How Do You Handle the News of an Accident?

By Victor Shell
Director of Safety & Transportation

Almost every time a driver reports an accident to a dispatcher or safety manager, the first question the manager asks is, “Are you all right?”

If the driver is injured, the supervisor will need information to handle the medical response. How serious is the injury? Can the driver be treated at the scene? Does he or she need to be taken to a clinic or hospital?

After dealing with the driver’s health, the supervisor will need to know the nature of the accident, if there were other injuries, what information was collected, what law enforcement officers were on the scene, and if a citation was issued. Stress can run high for both the driver and the dispatcher and make decision-making harder than normal, especially if injuries are involved.

Having a written response plan available to the supervisor is a good idea. The plan should outline the steps the dispatcher or safety manager should take and the questions he or she should ask. The supervisor should be familiar with the procedures before an accident occurs.

The supervisor, for example, should know whether or not the driver should be tested for drugs or alcohol. Although the appropriate response will be based on the details of each accident, the guidelines are pretty clear. Here is information from Section 382.303 of the regulations:

  • If no citation is issued at the scene of the accident, no testing is required.
  • If a citation was issued and the accident involved bodily injury that required medical attention away from the scene of the accident or any motor vehicle was towed from the scene, drivers of commercial motor vehicles must be tested for alcohol and controlled substances.
  • If there was a fatality, the driver of the commercial motor vehicle must be tested. It doesn’t matter if a citation was issued or not.

Be aware that there is a time limit for testing. If testing is required, the employer must have the driver tested for alcohol within two hours of the accident or have on file a reason why the test was not promptly administered. If the test is not administered within eight hours of the accident, the employer must stop making the attempt to test and must document why the test was not administered. Testing for controlled substances follows similar instructions except that a 32-hour window is established for testing purposes. This regulation should be reviewed closer for further understanding.

Although accidents can be stressful for all persons involved, a clear response plan and a good understanding of the regulations covering motor-vehicle accidents are necessary for a timely response.

Victor Shell is CSA’s in-house expert on safety and transportation issues. His services are free to members. He’s available for a phone consult or to come to your yard and do a mock OSHA or DOT inspection. He can be reached at [email protected] or (470) 514-6729.