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6 Surprising Factors Affecting the Cost of Commercial Auto Insurance

Your commercial auto premiums can increase for unexpected reasons, regardless of your driving habits.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 6 min read


Accidents happen.

And when they do, people expect their auto insurance premiums to rise. That cause and effect relationship is easy to understand.

But even safe drivers are noticing their coverage is becoming more expensive. Owners of large commercial fleets are especially hit hard when rates rise. The truth is that accident history is just a small part of a much bigger picture, created by the confluence of several macro trends.

Here are six unexpected reasons why your commercial auto premiums may be increasing:

1. More Miles Driven

David Nelson, 2nd Vice President of Auto in Commercial Accounts

When the recession hit, companies naturally scaled back. Manufacturers produced less; there were fewer sales calls and deliveries to be made. Drivers were laid off as demand dropped.

Since the economy’s been improving, activity is picking up again.

“The need to receive component parts and deliver goods is back up,” said David Nelson, 2nd Vice President of Auto in Commercial Accounts, Travelers.

But rather than hiring more drivers and buying new vehicles right off the bat, companies are instead relying on their core workforce to pick up more work.

“Trucks are being driven more miles, but there aren’t necessarily more trucks. Owners would rather get the most out of their current vehicles before they start adding more,” Nelson said. “The increased risk of more miles per truck will be compounded as the economy continues to improve and companies eventually do need to add vehicles to keep up with demand.”

2. Inexperienced Drivers

The commercial driver shortage continues to increase risks on the road.

Driving long distances is a hard job, so recruiting has never been easy. Now, many experienced drivers are approaching retirement age.

“The lingering question is, where is the next group of truck drivers going to come from? Will they have the same skills and capacity as the generation that’s retiring?” said Chris Hayes, 2nd Vice President of Transportation Risk Control, Travelers.

New regulations may make recruiting drivers even harder. For example, electronic time logs and tracking sheets will replace paper formats by December, 2017.

“Drivers perceive this change as more oversight, and it also means they may have to be more accurate or inclusive in their reporting. The new system will require a level of electronic engagement not all drivers are comfortable with,” Hayes said.

Stricter safety standards and less independence might turn off potential new drivers. While an improving economy means transportation companies are hiring, it also means the talent pool likely has options in other types of service jobs, like factory or construction work.

Those that do get behind the wheel with less experience present a larger risk.

3. Lower Fuel Prices

Chris Hayes, 2nd Vice President of Transportation Risk Control

“There’s a direct correlation between fuel prices and national accident frequency,” Hayes said.

The number of accidents per year has dropped steadily since the early 2000s.

“According to the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, in 2005, there were roughly 43,000 people killed in motor vehicle accidents. By 2014, it dropped to about 32,000,” Hayes said. Some attribute the decrease to safer cars and more awareness around the dangers of drunk driving. But price at the pump played an even bigger role.

When gas is expensive, people limit their time on the road, which leads to a lower accident frequency.

“We saw the least accidents when gas hit its peak at $4 per gallon, and accidents started increasing when it dropped back to $2 per gallon,” Nelson said.

The relatively stable gas prices may mean more cars on the road both for business and personal use. And more cars equal more accidents.

4. Distracted Driving

Screens are drawing a bigger share of drivers’ attention.

“Driving has always had an element of distraction, with texting being a notable recent example, but now dashboard ‘infotainment’ centers are an increasing concern,” Hayes said. “With their radio, GPS, Bluetooth and internet search functions, these systems require a lot of visual engagement.”

Texting, however, has also become a dangerous distraction for those traveling on foot.

“In some of our delivery zones, we were seeing an increased frequency of pedestrian strikes, and we spent some time investigating what drivers were doing differently,” Nelson said. “We found that the drivers weren’t necessarily doing anything wrong; it was the people around the vehicles who were less attentive.”

Semi-autonomous driving also creates opportunities for drivers’ minds to wander.

“As you move into what’s called ‘level two’ autonomous driving, you have multiple safety systems linked together, and there’s a risk that you’ll pay less attention to your driving because you assume your vehicle will take over those functions for you,” Hayes said.

“In other words, the safety benefits of these systems may be somewhat offset by the false sense of security that they provide and less driver attention.”

5. Aggressive Attorneys

In the past, larger claims for amounts of $100,000 or more would have an attorney involved roughly 70 percent of the time. “Now, we are seeing attorneys getting involved in claims as small as $25,000,” Nelson said.

