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No U-Turns: Driving Forward in Fleet Safety

Left turns and distracted driving are two of the risks that fleet managers can directly impact.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

How many left turns did you make on your drive into work this morning?

Most have to stop and think through their commute to arrive at an answer. It’s not an experience that stands out; it’s routine and practiced for most drivers.

But according to a 2001 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on 1.7 million car crashes, a left-hand turn is 10 times more likely to lead to a collision than a right turn. In left-turn crashes, the impact also tends to be more severe. Collisions are more likely to be head-on or at a right angle; whereas in right turns the collision tends to be more of a glancing blow or sideswipe.

“You cross more lanes of traffic making a left turn. There are more variables at play, which means more decisions to make for the driver,” said Peter Kim, Assistant Vice President, Risk Management Services, Philadelphia Insurance Companies.

At the same time, auto insurance rates continue to rise due to higher frequency of crashes and claims, increasing cost of vehicle repair, and rising medical costs. Companies managing vehicle fleets may not be able to influence the last two factors, but they can reduce claims by training their drivers in collision avoidance.

Eliminating left-hand turns almost entirely can be a part of that effort.

“UPS, for example, cut left turns out of drivers’ routes, which allowed them to not only reduce crashes, but also improve efficiency by spending less time idling at intersections. That also meant they could save money on fuel and reduce their carbon footprint,” Kim said.

But sometimes left turns are simply unavoidable. Companies can mitigate the risk by implementing broad fleet safety measures with the help of an experienced insurance partner.

The Dilemma of Distracted Driving

Peter Kim, Assistant Vice President, Risk Management Services

While the logistics of turning left make it a more dangerous maneuver, the risk is compounded by the larger issue of distracted driving.

In 85 percent of crashes involving a left turn, errors in driver recognition and decision-making were to blame. Those errors can be attributed to three underlying factors: obstructed view, inadequate surveillance, or incorrect assumption of others’ actions.

“What that means is that the driver either could not see the whole intersection, did not check the intersection for oncoming traffic, or did not react appropriately to what they saw,” said Kim.

Not reacting to another driver in time could simply be due to a momentary lapse in judgment, but the rise of distracted driving may also be slowing reaction times or impeding decision-making behind the wheel. Tech-enabled dashboards and cell phones consistently compete for drivers’ attention, and many believe they can safely keep an eye on the screen and on the road at the same time.

Of respondents to a National Safety Council survey, 13 percent said they were comfortable driving under the influence, while 47 percent said they were comfortable texting and driving.

But studies show that reaction time is actually slower when driving while using a cell phone than driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.8 percent.

“Texting and driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, and the disparity in how drivers’ perceive that danger needs to be addressed,” Kim said.

Managing Fleet Safety

Companies can address the risk of distracted driving in several ways.

First and foremost, a cell phone policy can keep drivers’ attention on the road and both hands on the wheel — but only if it’s enforced.

“Having a policy that is not enforced is almost as dangerous as having no policy at all,” Kim said. A cell phone policy can dictate that drivers not use their phones at all while they drive, or it can allow for hands-free use.

But safety managers can’t be in the passenger seat of every car. If they can’t see drivers’ behavior, how can they enforce a cell phone policy?

By relying on the eyes of others on the road.

“Texting and driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, and the disparity in how drivers’ perceive that danger needs to be addressed.”

“We partner with a company called SafetyFirst that provides bumper stickers listing the vehicle’s ID number and a phone number to call to report poor driving,” Kim said. “If someone notices one of our insureds’ employees texting while driving, they can report it.”

SafetyFirst then verifies and validates the report and sends a “Motorist Observation Report” (MOR) back to the employer, who can bring the issue to the driver’s attention and take corrective action. The company in turn sends a confirmation back to SafetyFirst, stating that it followed up on the MOR.

“When the confirmation rate exceeds 80 percent, we see a reduction in losses,” Kim said.

Telematics also offer a data-driven way to identify the drivers and behaviors that trigger losses.

