The Myth of the Million Mile Safe Driver

by Jonathan Hubbard, CEO, SpeedGauge

 

Any professional driver who drives a million miles without an accident deserves respect and praise. Fleets know this, and they take the time to acknowledge the achievement. In fact, the “Million Mile Safety Bonus” is an important part of many fleet safety programs.

But should it be?

At SpeedGauge, we believe that all long-term drivers deserve our praise and recognition. It takes great self-discipline, focus and commitment to drive a truck, day after day for miles on end. Anyone who can maintain such professional focus year after year deserves praise.

That said, I would argue that statistically-speaking it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to assign special praise to the drivers who reach the million mile mark without an accident. In fact, statistical probability shows that high-risk drivers are very likely being recognized for accident-free driving thanks to simple luck, while safer drivers are passed over for years at a time without recognition simply because they haven’t logged the same mileage or enjoyed the same luck.

Don’t get me wrong, individual driver performance plays a huge role in the overall safety record of a fleet. However, the accident rate of an individual driver provides little insight into the safety of his driving behavior.

According to the US Department of Transportation, heavy trucks were involved in 275,484 police-reported crashes in 2010. If there are 3.5 million commercial drivers (and we assume everyone covers roughly equivalent mileage each year), the chances of being one of the unlucky few to be involved in a crash is less than 8%.

If we project that accident risk over time, we see it go up with mileage, but not as much as you might think:

year miles driven accident risk
1 115,000 7.8%
2 230,000 14.9%
3 345,000 21.6%
4 460,000 27.7%
5 575,000 33.3%
6 690,000 38.5%
7 805,000 38.5%
8 920,000 47.7%
9 1,035,000 51.8%

 

If we assume that the average driver covers 115,000 miles each year, it takes 9 years to cover 1 million miles. I wouldn’t want someone driving my car for 9 years before I can decide if he’s a safe driver. In fact, I want to identify unsafe drivers much sooner. The key to overall fleet safety is to reward safe drivers as soon and as often as possible, and coach unsafe drivers before it’s too late.

 

Granted, as time goes on, drivers’ odds of meeting an accident do go up. However, at the million mile mark, your average driver is still almost exactly as likely to have avoided an accident as to have ended up in one. If half of your drivers are “million mile safe drivers,” is it still a major distinction? It takes a million miles driven just to reach the same odds as a coin toss! A 50/50 chance of having an accident doesn’t seem like much to shout about.

 

The percentage above assumes that all of our drivers are at equal risk, but we all know that’s not how things work in the real world. If the average risk is around 8%, let’s look at the risk over time for lower risk (6%) and higher risk (12%) drivers compared to the average:

 

year lower risk average risk higher risk
1 6% 7.8% 12%
2 11.6% 14.9% 22.5%
3 16.9% 21.6% 31.8%
4 21.9% 27.7% 40%
5 26.6% 33.3% 47.2%
6 31% 38.5% 53.5%
7 35.1% 43.3% 59.1%
8 39% 47.7% 64%
9 42.7% 51.8% 68.3%
 

What does this chart tell us? Even though the higher risk drivers are assumed to have a starting risk of twice that of the lower risk drivers, there’s still almost a 1 in 3 chance that a high risk driver will hit the million mile mark accident-free!

 

In a driver community where low-risk drivers know who the aggressive high-risk drivers are, how does rewarding that lucky third of aggressive drivers make the low-risk drivers feel?

 

In light of the incredibly high turnover rates for drivers (over 100% some years!), we see that the vast majority of drivers, no matter how skilled they are, will never make it to the million mile mark with any company. This turns the million mile mark into a great opportunity to reward driver loyalty. When we consider that it costs an average of $7300 to recruit and train each new driver, the million mile mark should come with recognition of loyalty, but this doesn’t make it a marker of safety.

 

The bottom line is that measuring driver performance based on rare events like police-reported accidents is a risky proposition because the laws of probability mean that it is inevitable that some high risk drivers will make it to one million or even three million miles accident free while many low risk drivers won’t.

 

So, what’s a better solution for identifying and rewarding safe drivers?

 

Use the telematics tools available to your fleet to enable continuous monitoring solutions. By watching driver performance in real-time, you can focus on driver trends and patterns over time, watching improvements, identifying drivers who need improvement, and rewarding safe drivers. The safest fleets on the road implement these types of coaching and incentive solutions well before the million mile mark. Furthermore, by tracking more closely measurable aspects of driver behavior, such as speeding and harsh braking, you are much better equipped to identify high-risk drivers. This prevents accidents before they happen, and helps all of your drivers to reach the million mile mark accident-free!

This entry was posted on February 24th, 2016 by jhubbard and is filed under Recent News & Updates.