School is officially back in session for many districts around the country. For most families that means the return to carpool lines, freshly sharpened pencils, homework, packed lunches and school zones. But for others, especially in the insurance industry, back-to-school season signals an influx of school bus accidents leading to more claims and work for adjusters.
According to the American School Bus Council there are more than 480,000 school buses on the road each year. Despite the fact that they are designed to be safer than passenger vehicles in avoiding crashes and preventing injury, the vehicles are part of hundreds of crashes annually.
When insurance companies are tasked with completing appraisals on the vehicles, there are some things to keep in mind.
Proactive repair schedules
To start, some of the challenges facing the industry lie within the municipalities and their state-imposed budget restraints. Typically, most districts require bus inspections by drivers daily before their route in addition to mechanics at least once every 45 school days, or every 5,000 miles. When budgets are cut, proactive fleet maintenance is often reduced, which can affect downtime and long-term maintenance costs as they mitigate costs associated with accidents.
Reduced budgets can also lead to lengthened routes, causing more wear and tear on vehicles. Many times this also means that new buses are not purchased to renew aging vehicles in the fleet. There’s extra pressure for adjusters to complete bus estimates faster as districts need the vehicles back on the road as soon as possible, especially when school is in session and spare buses are not available.
Proper certification and training
Appraisers should be prepared to handle estimates for school buses. Proper training includes attendance and certification from a heavy equipment training school. Appraisers should learn how to properly evaluate large vehicles such as school buses to ensure that they are written to industry standards. Those standards equate to an accurate estimate so that those involved only pay what they really owe, the amount for a proper repair.
This photo provided by the Washington State Patrol shows the scene of an accident in which a motorist was killed and five students and others were injured in a crash involving a school bus, box truck and car near Orondo in Central Washington state Thursday, March 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Washington State Patrol)
An accurate appraisal also means that repairs are not overlooked so that the school buses maintain safety requirements. Some cities require re-certification after repairs are made. While it is ultimately up to the shop to repair per the district’s standard to attain re-certification of the bus, appraisers should have the knowledge and expertise to write their estimates to that standard.
Some companies have created apps which turn smartphones into estimating tools. Although most assume that these tools only work for cars, they should be able to handle large-scale vehicles such as school buses and even tractor-trailers.
To take it one step further, insurance companies should come to expect the same level of timeliness, if not better, when working with a virtual tool on an estimate. There are tools on the market that decrease cycle time to three hours or less. This increases efficiency and helps adjusters close claims quickly. The less time that is expended, the less money that is spent and the faster the buses are back on their routes.
For insurance companies that provide coverage for buses across a state and even across the country, a company with a national network of appraisers may mean that insurance companies don’t have to find a new appraiser for each city. They can work with one team for a cohesive, calibrated and consistent product. Additionally, the larger network acts as a backup for companies that use a smartphone app as a virtual estimating tool. If the photos taken from the app are insufficient for an estimate, the company can dispatch an experienced appraiser from the network to handle the job.
As summer fades into fall, school bus accidents seem to be inevitable. When they occur, insurance companies need to be fully prepared with their appraisal teams ready to handle any damage a big yellow bus might face.
Ken Loose is the chief operations officer at Property Damage Appraisers and brings over 25 years of multi-line claims and claim management experience to PDA. Loose is responsible for the day-to-day leadership and general management of PDA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.