and skills.
- If DOT regulated, ensure DOT qualifications are met with medical examination, drug testing, etc.
- Obtain an MVR to ensure their driving record is acceptable. Obtain an MVR at least annually thereafter.
- Conduct prior employer background checks to validate driving experience.
- Conduct a road test to ensure the driver utilizes safe driving practices and has not developed poor driving habits.
- Conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing to identify substance abuse problems.
Retain the drivers you have
Retaining safe drivers should be a goal of every organization. Periodically review your pay and benefits to ensure you are in line with your competition. Appreciate drivers for their length of employment and safe driving through peer recognition and rewards. Solicit formal feedback from drivers at least annually regarding their likes and dislikes and areas in need of improvement. Conduct exit interviews with drivers to find out why they are leaving. Address concerns in a timely manner so that other drivers do not leave for the same reasons.
Hire back prior drivers
Many good employees leave their position for perceived greener pastures. For some the new position is not as described or they are unhappy. These employees may not want to admit they made a mistake and ask for their old job back. These same drivers may be more likely to return if the organization reaches out to them. A best practice is to contact former employees that an organization wants back 30 to 60 days after they left, and then again six months later. A letter or email recognizing their past contributions and indicating they are welcome back at any time takes minimal effort.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics . Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2020
 Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First 9 Months (January–September) of 2021, Traffic Safety Facts DOT HS 813 240, February 2022
 Understanding the Impact of Nuclear Verdicts on the Trucking Industry, American Transportation Research Institute, June 2020;
 Critical Reasons for Crashes Investigated in the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey, Traffic Safety Facts, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 812 115, February 2015
 An inventory of California Driver Accident Risk Factors. California Department of Motor Vehicles (2003) and Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: 2018 Update, American Transportation Research Institute (2018)