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In 2007, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration analyzed five years of data on crashes involving commercial vehicles heavier than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. Average cost/crash (in 2005 dollars): $91,112. Average associated costs for property-damage-only crashes: $11,299. Cost/crash resulting in nonfatal injuries: $195,258. Cost/fatal crash: $3.6 million.

In the last few years, there have been some interesting developments in tools, equipment, and management software/training specifically for fleet safety. Over the next few issues, we'll examine many aspects of vehicle safety, including the emerging role of electronics in safety technologies. We'll look at how new technologies affect the task of driving and how drivers are reacting to them.

First topic: crashes and how drivers can protect themselves.

Safety has direct financial benefits. When a crash occurs, a job is delayed. When a skilled employee is off the job for a short time due to injury, you're shorthanded. When the injury is more serious, or fatal, the employee must be replaced.

Considering the skills involved in operating a street sweeper, utility vehicle, or dump truck, the direct and indirect costs to hire and train both drivers and operators are far higher.

In the private sector, a company making a 5% profit margin must generate an additional $2 million in revenue for every $100,000 lost to accidents. That's why they have separate safety and compliance departments and give drivers regular safety training.

While public works departments do not earn revenue as private-sector operations do, they are often self-insured and are just as severely impacted by the costs of accidents. Even those with outside insurance will eventually pay higher premiums. It pays to hold down the costs of crashes.

SEAT BELTS SAVE LIVES

The beginning point of driver safety training should be the use of seat belts.

To help managers stress the importance of seat belts, Volvo created a dramatic video a few years ago that showed trucks with test dummies inside the cab, one in each seat. The trucks had high-speed cameras fixed in front and were rolled down a hill. The unbelted dummies bounced inside and were ejected. To even the greatest skeptic, it's obvious that humans wouldn't have survived.

When the dummies were restrained with three-point belts, they stayed within the safety cage of the cab. Humans would have been injured, but would have survived.

The footage supports statements from every safety group around the world: Seat belts save lives.