One of the proudest moments of my 42 years in the automotive industry was the opening of my first auto auction in Ottawa, Ontario. That auction is very special to me, as it set me on the path to leading KAR Auction Services and the more than 250 auctions we operate today.
But the Ottawa auction also holds deep personal emotions for another reason: It was there that an auction accident nearly killed my closest childhood friend.
Each year in North America, more than 10 million used vehicles are sold through wholesale auto auctions. The vast majority of those sales go smoothly and safely, but even the infrequent accident can lead to devastating effects. The incident this month at an auction in Massachusetts was a horrific tragedy that took five lives and injured many others. And though it wasn’t a KAR auction, it was a heartbreaking event that I and other leaders across our industry have witnessed far too many times.
Safety should not be a proprietary issue, a competitive issue or an economic issue — it’s an industry responsibility. So it’s time we put our competitive differences aside for the greater cause of saving lives.
To be clear, our industry has not stood idle when accidents occurred, and over the years, we’ve made meaningful progress to mitigate some of the inherent risks of auto auctions. The National Auto Auction Association has kept safety at the top of its agenda and has promoted many improved safety measures and controls.
Through the NAAA, member auctions also have access to KAR’s Safe T. Sam program, a comprehensive series of safety training modules we developed and require each of our 17,400 employees to complete annually. This and other operational and physical design measures have been effective in reducing auction risks — but as an industry, we need to do more, and we need to do better.
I’ve been in this business a long time, and I recognize no single person, company or program will have all the answers. So starting today, I am sending personal invitations to auction owners, customers, elected officials and safety experts across North America to join me in a summit dedicated to solving the auction safety issue once and for all.
We need to share best practices, learn from each other and seek input from other companies and thought leaders both in and outside of the automotive sector. We need to break down barriers, open the doors to collaboration and use our collective expertise and knowledge to develop new and innovative approaches to safety. And ultimately, we need a set of measures and precautions that we all commit to implementing to improve safety at every level and at every auction.
When I reflect on my beginnings at the Ottawa auction, I am forever thankful that my best friend is still alive.
But the memories of that accident and others that ended less fortunately are painfully powerful reminders that fuel my passion and commitment to safety.
It may be impossible to make auto auctions or any workplace 100 percent safe. But as an industry, I believe we owe it to ourselves, our employees, our customers and their families, friends and loved ones to try.
Click here to read the original op-ed as it appears in Automotive News (subscription).