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Vehicle accident response, investigation and prevention

By Daniel Brown, Risk Control Technical Manager

Luckily, for the average driver, a vehicle crash is a rare event. Unfortunately, that also means some drivers don’t know all the ins and outs of handling a crash if they are involved in one.

If you operate a fleet of vehicles, it’s important that your employees know what to do in the event of an accident. Their response at the scene can impact the outcome of the claim.

Employees also need to gather the right information, not just to help your insurance provider resolve the claim quickly and fairly, but to help you investigate and analyze what happened. Without good information, efforts to identify the root cause of accidents, and how to prevent them in the future, can become more difficult.

Be prepared

Start by being prepared for an accident before it happens. Develop accident response procedures and set them out in writing. Ensure all employees who drive can become familiar with your policies by including them in your employee handbook and orientation materials. Periodic refresher training is also a good idea.

Having the right tools in the vehicle can make a difference.  These include:

  • Accident scene checklist
  • Emergency contact information
  • Emergency warning devices, such as reflective triangles
  • Accident report form
  • First-aid kit
  • Camera

Loss Lesson

Mark struck a parked vehicle while delivering merchandise to a customer’s store. He was in a hurry, so he left a note on the other vehicle’s windshield. At the end of his shift he went to tell his manager, Jerry, what happened. Jerry had to leave early, so he asked Mark to talk to him about it the next day.

The next morning, Mark explained what happened. Mark did not record the license plate of the other vehicle or try to determine who owned it. As a result, Jerry had no way of knowing who the claimant was or the extent of the damages.

Weeks went by before Jerry received a phone call from the other driver’s insurance company. The insurance company was filing a claim for $7,800 for repairs to the vehicle. Jerry was furious. Mark told him he only “scratched” the other vehicle. Because Jerry was new to the company, and the company did not keep detailed accident records, he also did not know that this was Mark’s third accident that year.

Manage the scene

Vehicle accidents can be stressful and confusing. It’s not unusual for drivers who have become flustered or who feel under pressure after an accident to forget what to do at the scene. Providing guidance and training can help.

Some important accident scene tips for drivers to follow include:

  • STOP – No matter how minor the accident may seem
  • Activate emergency warning flashers
  • Check the status of other drivers, passengers or pedestrians, and administer first aid if properly trained
  • CALL 9-1-1. Request emergency medical assistance if necessary
  • Place emergency warning devices to warn approaching traffic
  • Do not admit fault – report facts and observations only, do not attempt to analyze fault
  • Discuss accident details only with law enforcement, your company and insurance provider

Document

To support accident response, once the immediate priorities are addressed, drivers should to collect information and document what happened. An accident scene checklist and report form can help guide drivers through the process. Photographs of the scene can be very helpful.

Key accident details for drivers to capture include:

  • Accident date, time and location
  • Names and contact information of all parties involved, including potential witnesses
  • Description of other vehicles (make, model and license/VIN numbers)
  • Insurance policy information of other motorists
  • A description of how the accident occurred and a diagram
  • Road, weather and traffic conditions
  • Details regarding injuries and property damage
  • Information about traffic signs and signals, roadway configuration and right-of-way
  • Responding police department and ambulance and tow truck services

Research what happened

The information your driver collects at the scene is vital, but additional investigation is usually needed to get a full understanding of what happened. Some of the traditional sources of information include the driver’s account of the accident, witness statements, accident scene photographs and the police report, if one exists. Your insurance company may be able to assist with some of this information.

For fleets that use on-board monitoring systems, detailed information about the drivers’ actions and vehicle performance may be available. This information can help in the analysis of what happened and whether the driver was driving safely, and in some cases, protect against false allegations that your driver was at fault.

Other technologies are playing a greater role in accident investigation today. Nearby security videos and traffic cameras may have captured video footage of accidents. Satellite images can offer a view of the accident scene to verify roadway configuration, signs and signals. Bystanders may have used their mobile devices to take photos or video of the accident scene. Social media also can be a source of information about accidents and the people involved.

Evaluate why it happened

To analyze who was at fault and if the accident was preventable you need to gather information to better understand what happened, but to prevent future accidents, you need to go beyond the “what” and determine “why.” The “5-Why” technique is an easy way to help find the root cause. Simply ask the question “why?” until you identify the root cause(s). Depending on the situation, you may need fewer questions or more questions, but five is a good rule of thumb.


Example:

“Why” Question

Response

Why did the employee rear-end a vehicle?

The employee was distracted.

Why was the employee distracted?

He was using his cell phone while driving.

Why was the employee using a cell phone?

He was calling his supervisor.

Why was he calling his supervisor?

To tell him he was going to be late.

Why was he late for his delivery?

Extra stops were added to his route.

Identify countermeasures

What you learn by asking “why” can help identify what countermeasures could help prevent similar situations. From the above example, here are several countermeasures that could be used to help limit the potential for future accidents:

  • Train employees to maintain a safe following distance
  • Require employees to be safely parked before using mobile devices
  • Verify the employee’s route is reasonable
  • Install a vehicle monitoring system to track vehicle location and performance

Once countermeasures have been identified, make a plan to implement them. Identify the specific steps that are necessary. Assign responsibility for completing those steps by specific dates. Finally, monitor progress to determine if your countermeasures are having the desired effect.

For more information about accident response, investigation and prevention, including webinar replays, accident report forms, sample policies and more log in to the Risk Control Customer Portal and click on “Driver & Vehicle Safety” in the Advanced Search function.

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