Post-Accident Crash Management
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) crash statistics, there were over 12,000 crashes in 2020 that involved large trucks and busses. The year 2021 is on pace to eclipse that total with 5,947 crashes reported through May 31, 2021.
One of the most important components to any successful motor carrier operation is having a good accident prevention program. Equally as important is to have a good post-accident management program. As a safety professional or a driver, it’s important to know the proper steps to take in the event you or one of your company-owned vehicles is involved in an accident. If the vehicle involved is a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), the regulatory requirements can be tricky to navigate.
Knowing what actions to take immediately following a vehicle accident is one of the keys to minimizing your risk exposure and staying in compliance with the FMCSRs.
Stop at the Scene and Report the Crash
When you are involved in a vehicle accident, you must remain at the scene of the crash and report the accident. If you are injured or if there are injuries to other parties involved, call 911 immediately. Once you’re safe, and if possible, remove your vehicle from the roadway onto the shoulder of the road to get it out of the travel lanes. Then turn on your hazard flashers, put out reflective triangles or cones. This will give better visibility to other drivers that may be approaching the crash scene.
Once a law enforcement officer arrives, it’s important that you remain calm and follow their instructions. As the investigation continues, a well-equipped accident kit can help guide you through the process. A good accident kit will contain, at a minimum, step-by-step instructions to guide you through the reporting process, a camera, driver’s accident report, pen, witness statement forms and a post-accident drug and alcohol testing decision tree.
Exchange Information with Other Parties Involved
Document all identifying features of the other vehicle(s) involved. This documentation should include make, model, license plate, model year and color of the other vehicles as well as any other distinguishing features. If the crash involves other CMVs, it’s important to document any identifying markings on that CMV. These identifying markings could include:
- Company name
- Company logo
- DOT number
- Any other identifying markings
If the crash involves a tractor-trailer, it’s important to document identifying markings on both the tractor and the trailer. It is extremely important that you exchange proper information with the other party prior to leaving the scene of the crash. Once all parties have left the scene, it can be difficult to track them down if additional information is needed. Information exchanged with the other parties should include:
- Name, address, email address and phone number of other drivers involved
- Insurance company and policy number of other drivers involved
- Driver’s license number of other drivers involved
- Company name and contact information (if another CMV is involved)
- Name, address, email address and phone number of any witnesses
If any of the parties involved refuse to exchange information, do not become confrontational. Wait for a law enforcement officer to assist with the exchange of information.
Document the Crash
Scene Using a camera from your accident kit or your phone, document the crash scene with photos and/or video. Make sure you take photos of the entire scene from multiple angles. If possible, place an object in each photo to give a sense of scale to the photo. When taking photos of vehicles involved, be sure to get distant photos and closeup photos of damage. Take photos of all four sides of each vehicle involved, whether there was damage to that side or not. Take photos of damage to a vehicle’s interior to include shattered glass and any airbags that were deployed. Take photos of any property damage that occurred because of the crash. This could be damaged fences, buildings, power poles, traffic control devices or landscaping. Look for things that could have been a contributing factor to the crash, including damaged roadways, road construction, inoperative traffic control devices or debris in the roadway.
Post-Accident Drug Testing
The FMCSRs have very strict requirements when it comes to post-accident alcohol and controlled substance testing involving a CMV.
In addition to the strict testing requirements, the FMCSRs also have strict requirements for proper documentation. 49 CFR 382.303 addresses three types of CMV accidents that require alcohol and drug testing:
- Human fatality
- Bodily injury with immediate medical attention away from the scene AND the driver was issued a citation for a moving violation arising from the accident.
- One or more motor vehicles incurring disabling damage as a result of the accident, requiring the motor vehicle to be transported away from the scene by a tow truck or other motor vehicle AND the driver was issued a citation for a moving violation arising from the accident.
Alcohol tests. If a test required by this section is not administered within two hours following the accident, the employer shall prepare and maintain on file a record stating the reasons the test was not promptly administered. If a test required by this section is not administered within eight hours following the accident, the employer shall cease attempts to administer an alcohol test and shall prepare and maintain the same record. Records shall be submitted to the FMCSA upon request.
Controlled substance tests. If a test required by this section is not administered within 32 hours following the accident, the employer shall cease attempts to administer a controlled substances test, and prepare and maintain on file a record stating the reasons the test was not promptly administered. Records shall be submitted to the FMCSA upon request.
In all required testing situations, the employer must use the proper DOT regulated chain of custody forms.
All motor carriers are required to maintain an accident register for three years after the date of each accident. Information contained in the accident register must contain at least the following:
- Date of the accident
- City or town, or most near, where the accident occurred and the state where the accident occurred
- Driver name
- Number of injuries
- Number of fatalities
- Whether hazardous materials, other than fuel spilled from the fuel tanks of the vehicle involved in the accident, were released
In addition, the motor carrier must maintain copies of all accident reports required by the state or other governmental entities or insurers. For the purposes of recording an accident on the accident register, the definition of accident means:
An occurrence involving a commercial motor vehicle operating in interstate or intrastate commerce in which one or more of the following occurred:
- A human fatality
- A vehicle was towed from the scene due to disabling damage
- An injury that required immediate medical treatment away from the scene
Obtain Police Report, Determine Preventability and File DataQs if Applicable
As soon as possible after the crash you will want to request a copy of the official police report. Depending on the state and jurisdiction, this could be as simple as requesting a copy online through the official state accident reporting portal. In other jurisdictions you may have to request the report in writing, while others may require you to appear in person at the police department to obtain the report. In recent years, the FMCSA started the Crash Preventability Determination Program (CPDP). This program allows a motor carrier to request a data review for an eligible crash that occurred on or after August 1, 2019.
There are only certain types of crashes that are eligible to be reviewed. Those crashes are as follows:
- Struck in the Rear
- Medical Issues, Falling Asleep or Distracted Driving
- Wrong Direction or Illegal turn
- Cargo/Equipment/Debris or Infrastructure Failure
- Parked or Legally Stopped
- Animal Strike
- Failure of the Other Vehicle to Stop
- Suicide • Under the Influence
- Rare or Unusual
Once a crash is reviewed and determined to be not preventable, it will still show up on a motor carrier’s record, but will be excluded from the Safety Management System (SMS) scoring.
Are You Ready?
In addition to the injury risk to the driver, we all know the impact that a motor vehicle accident can have on a company’s bottom line. Out-of-service equipment, repair expenses, delayed deliveries, substandard customer service, and increased insurance costs to name a few. Having the training and knowledge to know what to do post-accident can help to ensure you stay compliant, minimize associated costs and keep your fleet on the road.
With over 19 years of health & safety and DOT compliance experience, Richard combines regulatory knowledge with extensive industry experience to provide guidane for achieving maintaining compliance.