Philadelphia Insurance recently conducted a pilot program with a fleet telematics provider to gather data, further study fleet safety risk management, and fine tune its approach to loss reduction.

“Through this large experiment, we have implemented GPS units in select insureds’ vehicle fleets. This is just a small sample that we’re using to gather data to inform how we may move forward in this area,” Kim said.

The units track a number of driving behaviors, including speeding, idling, hard braking, and acceleration. The telematics provider generates safety scores on a 1 to 100 scale based on the data, which organizations can use to identify the departments or individuals with the worst safety performance.

“So far, we have seen losses consistently coming in from the divisions with the poorest safety performance,” Kim said. “If we can show a correlation between telematics data and losses, it can help to direct loss control strategy going forward.”

Philadelphia Insurance also provides free fleet safety training modules through a collection of online resources called SmarterNow! The program provides 13 training modules specific to fleet safety, covering a range of topics including distracted driving, defensive driving, bus driving and winter driving. Additional modules address other safety issues such as bloodborne pathogens, slip/trip/fall prevention and workplace violence, among others.

Philadelphia Insurance also provides technical bulletins on left-turn safety for clients, for when left turns are simply unavoidable.

“We want to be able to put tools and resources into our insureds’ hands so they can improve their risk management strategies,” Kim said. “Our ultimate goal is to make our clients safer.”

To learn more, visit https://www.phly.com/rms/Services/.

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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 Philadelphia Insurance Companies. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY) offers product-specific resources, alliances, and service capabilities to achieve a multi-faceted approach to risk management, including safety program development, site audits, and training (including interactive web-based training). We offer a wide range of products and value-added services at financial terms to be agreed upon to help you achieve your risk management goals.

R&I Profile

Achieving Balance

XL Catlin’s Denise Balan stays calm and focused when faced with crisis.
By: | January 10, 2018 • 6 min read

In the high-stress scenario of kidnap or ransom, the first image that comes to mind isn’t necessarily a yoga mat — at least, not for most.

But Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin, who practices yoga every day, would swear by it.

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“I looked at these opposing aspects of my life,” she said. “Yoga is about focus, balance, clarity of intent. In a moment of stress, how do you respond? The more clarity and calmness you maintain, the better positioned you are to provide assistance in moments of crisis.

“Nobody wants to be speaking to a frenetic person when either dealing with a dangerous situation or planning for prevention of a situation,” she added.

“There’s a poem by [Rudyard] Kipling on that,” added Balan’s colleague Ben Tucker. “What it boils down to is: If you can remain calm, you can manage through a crisis a lot better.”

Tucker, who works side by side with Balan as head of U.S. terrorism and political violence, XL Catlin, has seen how yoga influences his colleague.

“The way Denise interacts with stakeholders in this process — she is very professional and calm in the approach she takes.”

Yin and Yang

Sometimes seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interconnected. In Balan’s life, yoga and K&R have become her yin and yang.

She entered the insurance world after earning a juris doctor degree and practicing law for a few years. The switch came, she said, when Balan realized she wasn’t enjoying her time as a commercial litigator.

Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

In her new role, she was able to use her legal background to manage litigation at AIG, where her transition from law to insurance took place. She started her insurance career in the environmental sector.

In a chance meeting in 2007, Balan met with crisis management underwriters who told her about kidnap and ransom products.

She was hooked.

Because of her background in yoga, Balan liked the crisis management side of the job. Being able to bring the calmness and clearness of intent she practiced during yoga into assisting clients in planning for crisis management piqued her interest.

She then joined XL Catlin in July 2013, where she built the K&R team.

As she became more immersed in her field, Balan began to notice something: The principles she learned in yoga were the same principles ex-military and ex-law enforcement practiced when called to a K&R-related crisis.

She said, “They have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.”

