• Sharebar
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Asleep on the job

A tragic case ruled on by the Ombudsman for Short Term Insurance, in which a truck driver was killed when his truck veered off the road, is sadly not uncommon amongst transporters. He was believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel

According to Phillip Rentschler, Managing Director at Transit Underwriting Management - a specialist insurance underwriter, writing on behalf of Compass Insurance – collision or overturning of the vehicle is responsible for around 70% of Goods in Transit (GiT) claims. “It is impossible to determine exactly how many cases are caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel. Even if they do survive, they often lie about the exact cause out of fear of reproach from the employer.
“However, the reality is that driver fatigue is a major problem for anybody covering long distances, and particularly for cargo and trucking companies. The drivers are often incentivised with bonuses to complete as many journey’s as they can, with some drivers travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg as often as three times a week.”
He says some insurance companies stipulate minimum driver rest periods in the insurance contract. For example, the driver may have to take a one hour break in any 12-hour period, a five hour continuous rest period in any 24 hours or a 24-hour break from driving in any 7-day period.
In his ruling the Ombud said that while the insured took the necessary steps to monitor the resting periods, he also tolerated drivers not adhering to these conditions of cover. As a result, the rejection of a claim for R1m of damage to the truck was upheld.

Rentschler says that while the Ombud ruled in favour of the insurance company – as a sophisticated tracking device showed the driver did not adhere to the rest periods – without the necessary infrastructure, the insurer would have struggled to justify rejecting the claim. “Without major investment into adequate systems, establishing the exact cause of such losses will ultimately rely heavily on speculation.
“Unfortunately, we live in an age where everything is expected to happen instantly. Transporters - and their drivers - are often under immense pressure to deliver goods as quickly as possible. The majority of truck and cargo companies are responsible operators and implement procedures whereby the drivers take enforced rest stops. However, there are some unscrupulous operators who pay a small basic salary, with the rest of a driver’s pay comprising of a ‘bonus’ for the distance driven.
However, Rentschler says there are practical precautions that trucking companies can take to militate against drivers falling asleep at the wheel. “Companies should ensure that they provide adequate driver training and implement a proper screening process. While it does increase the cost, it may also be advisable for companies to employ two qualified drivers per truck.”
He says companies should also invest in fleet management systems in order to monitor driver behaviour to ensure that they are adhering to proper rest periods and take action if they do not. Some transporters have also installed mini-CCTV cameras inside the vehicles to monitor the driver.
“The number of solutions are almost endless; however, if management do not take the necessary steps to control their fleets and drivers, or resort to poor employment practice, then this problem will continue to persist,” concludes Rentschler.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:25.3 1st March, 2012
439 views, page last viewed on February 13, 2020