Learn from mistakes

June 1, 2006
ONE IMPORTANT aspect of an accident investigation lies in the information being used to prevent further accidents. That was the message from Turner Williams

ONE IMPORTANT aspect of an accident investigation lies in the information being used to prevent further accidents.

That was the message from Turner Williams of Burr and Forman LLP and Whitney Morgan of Motor Carrier Safety Consulting Inc at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Seminar April 4-6.

“One purpose of the investigation is to prevent recurrence by determining the causes,” said Morgan. “The investigation also protects against unwarranted or excessive financial liability and provides adequate basis for driver discipline and/or remedial training.”

Williams pointed out that policies and procedures for responding to accidents should be consistent with applicable federal and state regulations. “Know the rules and regulations and be compliant,” he said.

All personnel should be aware of their responsibilities in the event of an accident, particularly drivers, individuals who initially receive notification of the accident, safety and claims directors, and adjusters.

Driver reaction

Drivers who are uninjured at the scene should:

  • Protect the scene, notify authorities, aid the injured, and notify the motor carrier.

  • Provide only specific information required by company policy.

  • Make no admissions.

  • Give no statements unless in the presence of company or legal representatives.

  • Have an accident kit with necessary papers and photography equipment.

Backup for the driver should be available from personnel who are notified of the accident. Among their responsibilities are to notify safety personnel, adjusting services, insurance representatives, towing services, cleanup/environmental services, and attorneys.

Safety personnel determine the level of response to be made and the degree of on-scene investigation required. They should verify information obtained, direct the depth of the investigation, and see that information is filed in driver records.

Personnel who will go to the scene of the accident should have access to vehicles that are properly equipped and ready for prompt response. They should identify themselves to authorities and provide assistance as needed or directed.

“Talk to the driver in private,” said Morgan. “In the heat of the moment, it is better to not blurt out anything that can come back to hurt you. These are things that have to be addressed with drivers before something happens.”

Check the truck and cargo, and locate paperwork and witnesses.

“Remember, you are preparing for criminal defense of the employee and civil defense for the company,” Williams said.

He advised carriers to be prepared to hire an on-site commercial photographer and/or investigator and to store the vehicle for an extended period of time. “Don't make any repairs or strip parts unless the vehicle is released,” Morgan said.

Carriers may want to arrange for alcohol and drug testing for the driver and to have defense counsel available, especially if the driver will be charged with any serious offenses.

Meanwhile, the safety department should be working on the current motor carrier profile and driver records.

Verify accuracy

When obtaining accident reports, carriers should verify the accuracy of the information and compare it to the company's information. “Make sure you have an accident report key sheet, if one is needed,” Morgan said.

He also advised obtaining personal notes of law enforcement officers who responded to the accident.

If the accident prompts litigation, carriers should be prepared to explain all company policies and procedures and why they were or were not followed.