Michael Mason is happy with the vehicle video camera technology trend. Mason is safety and human resources director for Waccamaw Transport in Selma, N.C., which hauls petroleum products.
Before Waccamaw installed video technology from SmartDrive in December 2017, the company had already spec’d its trucks “with all the safety systems you can get on them,” Mason says. That included roll stability systems, disc brakes, automated transmissions, follow-distance indicators, and Bendix Wingman technology.
Waccamaw Transport decided next to go with video-based safety technology, “because we felt like that was the last piece of the safety puzzle for our company,” Mason says.
The SmartDrive system has already begun paying for itself, Mason says. A driver on the highway recently swerved into the lane of a Waccamaw truck driver, hitting the truck. The driver of the other vehicle blamed the Waccamaw driver for the incident. While stopped at the scene of the accident, the Waccamaw driver called the office, and Mason sent a video of the incident to his driver before the patrol officer finished writing his report.
“It proved to (the officer) that (the other driver) came over into our lane and hit our truck,” Mason says. (The officer) immediately looked at that person and says, ‘You’re at fault. You’re getting a ticket.’ So it paid for itself right there.”
Waccamaw has also seen a 10% reduction in insurance rates since installing the technology. “Any time it keeps you from being blamed for an accident, there’s monetary value there,” Mason says.
Video-based safety systems can not only capture what’s happening on the road, they’re also helping fleets identify risky behaviors and foster accountability in ways camera-less telematics cannot.
With video technology, “You can exonerate drivers from false claims and you can use the video footage to coach them toward less risky behavior on the roads,” says Ryan Driscoll of GPS Insight, a telematics service provider (TSP). “It also helps to prove who is actually liable in an accident, all of which telematics can't do.”
In June, GPS Insight launched the Driveri fleet camera to fleet customers. Driveri uses edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI) to record and process every minute the fleet vehicle is on the road. The telematics provider has also partnered with an insurance company, Amerisure, that offers a discount to fleets that use the technology.
Several fleets involved with various safety video system providers share their stories on the ways that video technology has saved money and headaches for their companies and potentially averted disaster on the road.
Reducing Unsafe Events
Wakefield, Mass.-based Total Temperature Control, a provider of HVAC services, installed the Integrated Video system from Verizon Connect on its fleet of 19 mostly Ford and GMC pickups around April of this year.
Vice president Amele Ambrosino likes that the dashcam system triggers unsafe events: “If they’re going fast, if they’re accelerating, if they stop short, If they go through a red light,” she says.
But early on after Total Temperature Control installed the system, the alerts kept coming. And coming. “At the beginning, I was getting alerts, alerts, alerts,” Ambrosino says. That high number of alerts has come down quite a bit, about 85%. “So I know (my drivers) are doing better,” she says, adding that she thinks the system has paid for itself.
Safer driving has also had a positive effect on the fleet’s maintenance expense. With fewer alerts, the trucks suffer less wear and tear. “You’re not slamming on the brakes. You’re not speeding up,” she says. “If you’re a lead foot, especially with these trucks, they would be in the shop more often. But they’re not.”
The Verizon Connect system begins recording when the vehicle’s engine is turned on. Harsh driving events are identified using artificial intelligence, and the system can send fleet owners the video clip within minutes.
At Total Temperature Control, the system showed two of Ambrosino’s drivers going through red lights. She then asked those offending drivers if they were texting or engaging in other distracting driving behavior. “Knock it off,” she told them.
“I can’t get over how well they’re driving, because they’re afraid I’m going to call them and show them the evidence,” she says.
Spotting Odd Claims
Derstine Trucking in Harrisburg, Ore. operates a fleet of mostly 2014- and 2015-model-year Peterbilts. The company experienced three low-impact accidents that Jeremy Christman, general manager, describes as “odd claims” in which cars pulled in front of Derstine fleet drivers who then rear-ended the vehicles. “My safety manager came to me and said, ‘We really need to investigate these cameras and see what’s going on,’ ” Christman says.
