Every time a city employee causes a traffic accident this year, the city likely will have to pay the entire bill.
City workers — police, fire and truck drivers — got into so many accidents last year that the city agreed to a $25,000 liability deductible per accident, essentially agreeing to pay for nearly every claim.
The at-fault accident rate was so high that Cool Insurance threatened to raise insurance rates by $1.5 million this year. Instead, Finance Commissioner Ismat Alam negotiated a compromise: The city increased its deductible from $0 to $25,000. That’s well over budget, and there are no immediate plans for filling the gap.
It’s not a great situation, Alam said, but after city drivers racked up 98 accidents last year, including 21 collisions with parked cars and another 11 with fixed objects, she said she had no choice.
“If it went up $1.5 million, there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. “Change the deductible, and through training, through oversight, we can reduce it.”
The main culprits, she said, are police, firefighters and Bureau of Service drivers, who mainly drive trucks. She declined to offer specifics on which drivers, or which department, had the worst driving record.
Their managers will attend a meeting every quarter to go over each accident and its causes. Alam hopes those meetings will lead to specific training to correct common mistakes.
Every driver in all three departments will also take a customized driving class offered by the insurance company to teach them how to safely handle police cars, SUVs and large trucks.
Police will learn how to drive in a way that protects public safety, Mayor Gary McCarthy said. Others will learn how to better drive trucks and SUVs.
“It deals with situations where you may be driving a bigger vehicle,” he said, adding, “People are bumping into someone or swinging wide into something.”
Most of the accidents are fender-benders, he said. Some are inexpensive: the City Council recently approved a $650 claim for one accident.
Alam said she’s certain many accidents can be avoided with training.
“Parked cars, fixed objects, those are the things we can control,” she said. “Hitting fixed objects: just look around you.”
Cool Insurance and its auto liability subsidiary, Trident Company, will offer training during the day and in the evening so that city employees won’t have to come in on overtime. Each course will be one to two hours, Alam said.
Residents have long complained that the city has too many vehicles, which it must buy, maintain, fuel and insure. Last year, McCarthy said he wanted to reduce the fleet, to cut costs as well as getting revenue by selling cars.
He said this year that reducing the fleet has taken longer than expected.
This isn’t the first time the city has faced criticism from insurers. The trash collectors were retrained after a city consultant followed them secretly one day to find out why they were making so many workers comp claims. In her report to the council, she said many weren’t wearing gloves or boots. She also said workers behaved carelessly at times and took unnecessary risks, including drivers reading newspapers as they waited for others to collect garbage, rather than watching out for cars that might strike the workers.