One theory behind the shift is that many law school graduates entering the workforce during the recession had to forge their own paths while firms weren’t hiring, so they went after smaller claims aggressively to generate revenue from an untapped source.

“Some attorneys are specializing in leveraging all of the information available about drivers or operations of a vehicle to prove negligence on the part of the transportation company, often with a good deal of success,” Nelson said.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System, also known as SAFER, includes number of accidents for a given company, frequency of inspections and violations as a result of those inspections,” Hayes said. “The publicly available data was originally intended for state troopers, federal motor carrier enforcement officers and other people involved in trucking safety to better engage with trucking companies.”

The data was originally meant to improve safety by informing drivers and transportation companies of what they were doing wrong, assuming that if they can measure their performance, they can improve it.

Attorneys now are latching onto that data as evidence that if a particular company or driver has more accidents than the national average, they are more likely to be the negligent party.

“It’s definitely something that can be used to try to influence a jury,” Nelson said.

6. Increasing Medical Costs

An increase in the frequency and cost of soft tissue surgical procedures is another factor making auto claims more expensive.

“There’s a broad cost to deliver care in America. That trend isn’t going away any time soon, and the auto insurance market is impacted by that,” Nelson said. Injuries from auto accidents can run the gamut in terms of severity, but soft tissue injuries in the form of strains and sprains are prevalent. Injuries involving surgery often take longer to heal and require follow-up treatments as well.

All of these factors can drive up the cost of claims, which in turn can lead to higher premiums for insureds. Owners of large commercial fleets have the most exposure, but any company utilizing vehicles for business purposes – even if those vehicles are employees’ personal cars – can feel the impact of rising auto insurance premiums. Keeping an eye on these larger market and economic trends can help insureds not only understand their premium costs, but also anticipate what’s to come.

To learn more, visit https://www.travelers.com/business-insurance/commercial-auto.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Travelers. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




The Travelers Companies, Inc. (NYSE: TRV) is a leading provider of property casualty insurance for auto, home and business. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Travelers has approximately 30,000 employees and generated revenues of approximately $28 billion in 2016. For more information, visit www.travelers.com.

Absence Management

Establishing Balance With Volunteers

It’s good business to allow job-leave for volunteer emergency responders, whether or not state laws apply.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 7 min read

If 2017 had a moniker, it might be “the year of the natural disasters,” thanks to a phenomenal array of catastrophic or severe events— hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, ice storms and floods.

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Combined with smaller-scale fires and other emergencies, these incidents tax the resources of local and state emergency services, often prompting the need to call volunteer emergency responders into action.

But as lean as most organizations are already running, volunteer activities can sometimes cause friction between employees and employers. Handling conflicts the wrong way can potentially lead to legal headaches, harm employee morale and batter a company’s reputation.

State by State Variations

Most employers are aware of the various federal and state leave laws protecting their employees, including family and medical leave, pregnancy leave and military leave. But leave laws that protect the livelihoods of volunteer emergency responders are more likely to fly under the radar of some HR managers and risk managers.

Such laws don’t exist in every state, but more than 20 states do have some type of law in place to protect volunteers including emergency responders, firefighters, disaster workers, medical responders, ambulance drivers or peace officers.

Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management

The laws vary broadly. Nearly all specify that such leave be unpaid, and that employees disclose their volunteer status to employers and provide documentation for each leave. But there is a spectrum of variations in terms of what may trigger an eligible leave. Some, for instance, apply for any emergency that prompts a call from the volunteer’s affiliated responder group. Others may require a government declaration of emergency for the law to be triggered.

While many of the laws do not explicitly require employers to let employees leave work when called to an emergency during a shift, most specify that an employee may be late or even miss work entirely without facing termination or any other adverse employment action.

Some states mandate a maximum number of unpaid leave days that a volunteer can claim. But others may place more significant burdens on employers. In California, for instance, employers with 50 or more employees are required to grant up to 14 days of unpaid leave for training activities in addition to any leave taken to respond to emergency events. For multistate employers, keeping on top of what obligations may apply in each circumstance can be a challenge.

Significant Risks

Large or mid-sized employers may rely on absence management providers to keep them in compliance. For smaller employers though, it may be as simple as looking up a state’s law via Google to find out what’s required. However, checking in with the state department of labor or the company’s attorney may be the best way to get the correct facts.

“I would caution that just because you don’t find something [on the internet], it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” said absence management and employment law attorney Marti Cardi, vice president of Product Compliance for Matrix Absence Management.

For example, Cardi said, an obscure Texas law provides job-protected leave for volunteer ham radio operators called into service during an emergency.