“K&R responders have a warrior mentality — focus, purpose, strength and logic — and I would say yoga is quite similar in discipline.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Many understand yoga to be, in itself, one type of meditation, but yoga actually encompasses a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. Each is a discipline. Some forms of yoga focus on movement and breathing, others focus on posture and technique. Some yoga is meant to relax the mind and create a sense of calmness; other yoga types make participants sweat.

After having her second child and working full-time, Balan wanted to find something physical and relaxing for herself; a friend suggested yoga. During her first lesson, Balan said she was enamored with it.

“I felt like I’d done it all my life.”

She dove into the philosophy of yoga, adopting the practice into her daily routine. Every morning, whether Balan is in her Long Island home or on a business trip, she pulls out her yoga mat to practice.

“I always travel with my mat,” she said. “Daily practice is the simplest form of connection to routine to maintain my balance — physically and mentally.”

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She said the strangest place she has ever practiced was in Lisbon. She was on a very narrow balcony with a bird feeder swarming with sparrows overhead.

After years of studying and practicing, Balan is considered a yogi — someone who is highly proficient in yoga. She attends annual retreats with her yoga group, where she is able to rejuvenate, ready to tackle any K&R event when she returns.

In 2016, Balan visited Tuscany, Italy, where she learned the practice of yoga nidra, a very deep form of meditation. It’s described as the “going-to-sleep stage” — a type of yoga that brings participants to a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

“It awakens a different part of your brain,” Balan commented. “Orally describing it doesn’t quite do it justice. One has to practice Nidra to fully understand the effect it has on your being.”

Keeping a level head during a crisis is key in their line of business, Tucker said. He can attest to the benefit of having a yogi on board.

“I’ve seen her run table-top exercises where there is this group of people in a room and they run an exercise, a simulation of a kidnap incident. Denise is very committed to what we’re doing,” said Tucker.

“She brings that energy. She doesn’t get flustered by much.”

Building a K&R Program

When Balan joined XL Catlin, she was tasked with creating the K&R team.

Balan during a retreat in Sicily, Italy, 2017

She spent time researching and analyzing what clients would want in their K&R coverage. What stuck out most to Balan was the fact that, in these situations, the decision to purchase kidnap and ransom cover is rarely made because of desire for reimbursement of money.

“I asked why people buy this type of coverage. The answer was for the security responders,” she said.

“These are the people who sit with the family. They’re similar to psychologists or priests,” Balan further explained. “Corporations can afford to pay ransom. They buy [K&R] because it gives them access to these trained and dedicated professionals who not only provide negotiation advice, but actually sit with a victim’s family, engaging deep levels of emotional investment.”

“I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” — Denise Balan, senior VP and head of U.S. kidnap & ransom, XL Catlin

Balan described these responders as people having total clarity of purpose, setting their intentions to resolve a crisis — a practice at the very heart of yoga. She knew XL Catlin’s new kidnap program would put stock in their responders.

“I’ve worked closely with the responders to better understand what they can do for our clientele. These are the people who run into danger — warrior hearts married to dedication to our clients’ best interests.”

But K&R is more than fast-paced crisis and quick thinking; Balan also spent a good deal of time writing the K&R form and getting the company’s resources in order. This was a huge task to tackle when creating the program from the ground up.

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“A lot of my day-to-day is speaking with brokers and finding ways to enhance our product,” she said.

After a few months, she was able to hire the company’s first K&R underwriter. From there, the program has grown. It’s left her feeling professionally rewarded.

“People don’t often get that opportunity to build something up from scratch,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience — rewarding and fun.”

“She brings groups of people together,” said Tucker. “She’s created a positive environment.”

Balan’s yogi nature extends beyond the office walls, too. Her pride and joy, she said, are her kids. And while it may seem like two large parts of her life are opposite in nature, Balan’s achieved balance through her passions.

“[Yoga] has given me the ability to see beyond only one aspect of any situation” she said. “I’ve learned to appreciate all moments in life — one at a time. The ability to think clearly and calmly guides my work, my practice and my personal life.” &

Autumn Heisler is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]