New Year’s Resolution: A Safety Checklist

Happy New Year!

Here is 2013, a new year, more daylight ahead, and winter driving to deal with. As you prepare for another year of trucking, now is a good time to assess the state of your preparations.

Maintenance checks and safety checks: now is the time to take stock and bring your work up to date. This also includes looking at the state of your insurance needs and coverage.

Have you added trucks to a fleet? Brought on kinds of business? Hired a driver? You’ll want to make sure that your insurance coverage is also up to speed.

Are your documents up to date? Make sure you have vehicle registrations, your current insurance policy declarations page (“dec page”), driver’s license numbers and basic driving histories of all drivers, including speeding tickets and VIN numbers (vehicle identification numbers) of each vehicle, and verify that your lines of authority are active and in good standing.

This is a good time to review your coverage with your insurance agent. Some issues to discuss could include:

  • Liability Insurance – this is the mandatory insurance which pays for any damage you cause with your truck. Driving without this insurance is an offense and could result in heavy penalties. Are all drivers and vehicles accurate on your policy?
  • Motor Truck General Liability Insurance – this coverage pays for injuries or property damage you cause through business activities when outside of your truck.
  • Bobtail/Deadhead Insurance – also known as non-trucking liability, this insurance is voluntary when you lease your truck to another carrier. It provides coverage for your truck when you’re not under a load and not under dispatch (i.e. when you’re having it serviced).
  • Motor Truck Cargo – this insurance covers the load you’re carrying. It isn’t mandatory but some shipping companies insist on it.
  • Physical Damage Coverage – also not a legal requirement, this insurance covers your truck against perils like collision, fire, theft, vandalism and flood damage. Are all of your units insured for the correct value? It is very important to review stated amounts (limits) for each truck insured.

Are you a long-haul driver? You’ll want to check with your insurance company about the radius of operation restriction for Primary Liability coverage and how they calculate it. An insurance agency may request copies of your IFTA statements to verify how far you are travelling. Keep current copies of the last four quarters in the event the company requests them.

Whether you need insurance as an owner-operator, motor carrier or private carrier, we can advise you and quickly get the coverage and the paperwork that you need.

Your Company Safety Policy: Get It In Writing

You take good care of your trucks. You are an experienced, safe and efficient driver. Your customers are happy. So maybe it seems like a chore for you to develop a written safety policy. But the truth is that a good safety policy is not hard to establish and will solve a number of challenges.

Many states require a policy for approval of intrastate carriage. For example, the  Public Utilities Commission of Ohio requires motor carriers operating intrastate in Ohio to provide proof of compliance with Federal Motor Safety Regulations, and a complete safety policy is the best way to do that.

Also, you need insurance, and a good safety policy can result in lower truck liability insurance premiums. Insurance companies want to reduce risk and they like truck operators who make the effort to develop a written policy, because those employees are more likely to be aware of and practice good safety principles. Even if you are an independent owner/operator, this holds true.

Besides being required by state regulations and helping to reduce your insurance rates, having a policy in place improves behavior overall. It signals to your drivers that safety is a priority and you won’t tolerate unsafe actions. Having something in writing makes it easier for you to enforce these rules.

A Few Helpful Tips

There is more to a safety policy than safe driving. Include proactive precautions such as pre- and post-trip inspections, checking weight and using designated fueling stops. Also, keep it simple: the best way for drivers to obey the policy is for it to be stated in clear, simple language.

Your Written Policy Should Contain These Sections

  1. General policies: a statement of the importance of safe behaviors and your intolerance of any unsafe actions. Clearly state standard procedures such as background checks or drug testing.
  2. Accident procedures: how to secure the site, who to call, immediate actions to take.
  3. Controlled substance or alcohol abuse, dishonesty, any other immediate grounds for dismissal.
  4. Hours of service, logging: what information is required and how frequently should it be recorded.
  5. Safety rules and requirements: specific rules for driving, speed limits, cell phone use, parking, overnights, truck maintenance.
  6. General information, such as paperwork requirements, fueling stops and inspections.
  7. Signature page, for the employee to acknowledge having read the policy.

Steps Toward a Safety-Focused Company

A great first step in writing your policy is to consult the federal and state departments of transportation, in particular the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Program for regulations, guides for program topics, and other relevant trucking issues.

A safety policy extends to more than rules of the road for your drivers. You need to perform background checks on all prospective drivers, including their states’ department of motor vehicles for a report of their driving record—both on and off the clock.

Provide training to make sure your employees are trained in safety, courtesy and responsible road behavior.

Develop a safety checklist of actions that drivers are required to perform, as well as a documented truck checklist of safety inspections on the vehicle, including a place to record required repairs or adjustments.

On today’s crowded highways, keeping safety top of mind pays off.

What you need to know about “distracted driving.”

By now, you have heard about the dangers of texting and driving. Even the simple task of dialing home while barreling down the highway has a level of risk. The dangers associated with cell phone use while driving have popularized a new warning: distracted driving.

