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PREVENTABILITY – WHY?-By Nick Nicholson

I recently discovered that many people in transportation, don’t understand the significance of Collision Review Committees or “preventability”. They have varying erroneous thoughts as to what “preventability” actually means.

We so often hear: “What do you mean “preventable”? The other guy was charged, not me!”  The purpose is not to decide fault nor does it signify who should be charged! No, it’s not to decide punishment! It’s not to compare drivers and, its purpose is not who gets a safety pin at the end of the year.

The purpose of a Collision Review Committee should be something like a Court Ordered Inquest. It’s to find causation for the mishap, find ways of keeping it from happening again, making recommendations to change policy if necessary and to supply information for training.

It is a review that should only be conducted by drivers who are familiar with the same kind of conditions faced daily. The involved driver should never be identified – there is no place for bias on this committee. Use a crash numbering system.

In my opinion, management’s function should not exceed that of the facilitator. In the committees I served on (safety rep), my only voting function was that of a “tie breaker” and that happened twice in twenty-five years.

When reading a collision report, assessing crash photographs, diagrams, witness statements and driver explanations, the committee members should be able to picture themselves in the exact same position and circumstances. Today, dash cams recording ten seconds before and after impact should be utilized in your fleet.

With the proper training, members should be able to clearly visualize what preceded the crash, at the point of impact and what followed the initial or subsequent crashes. They should be able to apply their experiences to a situation to see if they think they could have reasonably avoided the same outcome by something they might or, might not have done.

This is why collision reports should have as much detail as possible and explain the driver’s thoughts and feelings as well as actions. Only someone who is familiar with the dynamics of heavy vehicles knows the sensations/feelings felt when a vehicle is in trouble. There comes a point before impact when you realize the vehicle is out of your control.

To me, this is the practical reason for a safety practitioner to attend Nick-2015a collision scene. To get as much information as possible that others (police, courts, media, etc.) don’t gather and don’t care about. Knowing the needs of the committee, I often accompanied the driver to a coffee shop afterwards to assist the driver writing the collision report.

The committee’s job then is to decipher, make recommendations, report, and management’s is to publicize. If nobody learns from it, there’s no sense doing it.

Committees should have three choices: “Preventable”, Non-Preventable and, “Preventable, with an explanation”. I found the third category useful in situations where an action was taken to avoid one situation, resulting in another. There were also collisions where a driver was attempting to mitigate a much more serious, life-threatening, crash by driving it off the road.

Experienced, “preventable” collision free, driver committee members know the requirements. These are reasonable. If the crash driver didn’t follow them then, in all likelihood, the committee would decide the collision was “preventable”.

During the pre-trip inspection, if the driver found something unsafe but, the dispatcher demanded the vehicle be driven, then two people share the responsibility of preventability. It’s still preventable by the driver! The company now has a bigger part to play!

If the committee decides that the crash driver, once faced with the circumstances, had taken every reasonable precaution to avoid a collision then, non-preventable is the judgement. This seldom happens. Often, preplanning like increased “space cushion”, driving for conditions, etc. could have avoided the circumstances.

A “wheel-off” bounces from another vehicle and strikes a windshield would be the type of case deemed “non-preventable”. In this case, the committee would still try to find a solution to make this situation preventable. They invented wheel cages for tire technicians, why not for moving trucks or busses. Perhaps the committee could request that the employer installs them or lobby the government.

Keep your people safe.

The beauty of life is in your hands.
THINK SAFETY ……… EVERYWHERE ……….. ALL THE TIME

About the Author

Nick Nicholson, is a retired safety practitioner who spent many years researching the human behaviour factors of driver and pedestrian actions. Specifically, he spent 25 of those years devoted to highway crash investigations, regulatory compliance, the design, implementation and presentation of safety programs. Nick enjoyed many hours presenting professional driver enhancement training to adult participants.

As a long time Fleet Safety Council Member (1988) and the Founding Chair (1992-1995) of Council’s Hamilton-Niagara Chapter, he presents his opinions in hopes of improving the safety knowledge of readers. Nick is a firm believer in human advancement through positive attitudes, solution thinking and the understanding that the beauty of life is always in your hands.

Old Uncle Nicky’s Opinions are his own and in no way reflect the opinions of Fleet Safety Council.

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