A New Era for Transportation Risk Management

With the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program of 2010 (CSA 2010), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is bringing unprecedented transparency to the transportation industry, installing a wholly new, comprehensive and detailed system for identifying and resolving carrier and driver-safety issues. It has introduced into industry vernacular several new benchmarks upon which operators and drivers are now publicly judged, from unsafe-driving violations and fatigued driving to controlled-substance use and improper loading.

A cottage industry has sprung up to support operators in monitoring their all-important CSA scores. They aim to help companies intent on, as one vendor puts it, “improving the public face of safety under CSA.” Putting the best public face forward is indeed critical: Shippers are watching—and using the mounting piles of data on truckers to assess who they do and do not want hauling their freight.

As a direct result of CSA 2010, best-in-breed freight carriers (and those that aspire to this elite class) are investing in state-of-the-market technologies that many previously dismissed as too costly. Once viewed as luxuries, these technologies are suddenly seen as necessities as operators seek to outshine competitors in compliance and safety marks.

For example, rather than taking a chance on a driver forgetting to update a log book on time and tallying a violation, trucking companies are installing electronic logs that make updating mandatory upon entering the cab.

This is good news for brokers shopping transportation risks and the underwriters assessing them. While underwriters do not yet have decisive evidence of decreased frequency or severity in losses from CSA 2010, it is reasonable to expect that is where this new focus on safety will lead. Brokers will now have substantially more information to present to underwriters to set one account apart from the rest. Available data on transport risks is increasing exponentially.

Simulators, like those common in railroading, are being deployed as large carriers seek to sharpen drivers’ skills navigating treacherous conditions. Defensive-driver systems with sonar accident detection are more frequently cropping up, as are GPS and “geo-fencing” technologies that not only help keep track of driver and cargo locations but also help to keep drivers out of problem areas and situations.

Underwriters used to rely on the rearview mirror for better underwriting of trucking risks. Decisions were steered primarily by what one could glean from driver experience, miles per truck and driver turnover. Now, underwriters have a much richer storehouse of data to mine in assessing an operator, including real-time stats on all seven CSA 2010 basics: driver fitness, unsafe driving, fatigued driving, controlled substances/alcohol, crash indicators, vehicle maintenance and improper loading/cargo securement.

Trucking companies are adopting more sophisticated driver-training and intervention systems and are going to greater lengths to vet the drivers they bring onboard—adopting more costly and sensitive screening, such as hair-follicle testing for controlled substances. 

In the near future, CSA will clearly illuminate the most desirable drivers—and these individuals will be in high demand. Already the culture within freight carriers is shifting to reflect not only this safety focus but a more nurturing environment geared to imbue loyalty and keep preferred drivers in the fold.

Slowly but surely, poor drivers will be weeded out. Competition for, and efforts to retain, the best drivers will continue to heat up. A full-blown shortage of good drivers may be inevitable. Over time it will be increasingly difficult for truckers who don’t catch the safety wave to stay in business. Eventually, this trend is likely to result in fewer freight carriers and fewer drivers. The industry will be safer; the roads will be, too.

Operators today can see safety-trending in real time and use predictive modeling and algorithms to recognize issues and rectify them before serious accidents occur. Underwriters know this, and with more granular data at their disposal, they can dig deeper to understand these risks, asking meaningful questions. 

Underwriters can now tangibly evaluate not only an operator’s safety record but also its commitment to improving it. The process is veering from retrospective and subjective to forward-looking and quantitative. As underwriters have ever more data to deploy in selecting and pricing transportation accounts, the industry’s safety efforts and improvements will be recognized—and rewarded—as never before.

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