Cardi said employers should task HR to investigate the laws in each state the company operates in, and to ensure that supervisors are educated about the existence of these laws.

“If a supervisor is told by one of his or her employees, ‘Sorry I’m not coming in today … I’ve been called to volunteer firefighter duty for the [nearby region] fire,’” she said, you want to be sure that the supervisor knows not to take action against the employee, and to contact HR for guidance.

“Training supervisors to be aware of this kind of absence is really important.”

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An employer that does terminate a protected volunteer for responding to an emergency may be ordered to pay back wages and reinstate the employee. In some cases, the employee may also be able to sue for wrongful termination.

And of course, “you don’t want to be the company in the headlines that is getting sued because you fired the volunteer firefighter,” she added.

If an employer bars a volunteer from responding, the worst-case scenario may be a third-party claim. Failure to comply with the law could give rise to a claim along the lines of “‘If you had complied with your statutory obligation to give Jane Doe time to respond, my loved one would not have died,’” explained Philadelphia-based Jonathan Segal, partner at law firm Duane Morris and managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute.

“That’s the claim I think is the largest in terms of legal risk.”

Even if no one dies or is seriously injured, he added, “there could still be significant reputational risk if an individual were to go to the media and say, ‘Look, I got called by the fire department and I wasn’t allowed to go.’”

The Right Thing to Do

What employers should be thinking about, Segal said, is that whether or not you have a legal obligation to provide job-protected leave for volunteer responders, “there’s still the question of what are the consequences if you don’t?”

Employee morale should be factored in, he said. The last thing any company wants is for employees to perceive it as insensitive to their interests or the interests of the community at large.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” — Jonathan Segal, partner, Duane Morris; managing principal, Duane Morris Institute

“How is this going to resonate with my employees, with my workforce, how are people going to see this? These are all relevant factors to consider,” he said.

There’s an argument to be made for employers to look at the bigger picture when it comes to any volunteer responders on their payroll, said Segal.

“Sometimes employers need to go beyond the law, and this is one of those times,” he said. “Think about the case where’s there’s not a specific state law [for emergency responders] and you say to a volunteer, ‘No, you can’t leave to deal with this fire’ and then people die. You as an employer have potentially played a role, indirectly, because you didn’t allow the first responder or responders to go,” he said.

The bottom line is that “it’s the right thing to do, even if it’s not required by law,” agreed Cardi.

“I feel that companies should have a policy that they’re not going to discipline or discharge someone for absences due to this kind of civic service, subject to verification of course.”

Clear Policy

While most employers do strive to be good corporate citizens, it goes without question that employers need to guard their own interests. It’s not especially likely that volunteer responders will try to take advantage of the unpaid leave allowed them, but of course, it could happen.

That’s why it’s important to have policies that are aligned with state laws. Those policies could include:

  • Notifying the company of any volunteer affiliations either upon hire or as soon they are activated as volunteers.
  • Requiring that employees notify a supervisor as soon as possible if called to an emergency (state requirements vary).
  • Requiring documentation after the event from the head of the entity supervising the volunteer’s activities.

If at some point it becomes excessive – someone has responded to emergencies five times in nine weeks, then it’s time to examine the specifics of the law and have a discussion with the employee about what’s reasonable, said Segal. It may also be time to ask specifics about whether the person is volunteering each time, or are they being called.

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In some cases, the discussion may need to be about finding a middle ground, especially if an employee has taken on an excessively demanding volunteer role.

“We encourage volunteers to pick the style that best fits their schedule,” said Greta Gustafson, a representative of the American Red Cross. “Disaster volunteers can elect to respond to disasters locally, nationally, or even virtually, and each assignment varies in length — from responding overnight to a home fire in your community to deploying across the country for several weeks following a hurricane.

“The Red Cross encourages all volunteers to talk with their employers to determine their availability and to communicate this with their local Red Cross chapter.”

Segal suggests approaching it as an interactive dialogue — borrowing from the ADA. “Employers may need to open a discussion along the lines of ‘I need you here this week because this week we have a deliverable on Friday and you’re critical to that client deliverable,’” he said, but also identify when the employee’s absence would be less critical.

No doubt there will be tough calls. An employer may have its hands full just trying to meet basic customer needs and need all hands on deck.

“That may be a situation where you say, ‘First let me check the law,’” said Segal. If there’s a leave law that applies, “then I’m going to need to comply with it. If there’s not, then you may need to balance competing interests and say, ‘We need you here.’” &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]