Parking lot dings are the tip of an expensive iceberg

A minor dent proves more than a minor inconvenience

By Stephen Evans

However insignificant they may seem on the surface, parking lot dings and maintenance yard mishaps are serious business. Too often sloughed off as a minor inconvenience, they actually manifest as a major drain on the company. Unreported parking lot collisions are like an iceberg where only a fraction of the problem is showing above the waterline.
Transit agencies and bus operators often accept minor and unreported collisions as just coming with the territory, where drivers and inexperienced technicians are maneuvering commercial vehicles in tight spaces and parking lots. Without an investigation or follow-up report, the costs of such an incident are often simply absorbed into the administrative and maintenances ledgers.

What the operator sees on the surface are only the most direct costs of an accident. They can be substantial when
they include towing, adjusters, clean-up, repairs to damaged vehicles and property, as well as associated medical costs and legal fees.
Meanwhile, all the indirect costs are lurking below the surface. They result from investigations, equipment downtime, increased insurance premiums, a loss of production, not to mention additional administrative time spent on phone calls and extra paperwork that comes with filling out accident reports.
Above the waterline are the insured costs; below are the often greater uninsured costs of damage to property and miscellaneous expenses. The costs above and below the waterline add up to the real cost of an accident, which can be measured and controlled.
Quite often operators do not take action in such accidents, or they wait to make repairs because the damage does not warrant taking the vehicle out of service. But that is to ignore the threat. These small but significant accidents take place every day, particularly in larger companies.
Unreported parking lot accidents should be managed with as much focus and resources as a company would use with higher profile crashes. One large bus transportation company started capturing parking lot damages and quickly realized it had experienced no less than 164 incidents in the first six months at an estimated cost of $267,727, or $1,600 per unreported incident.
Projecting that rate of accidents over a full year—328 unreported collisions—with $535,454 estimated damages managed at 10 percent margin, produces these scenarios:
Scenario I: just the tip; no hidden costs under water —With an estimated $535,454 needed to cover costs “above the waterline,” the operator would require $5,354,540 in revenue.
Scenario II: for every $1 showing $1 is hidden — One-to one direct vs. indirect costs would require $10,709,080 in revenue to cover damages.
Scenario III: for every $1 showing $3 is hidden — One to three direct vs. indirect costs would require $21,418,816 in revenue to cover damages.
In this particular company, everyone knew from training what their role and duties would be when a major collision occurred, but with these smaller, and slyly expensive minor accidents, no one knew what to do, or if they needed to do anything. Armed with this more focused view of minor accidents, the company reviewed its policies and procedures and instituted several changes. Today:
The company frequently monitors video surveillance and drives cams.
Dispatch issues and checks pre- and post-trip damage cards. A driver with too many points could be suspended.
Daily walk-around inspections have been improved with inspectors being more careful to note new damage on damage cards.
Drivers and technicians receive more training and orientation to drive slower and more carefully, to avoid backing up as much as possible, and to use back-up cameras where possible.
Drivers rely on spotters in tight spaces and never ask for or accept assistance from a customer or passenger on the bus.
Where possible, the company established one-way drive routes and reversing policies that require alerting dispatch before backing up alone.
One last piece of advice to help reduce the cost of parking lot dings is to ensure the recognition of this problem and the policies to police it match with the core values of the company and its employees. Everyone must be accountable. Employees cannot cover one another for an accident or mishap they would normally consider minor and not worth mentioning, particularly when they know integrity is a stated core value of the company. BRM
Stephen Evans serves as Vice President of Safety, for Pacific Western Group of Companies, Calagary, AB, Canada, and as Secretary, Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC).