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Loss Control Insights for Petroleum Marketers

Make a Dent in Your Auto Losses by Preventing Rear End Collisions

Traffic jam on busy road mobile view

Rear end collisions are one of the most common causes of auto claims for all vehicle fleets, including petroleum marketers. That’s not surprising, since a wide variety of situations can contribute to a rear end accident. If you want to make a serious dent in your commercial auto claims, preventing rear end impacts is a good place to start.

Give ‘Em Some Space

If you take away one thing from this article, let it be this: maintaining an adequate following distance is likely the most important thing your drivers can do to prevent rear end collisions.

Following distance is the space a driver keeps between their own vehicle and the vehicle ahead. By maintaining this buffer of empty space, as opposed to following immediately behind the lead vehicle, drivers increase the time they have to react to unexpected events and obstacles in the roadway ahead.

According to a 2015 study from the AAA Foundation, 97 percent of rear end crashes were preceded by the stopping or decelerating of another vehicle in the driver’s lane. With an adequate following distance, it’s much more likely that a driver will be able to avoid the collision by having enough time to slow down or safely change lanes to avoid the hazard.

How to Calculate Following Distance

To estimate your following distance:

  • Select a stationary object near the road ahead of you. Trees, fire hydrants, traffic signs or bridges are all good choices.
  • When the rear end of the leading vehicle passes your chosen object, begin counting—“one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, etc.”
  • Take note of your count when your vehicle reaches the stationary object. That is your current following distance.

How Much is Enough?

Some of your drivers may have learned a “three-second rule” (or even a two-second rule) when they were young drivers’ education students. Three seconds of following distance is a good start for drivers of lightweight passenger cars, but when you’re operating a large, heavy vehicle with a long stopping distance and a shifting liquid load, it’s a good idea to give yourself an even larger cushion of space.

Many trucking resources, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), suggest you allow one second of space for each 10 feet of vehicle length at speeds below 40 miles per hour. If your tanker is 40’ in length, your following distance at low speeds should be four seconds. When speeds move above 40 mph, you should add an additional second. So that same 40’ tanker should allow five seconds of following distance when traveling at highway speed.

This is a good rule of thumb to follow when you’re driving during the day and the weather is fine. If conditions become more challenging, making it harder for you to see or increasing your stopping distance, you should add even more time to your following distance. Consider adding additional seconds when you encounter:

  • Wet or slippery roads
  • Reduced visibility due to darkness, precipitation, sun glare or fog
  • A frequently stopping vehicle such as a garbage truck or delivery van
  • Oversized vehicles that obstruct your view of the road ahead

The FMCSA suggests doubling your following distance in adverse conditions.

Driver-Controlled Factors

Beyond following distance, there are several additional ways drivers can help prevent rear end collisions.

  • Maintain Situational Awareness: Drivers should stay aware of traffic around them at all times. This can be a challenge since smaller vehicles often travel faster than large trucks, and might not respect the space buffer large trucks require for safe turns, lane changes and stops.
  • Avoid Distractions: Cell phones and other mobile electronic devices are the primary culprits here. Your organization should have a strong policy limiting or even banning device use while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Don’t Drive While Impaired: Drivers should not operate company vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or while using drugs or certain types of medications. Fatigue and drowsy driving also slow a driver’s reaction time and ability to respond to emergencies.
  • Keep Your Cool: Driving in dense traffic among smaller, faster vehicles that cut you off or tailgate you is a frustrating experience. As challenging as it might be, professional drivers need to rise above it and keep up their safe behaviors even when the driving conditions are aggravating.

Collision Avoidance Systems: The Future of Safety?

Collision avoidance systems, computerized systems that sense oncoming collisions and either warn the driver or activate the brakes to slow the vehicle, are moving into the mainstream and for good reason. A recent study by the National Highway Transportation Administration followed 150 tractor-trailers equipped with collision avoidance systems. Over the course of a year, rear end crashes were reduced by 87%. Refinements to the technology will almost certainly make collision avoidance systems even more effective, while increased competition in the market will help to make them more affordable.

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