City workers have stopped regularly crashing into parked cars, buildings, signs and other fixed objects.
While there are still fender-benders and the occasional serious accident, the overall accident rate has gone down sharply this year.
There have been just 20 accidents so far, Finance Commissioner Ismat Alam said. Last year, city drivers racked up 88 accidents, including 21 collisions with parked cars and another 11 with fixed objects.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said that it’s too soon to know for sure that workers have become better drivers. The city did not start training them and punishing those who caused accidents until early this year.
“It might be premature,” McCarthy said.
But, he said, workers have clearly gotten the message that they must drive more carefully, even though they’re driving a city vehicle.
McCarthy said the driver’s training courses have helped, but the main reason for the decrease was the firm discipline policy.
“They want to keep working here,” he said.
He declined to detail what happens to workers who cause accidents. But written city policies allow supervisors to suspend a reckless driver’s driving privileges until they pass a driving test with the supervisor. An employee who cannot drive could be limited to certain types of work, often the less desirable or more menial jobs.
In a worst-case scenario, the temporary loss of driving privileges could stop the driver from working altogether, although it’s not clear that any workers been sent home without pay for poor driving.
All city employees know that supervisors have cracked down on bad driving this year. Concerns about driving are so common that Assessor Tina Dimitriadis joked during a budget session that she would drive her own car home from eye surgery so that she wouldn’t risk crashing a city car.
In response to the accident rate, the city’s insurance carrier, Cool Insurance, threatened to either raise the city’s premium by $1.5 million or raise its deductible from $0 to $25,000.
The city took the higher deductible and began doing most of its repairs in-house.
The high deductible has forced the city to pay for nearly every repair bill itself, but the total is much less than $1.5 million, Alam told the City Council during budget discussions.
She said the accident rate has also fallen so much that she believes Cool would be willing to offer a better premium with a low deductible next year.
But McCarthy said the city should stick with the higher deductible.
“Having the higher deductible lowers our premium costs,” he said. “It still may be cheaper to repair them ourselves.”