In-vehicle event data recorders—black boxes—were originally installed to improve air bag performance based on the severity of the collision. Because EDRs record events such as throttle position, velocity change, abrupt braking, steering wheel angle, and accelerator pedal position, they have also become a tool to help investigators reconstruct accidents.
According to a recent Associated Press article, 15 percent of the nation’s 200 million passenger vehicles today, and all General Motors vehicles after 2004, are equipped with black boxes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed standards for data collected by EDRs, while the National Transportation Safety Board recommended last year that automakers be required to install them on all passenger vehicles. At the same time, state governments have passed, or are considering, legislation that limits how the data can be used.
Aftermarket EDR Systems
Aftermarket EDR systems use the same technology to help prevent accidents. These systems monitor driving behavior, fuel, engine diagnostics and hours driven, and can be used with GPS to track vehicles. The fleet manager can configure EDR information to create a driver profile that can be used to manage risk.
On average, the use of event data recorders in fleet can reduce collisions by 20-30 percent, according to Rusty Haight, traffic collision reconstruction expert. He maintains that by installing a passive device (the EDR), an active component is created (drivers’ awareness of their behavior). In other words, drivers consciously alter their driving habits because they are aware of the EDRÕs presence in the vehicle.
Black Boxes in Fleets
Kathleen Konicki, director of associate safety at Nationwide Insurance Co. in Columbus, Ohio is a proponent of fleet EDR use. She says that for more than three years, Nationwide’s fleet of 5,900 Ford passenger cars, minivans, and SUVs has been equipped with the Witness Box from Independent Witness, Inc.
“The overriding objective was to try to understand the relationship between crash forces and bodily injury,” says Konicki. “We also wanted to study whether or not there was in fact a ‘halo effect’ for fleet car drivers. In other words, did they change their driving behaviors because there was a black box in their car?”
Konicki predicts a 30-50 percent reduction in frequency of crashes among drivers whose vehicles are equipped with black boxes.
James Graham, corporate risk manager at Premiere, Inc., in New Iberia, La., says that his Witness Box saves him roughly $80 a job. His fleet has been using the Witness Box for two months.
“Maybe 10 percent of the fuel I use is on the road,” he says. “The rest of it is on the job site where the truck is continuously running. I can now use that data to apply for tax reimbursements.”
At more than 30 jobs a month, Graham estimates he’ll save more than $2,000 a month total.
Graham also reports 100 percent compliance with seatbelt use and says he hardly sees any speeding anymore.
Graham says that, because his drivers are aware of the device, vehicle-monitoring systems train good driving habits that will carry over into personal vehicle use as well.
“We’ve had drivers call in and say something just happened before we even got the message,” he says. “So, they’re conscious of the fact that we’re going to call them, and that we’re going to check on them.”
The instant recording and dispatch of events allows fleet managers and safety operators to confront driver problems early on, rather than having to wait for a monthly report when an incident could be easily forgotten.
Because of the ability to address an individual’s driving behavior immediately, Graham notes that it is more likely for that driver to change their behavior before it leads to a complication or accident.
“We don’t want to figure out fixes after (an accident),” he says. “We want figure out ways to change people’s behavior and prevent it.”
Hard Data Backs Up Drivers
At Richmond Ambulance Authority, in Richmond, Va., drivers were at first skeptical about the idea of being monitored.
However, shortly after installing the Road Safety International EDR, an accident occurred in which the other party claimed the ambulance did not use its emergency lights and siren before speeding through a red light, says Jerry Overton, executive director.
After pulling the real-time data from the computer, it was proven that the ambulance did use its lights and siren, and that it came to a full stop at the intersection. After this incident drivers were no longer hesitant about EDR use.
Not only do emergency medical technicians (EMT) know they are being monitored, but a driving program in association with the vehicle’s onboard computer enables EMTs to anticipate the ambulance’s surrounding parameters.
Since implementing Road Safety, accidents per 100,000 miles have been reduced by more than 50 percent, says Overton.