If you have shrugged off cell phone warnings because you don’t send text messages, you might want to reconsider what AAA representatives are calling “the most dangerous of all distractions behind the wheel.”

Start with the facts and the penalties associated with driving while texting or driving distracted:

  • As of September 2012, texting while driving is illegal in Ohio. It is a secondary offense for adults, but minors can be pulled over for using any electronic device other than a GPS.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has formally banned texting as well as any use of a handheld phone while driving. Fines for texting while driving can reach $2,750, along with suspended licenses.
  • Carriers are not allowed to let their drivers use handheld cell phones while driving. Ignoring this can lead to fines up to $11,000.
  • Commercial motor vehicle drivers who text while driving have a 23% greater chance of a crash or near-crash.
  • Distracted driving now accounts for 16% of all traffic fatalities.

It would be untrue to say that cell phones are more dangerous than alcohol, which is still to blame for almost twice as many traffic deaths. However, unlike the risqué reputation that alcohol has earned over several decades, cell phones are seen as business and communication tools, and this underestimation is perhaps what makes them so dangerous.

When it comes to distracted driving, here is what you should be aware of:

Teenagers aren’t the only ones texting, contrary to what the media might make you believe. Yes, the population under 25 years of age send text messages more than their older counterparts. If you do not send text messages now, chances are that you will pick it up over the next five years. Just because you are not a teenager does not mean that you can ignore the warnings.

Know where to draw the line. Sending a quick message while at a red light is usually harmless, but this opens the door to sending a quick message while driving. Without knowing it, you can end up testing the limits of “safe texting” well beyond safe practices. It’s all about habits. Develop yours carefully.

Mobile phones are able to do more and more. Anything that draws your eyes away from the road is considered distracted driving. Checking sports scores. Reading emails. Watching YouTube videos. Checking Facebook. Playing Angry Birds. Plugging an address into your GPS app. Ever done any of these while driving? Don’t kid yourself. They’re all as distracting as texting.

What you can do. If you are a driver, set routines for yourself that help you avoid hefty fines and accidents on the roads. Set your GPS, check email and read your favorite Buckeyes blog before your truck is moving.

If you employ drivers, start by establishing guidelines and expectations. Consider investing in Bluetooth or headset units that allow a call to be answered verbally or with the push of a button. Make it clear to your drivers that illegal cell phone use may result in additional penalties from the company. Offer assistance, seminars or even something as simple as an open door to any drivers who ask for help in putting down the phone.

Three reasons to consider changing your trucking insurance

Whether you operate a tractor trailer, haul materials with a dump truck or drive any size or type of truck for a living, you are aware of the complexities required to insure your vehicle. But is there enough incentive to consider changing your insurance company? Maybe, depending on how your company stacks up to the list below.

Your insurance agent needs to be attentive, thorough and ready to move quickly. If that isn’t your agent, look elsewhere.

The obvious reason for switching is usually not the right answer: lower premiums. By using due diligence and comparing similar coverage plans, you can probably save on your premium, but most likely you are paying a competitive premium.

What you might be missing is a company that saves you money in other ways. The first of which is

1. Speed. Or lack thereof. Has your current insurance company ever made you lose working days because it took them a long time to get you your required paperwork?  That delay alone can decrease what ends up in your bank account. Think about what a slow insurance agent could cost you in the event of a significant accident claim.

Your insurance agent needs to be attentive, thorough and ready to move quickly. If that isn’t your agent, look elsewhere.

2. A trucking insurance specialist. Be careful with this one. In the insurance business, many companies claim to be specialists at everything. Don’t buy it. Just because a company can fill out the paperwork does not mean that they are providing the best advice to your specific need.

Run this test: go to your insurance company’s website and look at what they list as their specialties. Do they include everything under the sun? Where is trucking insurance listed? First? Last? At all? You can quickly gather whether your insurance agency is actually a “specialist.”

What is the benefit of working with actual specialists? They ask the right questions and provide coverage that is exactly right for you. In the long run, they lower your risk and raise your peace of mind.  With all of the state, DOT and Federal Motor Carrier regulations (and they fines they impose) having an insurance agent who is a “specialist” is critical.

3. An insurance company that is in a different time zone than you. If you drive your truck for a living and you are based in Ohio, do you really think it is a good idea to work with an insurance company operating out of Texas or California? Insurance regulations differ from state to state. Asking someone in Sacramento what is best for your Cleveland company raises your risk for bad advice.

If you do look into changing your insurance agency, start within your own state. The odds that a local agency is up to date with your state’s ever-changing rules are much better. You will get the right kind of coverage for your area and not end up paying for additions that may not even apply to your region.

The Jones & Wenner Insurance Agency is an Ohio-based insurance agency that has specialized in trucking insurance for almost 40 years. To test our ability to work efficiently and effectively, contact me or any of our agents to find out if we are a good fit to insure your truck or fleet.

