Auto Accident Investigation

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Many steps can and should be taken proactively to prevent vehicle accidents from occurring within your nonprofit / human service organization, but reality reminds us that accidents are going to happen. That being said, one hallmark of an effective vehicle fleet & driver safety program is the ability to learn from past mistakes (or accidents). This is accomplished, in part, through the development of an Accident Investigation Policy and Procedure. Among other things, the accident investigation process can help answer the questions of “what are we learning here?” and “how can we keep this from happening again?”

Whether the accident investigation is performed by a formal review committee, or simply reviewed by a key member of the organization’s management team, the form and function of the accident review is the same. In making this review, a copy of the completed driver’s Accident Report Form should be made available. Each accident should be reviewed in order to make a determination concerning accident preventability.

Preventability is a common practice in many motor vehicle fleets, and along with driver accountability helps in reducing vehicle accident frequency. It may also be used as the basis for Safe Driver Award Programs, safety incentives and other accident prevention programs.

The National Safety Council generally defines a preventable accident as one in which the driver failed to do everything they reasonably could have done to avoid it. The American Trucking Association uses the following rule to determine the preventability of a collision: “Was the vehicle driven in such a way to make due allowance for the conditions of the road, weather, and traffic and to also assure that the mistakes of other drivers did not involve the driver in a collision?”

In both definitions, the issue is one that relates to defensive driving, not to legal culpability. The fact that a driver who became involved in a vehicle collision is not legally charged doesn’t mean that the driver couldn’t have avoided it. When a fleet operation moves from reviewing only collisions where the driver has been charged, to reviewing collisions for preventability, a significant step forward has been made in controlling its overall vehicle frequency.

One benefit of reviewing collisions for preventability is that it promotes “defensive driving” within the organization. Defensive driving can be defined as driving to prevent accidents in spite of the incorrect actions of others and adverse driving conditions, such as light, weather, road, traffic and vehicle condition, as well as the physical and mental state of the driver. With this as the standard, it is normally true that when a driver makes an error or fails to act reasonably as a result of errors or other drivers, the accident is considered preventable.

All aspects of the vehicle fleet & driver safety program should be evaluated to determine their effectiveness, including but not limited to:

  • Driver screening
  • Driver training (i.e. written exam and behind the wheel road test)
  • Driver orientation (to specific vehicle(s) being driven)
  • Signed policy regarding use of cell phones and other electronic devices
  • Annual driver training/in-service to keep safety message fresh
  • On-Going driver in-service and training
  • Driver monitoring and supervision
  • Driver review and formal evaluation
  • Driver accountability and discipline
  • Use of technology to improve vehicle safety (i.e. GPS, video surveillance, 1-800 How’s My Driving campaign, etc.)

During the accident investigation, walk through each step of the process, from hiring to screening, training, and supervision, to determine its effectiveness. As an example, an employee/driver for human service organization XYZ was only trained and oriented to drive mini-vans. One day, when drivers were in demand, said employee was asked to drive a 15-passenger van. That day, the employee drove the van into an overhang, due in large part to lack of training on overhead clearance. In this example, the need for more comprehensive driver training was identified and the organization can focus their efforts, time, and energy.

As a reminder, the profile of a Defensive Driver is:

  1. Makes due allowance for lack of skill or improper driving practice of others.
  2. Adjust driving to compensate for unusual weather, road and traffic conditions.
  3. Alert to collision inducing situations.
  4. Recognizes the need for preventative action in advance.
  5. Takes necessary action to prevent a collision.

To access additional Risk Control resources on this and other risk management subjects visit our website at, or contact our Risk Control Department at 612-766-3100 or [email protected].

Suggestions and comments contained herein are provided for purposes of general education only. Suggestions and comments are not intended for the purpose of providing you with legal advice or legal counsel, and are not intended to assure compliance with or complete analysis of any law, rule or regulation. In addition, suggestions and comments should not be interpreted to imply or infer that all exposures, hazards or loss potentials on any subject or issue were identified or considered. No warranty, or guaranty of accuracy, fitness or suitability, express or implied, is granted with respect to any of the information contained herein.