What's the link between driver shortages and distracted driving behavior among commercial drivers?

The talent crunch is exacerbating risks for fleet operators

What's the link between driver shortages and distracted driving behavior among commercial drivers?

Motor & Fleet

By Gia Snape

The commercial auto industry has been facing an ever-growing shortage of drivers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by decades-long issues such as an aging workforce and historically low wages.

But is the prolonged talent crunch compounding safety risks for fleet operators?

New research has shown a potential link between staffing shortages and longer driving hours, more pressure on drivers to conduct business on the road, and distracted behaviour behind the wheel.

Nationwide included commercial drivers in its latest driving behaviour survey, which revealed that a third (34%) are often or sometimes distracted while driving for work.

At the same time, four in 10 say their employer is struggling to find qualified drivers. According to the survey, drivers believe the shortage has led to:

  • Increased workloads (61%)
  • Being required to work longer hours (58%)
  • Increased pressure to meet deadlines (47%)
  • Their employer being forced to lower hiring criteria (42%)
  • Decreases in the quality of employee training (39%)

Most commercial drivers surveyed also expressed concern about their safety and liability behind the wheel, and 72% said they want more safety training to prevent road accidents.

Distracted commercial driving heightening liability and legal risks

These challenges also come amid intensifying legal and liability risks for fleet owners and operators.

Claims associated with trucking accidents, driven by increased litigation, have risen considerably. A study from the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform showed that between 2020 and April 2023, the average jury award for transportation litigation was $27.5 million.

This increase in litigation is pushing up overall costs, which are passed on to consumers through higher insurance premiums and coverage limits for commercial auto insurance.

“The number of claims that are litigated, even before first notice of loss to us, is going up every single year,” said Nationwide mid-market commercial lines leader Kristina Talkowski (pictured).

The driving behaviour survey also underscored the importance of prioritizing safety protocols in commercial fleets. Talkowski noted the willingness of commercial drivers to engage in safety training and embrace new technologies as a surprising yet positive finding. “They appreciate being recognized as professionals and welcome measures that ensure their safety on the road,” she said.

Commercial drivers positive on telematics use

The adoption of telematics technology, which involves using devices, sensors, and GPS to collect and analyze vehicle and driver data, has grown in the commercial auto industry over the past few years.

However, while company drivers (small to mid-duty commercial vehicles) are overwhelmingly supportive of dash cams and telematics, only 38% of business owners require these with their fleets, according to Nationwide’s survey.

Talkowski urged companies with large fleets, especially those with over 50 units, to leverage telematics data effectively to achieve substantial safety improvements and reduce loss ratios. She said firms have seen as much as a 30% improvement in their business auto loss ratios.

“You can’t just have telematics and not utilize it to give that important information back to the driver to improve how they’re driving and the things that would be considered riskier,” she said.

Telematics use can also be a draw for high-quality drivers, helping fleet owners fill staffing gaps. “For an employer, the takeaway is that safe, high-quality drivers welcome this technology,” Talkowski added.

Amid continuing challenges for commercial auto insureds, brokers must continue to stress improved safety measures among clients to better manage the cost of their risks. “Having good controls and a good fleet safety control program, using telematics and other tools as a company is going to be an important piece of what we all talk about with our commercial clients,” Talkowski said.

Do you have any thoughts about driver shortages and other risks in the commercial auto industry? Please share your comments below.

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