What kind of trucking insurance do you need?

Coverage options for truckers can be extremely complex. But if you start with the basics, trucking insurance comes down to four simple ideas.

  1. Some types of insurance are required for all.
  2. Some are required based on cargo or company.
  3. Some are recommended based on location or circumstances.
  4. Some meet a need for peace of mind.

Every trucker should understand how he is insured before leaving the driveway. Here are the top types of insurance that you are likely to need or want.

Primary liability insurance: This insurance covers damages created by you with your truck. It is required for all commercial truckers and is the responsibility of the company.

Should I have it? Yes.

How much do I need? The FMCSA requires a limit of $750,000, but check with your company or contract first. Many require a $1,000,000 limit.

What happens if I don’t have it? Expect significant fines and possibly a revoked license.

Physical damage coverage: This is coverage for damage that occurs to your truck while moving or sitting. Typically, it covers events like fire, glass breakage, theft and vandalism. This coverage is the responsibility of the trucker and is not required.

Should I have it? It depends on your situation and the value of your tractor and trailer. Ask your insurance agent for a recommendation.

What happens if I don’t have it? If damage occurs that makes your truck unable to run, your career may be at serious risk.

Bobtail (or deadhead, non-trucking) insurance: When you are not working, or under dispatch, and your truck is being maintained or repaired in the shop, parked in your driveway or at the car wash, bobtail insurance provides liability and sometimes physical damages (insured’s discretion). This coverage is the responsibility of the trucker and is not always required.

Should I have it? Answer these questions: Whether in your driveway or a garage, is the truck in a space safe from falling objects? Will you lose sleep if it is not insured against not-work-related accidents?

What happens if I don’t have it? Like physical damage coverage, bobtail insurance keeps you on the road. Anyone leased onto another company should carry thing and normally is required to do so.

Motor truck cargo insurance: This covers your vehicle’s cargo if it is damaged in a collision, fire or other on-the-job accident. If your freight is accidentally dumped on a road or waterway, motor truck cargo insurance covers the cleanup of areas as needed.

Should I have it? Often times a shipper will require this insurance.

How much do I need? Your limit depends on the cargo and the shipper.

What happens if I don’t have it? If your shipment does not require cargo insurance and damage happens to your cargo without this insurance, you are responsible for covering the damaged freight.

Whether you are a rookie trucker or have logged many miles on the road, being equipped with solid advice about your insurance is one of the most important keys to a safe and protected career. Because of the complexities of trucking insurance and frequently changing regulations, working with insurance companies that specialize in commercial trucks, like Jones & Wenner Insurance, is your best bet for selecting the right coverage options.

How to get the lowest rates on trucking insurance

If you are in the trucking industry, then you probably realize the importance of insurance that is right for you and an attentive insurance provider that acts in your best interest.

This blog is dedicated to providing advice on trucking insurance and safety. To start, we are addressing the question that is near the top of everyone’s list: how can I get cheaper trucking insurance without compromising—and when I need it?

Agent knowledge is the key. If you look past the promotional rates and other gimmicks, insurance with the same terms will cost about the same from any company. The difference is working with an agent who invests time in you. A good agent that understands the value of your truck, your freight, your driving distances, etc., can save you money by targeting your terms precisely and “trimming the fat.”

Find out how quickly your insurance company responds. If you are waiting days for proof of insurance or auto ID cards, you are losing money on time that you could be on the road. Ask your agent how quickly their company typically responds to requests. It won’t affect your premium, but it will affect your bottom line.

Help yourself. The single biggest factor in determining the cost of your insurance premium is your risk for accidents. Part of this is controlled by your past, which you can’t control. The other part is your commitment to safety for the future. Here are some tips:

  • Develop habits that encourage safety. This may mean making a checklist that you check off before hitting the road. Or memorizing the day’s itinerary. Habits help when you realize what you don’t do well. Maintenance procrastinator? Then always have your truck in the shop on the first of every month.
  • Avoid tickets. Whether for speeding or driving with a busted taillight, tickets are a sure way to raise your premiums.
  • Understand the Department of Transportation’s rules. If you are penalized by the Department of Transportation because of a failed compliance or inspection, prepare for higher premiums. This is another signal of sloppy driving. Don’t give up money simply because you didn’t know the rules.
  • Watch your credit. In some states, your credit can affect your insurance. Check with your agent to find out if this is an important factor in your premiums.

Find out what your options are. If you are planning on staying with your current insurance company, call them and find out what ways you can lower your premiums. Some may offer discounts for longer term policies or payment for the entire year upon renewal or multiple policies. If your insurance provider doesn’t have any options like these, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Understand the reality of insurance. If an insurance premium seems too good to be true, it probably is. Were you realistic in the valuation of your truck? Did you report all violations in your driving history? These may seem like easy ways to adjust your premiums in your favor, but they will end up costing you in the long term.