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Construction firms look to telematics to cut auto risks


ORLANDO, Florida – Implementing telematics in vehicles can help construction companies monitor driver behavior, and by using the data to develop a safety culture they can better differentiate their risk profile to insurers.

Devices such as front, rear and driver-facing cameras are increasingly being deployed by construction companies as contractors look to improve safety on and off sites and to mitigate so-called nuclear verdicts in auto liability, brokers and insurers say.

“We don’t want the person not to speed because there’s a camera. We want them not to speed because it’s a safety mindset and they want to go home at night safe and the other drivers on the road to go home at night safe,” said Michael Meisten, New York-based chief broking officer at American Global LLC.

Taking the data and then using that to drive cultural and behavioral change is critical, Mr. Meisten said during a panel discussion at the International Risk Management Institute Inc. Construction Risk Conference held in Orlando last week.

Companies should apply data in a practical way, he said. “Using those telematics, maybe it’s forward-facing cameras, to dispute the claims where you’re not involved, but also if you are involved you can own it and you can attack the settlement,” he said.

“You can’t ignore the data, because if you ignore it and there’s a loss, well, then, you did nothing with the data,” said Brian J. Poliafico, vice president of Starr Insurance Cos. in New York.

Mr. Poliafico recalled an instance where a policyholder had been involved in a substantial claim, which was an auto loss where telematics technology had been installed in the car and the driver had broadsided a minivan in a remote area, he said during the panel session. The mother survived and had to watch her children die, he said.

“You go back to the telematics. The driver of this vehicle never did the speed limit, was always 15-20 miles above the speed,” he said.

It’s not just about investing in the device, it’s about the data and the management process behind it, Mr. Poliafico said.

Distracted driving continues to be an issue and more people are driving, said James Savage, head of construction casualty at Zurich North America in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Auto accidents are starting to influence insurers’ workers comp portfolios, and the number of fatalities from auto-related incidents has increased significantly, Mr. Savage said in an interview at the conference.

“Not only are drivers driving to work getting in accidents, but, unfortunately, accidents are occurring that take their way into job sites, and it's something we're concerned about,” Mr. Savage said.

Advancements in technology will help people become better drivers “when they’re on the clock, when they’re driving to and from work and going home at night, and just out in society in general,” he said.

Loss prevention is critical, said Paul Anderson, vice president of field underwriting at Crum & Forster Co. in Morristown, New Jersey. “The main thing contractors should be thinking about is not having an accident. The horse is already out of the barn when you have the accident, especially if a lawyer gets involved,” Mr. Anderson said in an interview.

Technology such as GPS and dash cameras provide an extra layer of vigilance, warning drivers if they are too close to the car in front, if they are speeding, making excessive lane changes or at risk of collision, said Louise Vallee, vice president, risk engineering, at Crum & Forster.

“With employees driving alone, the human element can be so variable, depending on how employees are feeling, how tired they are, what day it is, and what’s on their mind,” Ms. Vallee said.

Investing in equipment and monitoring might cost about $1,000 per vehicle and “seems way worth it as opposed to some of these policy limit and nuclear verdicts that go to multiple millions of dollars,” she said.

Risk managers should be upfront with underwriters and tell them about their vehicle fleet and any actions taken to control auto liability risks, said Steven T. Bird, a consultant and an editor at IRMI during a panel session.

Brokers and risk managers should take the initiative to bring differentiating items to underwriters’ attention, Mr. Meisten said.

“If you take the time to differentiate the miles, the hours and the time (a vehicle) is actually on the road, exposed to risk versus where they may be idle or at a job site or never interact with a third party — it’s a very significant difference in risk profile,” he said.