The company decided on video technology from Lytx. The day after the system’s installation, a driver on the highway passed a Derstine driver on the right, pulled in front of the Derstine truck, and slammed on the brakes. That caused the Derstine driver to accidentally tap the other vehicle lightly from behind. The irate driver called the police. As he approached the truck cab, the Derstine driver told him the incident was captured on video, Christman says. By the time police arrived on the scene, the Derstine fleet office had already sent video of the incident to its driver.
After seeing the video, the police officer told the Derstine driver, ‘We don’t have a problem here. You’re fine. We’ll take care of this guy,’” Christman says.
Three days after that incident, a tanker truck merged into the lane of one of Derstine’s more seasoned drivers, causing a collision. The tanker driver claimed the Derstine driver was at fault, but after a representative from the other company saw the Lytx video, he says, “How much will it be to fix your truck?” Christman says.
“So the cameras have already paid for themselves in our opinion,” Christman says. “We’re big fans of them at this point.”
Increasing Driver Acceptance
“The drivers accepted it well,” Mason of Wacccamaw Transport says of the SmartDrive technology. He says preparing the drivers for the change well ahead of time — about six months in advance in Waccamaw’s case — was an important factor contributing to their accepting attitudes. The fleet held safety meetings with its departments, educating the drivers on the technology.
“If you show a driver how it actually works, and they understand it, they’re more likely to accept it,” Mason says.
He showed the drivers that the video recordings were only triggered by high-risk events, and once they learned that, “it was accepted, and they understood that it was there to protect them and protect the company,” Mason says.
Also, once drivers heard about situations such as the one mentioned earlier that cleared a Waccamaw driver of fault in an accident, that also increased their acceptance, Mason says.
Derstine Trucking’s drivers have also been accepting, particularly after they saw other drivers exonerated from fault because of the videos, Christman says. Drivers of trucks that didn’t yet have the video system asked management to install the technology to protect themselves from fault, adds Christman.
While some systems feature cameras that are outward facing only, others include cab-facing cameras, or are cab-facing camera systems only.
For obvious reasons, the cab-mounted cameras create heightened issues surrounding driver acceptance. Christman of Derstine Trucking says some of his drivers have attempted to pull down the truck’s middle visor to shield the camera’s view.
Christman made sure to tell the drivers, who must acknowledge the policy with a signature, that the company is not trying to overreach by watching them inside the truck. Instead, the in-cab camera is an important tool to combat drowsy driving and inattentiveness behind the wheel. He says he has only heard slight grumbling from the drivers as a result.
“You have to ask yourself the question, if they’re worried about what they’re doing inside their truck, we don’t have the right people with us,” he says. “The initial shock of everybody thinking we’re watching what they’re doing has boiled up a little bit. We just had to tamp it back down.”
Value a Life?
According to the CDC, the cost of medical care and productivity losses associated with occupant injuries and deaths from motor vehicle traffic crashes amounts to $63 billion for one year. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the U.S., with over 100 people dying every day.
The annual accident rate for commercial fleets is around 20%, with some industries even higher. That’s not surprising owing to the higher number of miles fleets drive each year.
Fleet vehicle accidents are among the most expensive injury claims for business. The average cost of a loss related to fleet vehicle accidents is approximately $70,000, which is almost twice the cost of the average workplace injury.
GPS Insight’s Driscoll takes the conversation one step further: “Can you put a value on someone's life?” he asks.
The concept of camera-based monitoring is becoming more established in the broader conversation of fleet safety. While the technology is designed to mitigate crashes — and thus save lives — it also provides the value of educating drivers and fleet managers on a day-to-day basis.
“It’s just a small few who need coaching on certain things, and it’s really just habits that they did not know they had,” says Mason of Waccamaw Transport. “When we show it to them on video and they can see it, they say, ‘Man, I didn’t know I was doing that.’ They correct it and move on and become better drivers.”