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Speeding up the accident repair process

Date: 19 April 2017   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Time is money, so the saying goes, but never has it been more apt than to the post-accident clean-up. Put simply, the longer a driver takes to report a shunt, the more it costs, and there's a heap of cash to be saved by speedy and accurate communication from the scene.

According to fleet accident management specialist FMG, a lot of insurers will actually reduce your excess if the accident is reported within four hours, so it's worth doing for that alone. Leave it much longer, though, and the costs head north.

"We have a fairly simple document called the good, the bad and the ugly," says FMG's, commercial director, Harvey Stead. "The good is when the driver reports it from the roadside and we know the costs involved with that accident; the bad means it took him three days to report the incident and the costs have gone up considerably; the ugly is that we never heard from the driver - all the reporting came from the poor guy he ran into, it took us six weeks to find out about it and the costs are astronomical.

"The difference might be that the good is £1,500 and the bad is six grand. So what does your business have to do to generate £4,500 because the driver hasn't followed your instructions and rung up from the roadside?"

Fast and proper reporting is good in theory, but unless you happen to be riding shotgun when the bump takes place, there's no guarantee employees will follow everything to the letter. Some drivers simply won't ring up as quickly as they should, but equally, you can hardly blame human beings for failing to dot every 'I' immediately after they've been T-boned.

There are a few things fleet operators can do to fast-forward reporting from a distance, though. "One of the obvious things is to have a bump card or a Z card in the car," says Steve Palmer, motor risk manager at insurance firm Aviva. "A Z card is basically a piece of paper, folded in many ways and shapes, that as you unfold it, actually gives the driver clear instructions about what data and evidence to collect at the scene, and what actions to follow from there.

 "It's something that fleets can do very, very simply themselves. It's worth speaking to the insurance company first and saying 'what do you want us to record?' - most insurers will be able to help you with that process - and it's to their benefit as well."

Smartphones are another way of doing it; the Google Play and Apple Stores are not short of apps designed to guide the user through the post-accident process, and various companies in the fleet and leasing industry have also launched their own, specific versions.

While modern phones remain a lifeline, accident management specialists are sceptical about apps: "We encourage drivers, where possible, to take photos of the accident damage; the more photos we can get, the quicker we can get onto things," says Gil Kelly, operations director at leasing and fleet management firm Venson.

"But we don't do a driver app and there's a specific reason for that, which is that it's an emotional time for the driver. The human touch, in what is inevitably quite a difficult situation for lots of people, is important. I think apps are a bit impersonal, and the reality is you can guide the driver on the phone while you're talking to them."

"The industry keeps talking about reporting via apps and the reason we've stayed away from them is that that interaction, that intuitive conversation with the driver at point of reporting, is vital," adds Stead. "That's where you get the level of severity of the incident and you understand where the driver is. Also, it's easier to make a phone call."

Dashcam sales have rocketed in recent years (they increased by 395% in 2015 according to retail analyst GfK) and as handy as they are in the wake of a prang, there's also an element of reporting involved, as drivers and businesses still have to let the insurance company know they've got the footage.

"It's imperative that you inform your insurance company you've got that footage because we know that it makes life so much easier," says Palmer. "I wouldn't say it reduces accidents, but what it does do is give us a clear opportunity to determine blame, so we don't necessarily start a protracted legal battle to fight something that, eventually, we'll probably end up losing when everything comes out; rather, we're able to more or less apportion blame very quickly, and if it's our fault, get it cleared off as soon as possible at a reduced cost."

Beyond having prompts or relevant technology in the vehicles, it's also worth telling drivers what to do before something goes wrong. "In a nutshell, a fleet operator needs to have a clear, concise policy before anything happens so that everybody knows what to do in the event of an incident," says Palmer. "Make sure they know what information to gather or questions to ask at the scene and also how to forward that on and get it on to your insurance company as soon as possible, to reduce potential issues like fraud."  

"Throughout the year, we deliver a programme of communications which help drivers to reduce the risk of an accident, but also ensure they are clear on what they need to do if they are involved in a collision," adds Mohammed Imran, head of operations at leasing and fleet management giant Arval. "This ranges from online guides to newsletter articles, and even information shared through social media channels."

It's a cure rather than prevention, but Stead thinks there's a strong case for introducing key performance indicators for drivers with a history of sluggish reporting: "If you've got a guy who's had three incidents in a year, and all of those took him three days to report, in my mind, that should be part of his annual appraisal process.

If company policy says you report them from the roadside or as soon as it's safe to do so or within a minimum of three hours, why is it taking you three days to report an incident? Or why are incidents being reported by a third party when we know nothing about them, because actually, you've not reported them at all?"

He adds that one of the biggest problems is when drivers and businesses fail to report minor damage. Speed isn't necessarily make or break in this case, but sweeping seemingly trivial damage under the carpet is expensive.

"We have a high number of what we call 'can you justs?', which is 'while this vehicle's in for repair, can you just do this scuff on the front bumper?' "Our answer would be, 'yes, but you've got to report it as a separate incident'. If you scraped it on a gatepost three months ago, we've got to register that separately, because everything needs to be completely transparent. The fact that we still get far too many 'can you just' requests suggests that drivers are not phoning through everything they should, and the biggest frustration that fleet managers tend to have with leasing companies is defleet.

"End-of-contract damage charges shouldn't be a mystery to anybody if you don't repair a vehicle and you send it back damaged; it's not unreasonable that the leasing company or the contract hire provider needs some remuneration to put it right again."

It's natural to be sceptical about any service with a cost attached, but outsourced accident management, done properly, can pay for itself. Fundamentally, handling it in-house or farming it out comes down to your resource and expertise; also worth bearing in mind is that a lot of leasing companies include it as part of the contract hire package.

"You would expect me to say this, but I don't think it makes a lot of sense for many businesses to try and handle it in-house," says Kelly. "The reality is there's a number of moving parts once a vehicle goes off the road, whether that's chasing the uninsured losses or sorting out a replacement vehicle. Just generally dealing with those - as well as the obvious things like getting the vehicle picked up, fixed and returned - needs a level of expertise."

There's an extra dimension if the business operates any kind of specialist vehicles, the likes of which management firms are more likely to be able to replace, as Imran explains: "Keeping downtime to a minimum is especially important for vans, where the vehicle may contain bespoke racking - and a short-term rental vehicle may not be able to fill that gap."  
The fall in dedicated fleet managers and associated specialist knowledge, if anything, makes more of a case for outsourcing, as Palmer explains: "What is the professionalism of your fleet manager? Do you have one, or have you already outsourced that function? If you haven't got the resource in-house then it would possibly pay to look into a professional organisation."

Typically, the bigger the fleet, the greater the savings, too: "A lot of it comes down to fleet size," says Stead. "If you're an SME with three vans, we can still help with the management of your repair, but if you have one accident a year, it's difficult to talk to you about trend analysis. If you have 100 vehicles and 30 accidents a year, we can start to provide some very detailed information, even down to things like whether Focuses are generally cheaper to repair than Astras, so if you place an order for 10 vehicles, should you take that into account?"