In the span of just one month last spring, four PHCC staff members (out of 22) were involved in car accidents, including me. My accident involved a driver who tried to whip into my lane and instead merged into the side of my car. No real harm was done in my case, but that incident could have easily turned out much worse.

Three of these accidents were caused by the other driver. When it comes to vehicle safety, how can you and your techs avoid being the cause of an accident as well as look out for everyone else on the road?

Rule #1: Remember, the Company Name Is on Every Truck
Every vehicle with the company name on it is advertising the quality of your company. A sloppy, rude, or aggressive driver behind the wheel of a truck with your company name all over it advertises the company as being the same.

Don't Be the Cause of the Problem
No eating while driving! You simply cannot pay as much attention to the road while digging for a french fry or dripping ketchup from a burger down your wrist. The distractions are continuous from unwrapping the food, to driving with one hand (or less) while eating, to trying to clean up afterward.

If techs feel they must eat in the vehicle, it should only be done when not in motion, and not just at a stoplight. Stop in the parking lot after going to the fast food drive-thru and finish the meal before getting back on the road. Stop between service calls. Stop somewhere. Institute a policy that no wheels will be in motion when there is food being eaten.

Cell Phones and Dispatch Radios
We have all heard the advice, "Pull off the road when a call comes in." This advice is largely ignored, so what alternatives can you offer your techs to help manage this issue?

Use common sense and planning to minimize time on the phone while driving. Make calls while already stopped for other reasons - before starting a service call, after finishing a job, while stopped for lunch. Plan ahead to match stop times with the times when calls need to be made.

Incoming calls double the danger as they can come without warning at the worst moment traffic-wise. There is a strong instinct for people to answer a ringing phone, no matter what else is happening at the time. Think of the last meeting or seminar you were at where someone's phone went off.

  • Don't answer the phone unless it is absolutely safe to do so.

  • Don't dial the phone unless it is absolutely safe to do so.

  • Don't talk on the phone unless it is absolutely safe to do so.

  • If it looks like conditions may become anything less than absolutely safe, say so to the caller and hang up.

  • Set up your dispatching procedures so that communications take place while the truck is not in motion.

    Again, remember Rule #1. Drivers stuck behind a company vehicle doing 10 mph below the speed limit because the tech is on the phone will avoid doing business with you, or worse, complain about your company to their neighbors.

    Reduce Driving Time With Smart Planning
    Obviously, the more time a company vehicle spends on the road, the less income it is generating and more costs it is incurring. Every minute of driving time also raises the chances of being in an accident.

    Reduce windshield time with better materials purchasing procedures and dispatch planning. Talk with your suppliers and techs about ways to reduce trips to the supply house. Look for ways to reduce drive time between service calls - have the first service call of the day be the one closest to the tech's home or give customer discounts for scheduling work in advance that allows techs to work a single neighborhood. Ask employees for their ideas and use what will work.

    Be Careful at Traffic Lights
    A contractor once told me that in his senior citizen filled area, nobody hits the gas pedal when a traffic light turns green. Odds are that a Cadillac will cruise through the intersection in a moment.

    Ask your techs to do an intersection double check before going on green. It should go without saying that a tech who collects red light or speeding violations must turn in their keys. Besides higher vehicle insurance rates, the company simply cannot risk the more serious problems they are inviting.

    Watch Out for Pedestrians
    Techs may not be watching for children playing in the street at noon on a teacher workday. Help out your techs that regularly cruise through residential neighborhoods by reminding them of the county's school holidays. Accidents involving child pedestrians also spike around Halloween. Again, give your techs a pre-holiday reminder to watch for children.

    Speaking of Holidays...
    "The four deadliest days on the road are July 3, July 4, December 23, and December 24." (Per the March 2005 report, "Trend and Pattern Analysis of Highway Crash Fatality By Month and Day," from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's National Center for Statistics and Analysis.)

    If you have vehicles on the road during holidays or long weekends, give your techs a reminder to keep an eye out for bad drivers. There will be people who have partied with their friends and want to drive themselves home. There will be drivers who don't get behind the wheel except for the major holidays. They will cause problems, but you can probably avoid them if you stay aware.

    If an Accident Happens
    In every tech's vehicle, there should be a disposable camera and a checklist of what to do if they get into an accident. Work with your insurance company to develop the list. This checklist may prevent a tech from making a poor decision in the heat of the moment that could haunt the company later. If the tech can handle the situation professionally, they might even be able to leave the other accident parties with a good impression of the company.

    John Zink is director of education and programs for the Educational Foundation of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association (PHCC). The PHCC Educational Foundation provides business management training for p-h-c contractors and their employees. Zink can be reached at or 800-533-7694. You can read more business tips online at

    Publication date: 05/29/2006