When fleets were just getting used to the word “telematics” the term “Big Brother” came along with it.
It took a while for the fleet and transportation industries to get comfortable with the idea that vehicles and their drivers could be located anywhere, anytime. But today there is a greater consensus that companies have a right to monitor their owned assets.
At the same time, both management and drivers understand that telematics produce safer, more productive fleets, while telematics data can potentially clear a driver from an accusation of wrongdoing.
The latest trend in telematics is using video technology to monitor the surroundings of the vehicle on the road as well as the driver in the cab. The concept that management can now literally look over the shoulder of drivers brings a new dimension to the Big Brother conversation.
“When we first started talking about (cameras), we had two or three guys that were contemplating quitting,” says Barry Ruchty, fleet safety supervisor for Mesa, Ariz.-based Trio Forest Products, a wholesale lumber supplier.
“Some drivers left (the company) because they thought, ‘You're just a courier company, but you’re watching us like an LTL freight company,’” says Jeb Lopez, owner and founder of Wheels Up, an auto parts delivery service serving metro D.C.
For fleets that haven’t installed a video telematics system yet, “I’m sure (our drivers) would not like it, they don’t like ‘the other things,’” says Tom Collom, a shop supervisor in West Texas for a major oil and gas producer. “They want to talk on the phone, they want to eat while they drive, and I’m sure that some still want to shoot a text message while driving even though it’s against the rules. They’d feel it’s an invasion of privacy.”
“Yes on the Big Brother theory,” says Steve Rooks, partner in Treasure Valley Fire with a fleet that uses telematics, but not cameras. “This is rural Idaho, a little redneck at times so we would not subject our crew to (a video) system.”
Gaining driver buy in on the implementation of a video telematics system is not a simple task. So how do you go about doing it?
Introduction to Yourself
When Trio Forest Products announced they’d be installing a system (Driveri Smart Cameras from GPS Insight), Ruchty’s first order of business was to explain to the drivers how the system is configured. “They had a stigma that we’d be able to spy on them whenever we wanted,” he says. “My introduction was to tell them no, I can't. Nor do I want to.”
The Driveri system has three cameras facing the road as well as one on the driver. The system is set up to create alerts based on dangerous driving behaviors defined by the operator, such as speeding, hard braking, running stoplights and stop signs, and tailgating. A 30-second video clip is automatically generated when an alert is created, 15 seconds before and 15 seconds after the moment of the event.
“If you never create an alert, I'll never see a video of you,” Ruchty told the drivers before the system was installed in December 2019.
After the system was installed and as it started generating video clips, Ruchty had individual meetings with the offending drivers. “When I sat each one of them down, my introduction was, let me introduce you to yourself,” he says.
“I told them, ‘This is how you drive our trucks and I guarantee this is how you drive when you get your family in the car.’ It's habit, this is what you do. And to the man were shocked. They had no idea, because it's not in their conscious thought.”
Wheels Up has had a system for about five years. Initially, it took about four months of reinforcing the message “Hey, we’re not watching you” before the drivers were completely comfortable, Lopez says. “With our culture right now, everyone's okay with it.”
He informs new drivers of the existence of the system during onboarding. “You have to set the tone from the beginning,” he says.
Like Trio Forest Products, Wheels Up does not randomly view drivers in real time. The system, from Samsara, also records clips that are generated by unsafe driving behaviors. Lopez also uses it to identify unapproved passengers, drivers experiencing sleepy conditions, smoking, or cell phone use.
Lopez’s commitment to safety is such that he employs a safety administrator whose primary job is to analyze video clips four to five hours a day. Initially, he found that about five of his pool of 240 drivers were covering their in-cab cameras. Some still try to get away with it. When they’re caught, they’re issued a warning.
At Wheels Up the most egregious driving incidents generate a combination of coaching and mentoring, and termination for repeated incidents.
Transparency and Performance
“Managing drivers’ perceptions around in-cab cameras is not all too far from how businesses were dealing with vehicle tracking,” says Kevin Aries of Verizon Connect, a large telematics provider.
“And that's simply being transparent about what their employees and the company will gain from this. Employees who work in a safer environment are going to be better protected, they're going to be happier, and their companies are likely to be more successful.”
As part of their driver acceptance strategies, both Lopez and Ruchty stress that the cameras are there to improve driver performance and maintain an overall safe fleet.
Stephanie Weber, VP of safety operations at MV Transportation, a privately owned passenger transportation contracting firm, agrees. “Whenever we onboard new operators, they'll go through new hire training where we explain how the technology works, how it benefits the driver, and how it helps them become a better driver. We’re transparent in our communication with it.”
In this regard, Weber has a unique angle to communicate: “We like to think the driver-facing lenses are similar to how athletes receive their on-field performance feedback through video review,” she says. “Any triggered video event is essentially a replay of the athlete’s game. The video analysis and telematics data are like the athlete’s game statistics.”
At Trio Forest Products, drivers can activate the cameras themselves with the push of two buttons. “If there's an incident or they want us to see something, it'll record right away,” Ruchty says.
MV Transportation uses dash cam technology from Lytx and operates a fleet of over 11,000 vehicles across 200 locations. Weber recounts an incident in which a driver was approached by a female in what was identified as a human trafficking situation.
The driver was able to reach his supervisor through the live video stream to get help. “Getting a story out like that to the rest of our MV operators started to shift the culture a bit,” she says.
It’s important to communicate with drivers that the video footage presents a more complete detail of the crash, above what the telematics data can tell. “Without the video of moments before crash, proving that a driver was not at fault can be difficult,” Weber says.
Other organizations have taken a more proactive monetary approach with their drivers: Illinois-based GP Transco is making driver-facing cameras a voluntary decision for all company drivers and will compensate the adopters with an extra two cents a mile.
While GP Transco’s drivers’ average annual salary is well above the national average, some question the effects of this plan.
“I don't mind the idea of employees taking responsibility for improving their own driving behavior and skills by opting into technology that they believe in, like driver facing cameras,” says Aries of Verizon Connect. “But I don't think most businesses can afford to leave those decisions in the hands of their employees.”
Aries says fleets can use other tools to motivate drivers, such as a metrics-based reward (or “gamification”) program could be augmented around positive performance that the cameras — both driver-facing and outside the vehicle — can measure.
In conjunction with the extra compensation, GP Transco rolled out a fuel incentive profit sharing program.
Ruchty incentivized better driving by using GPS Insight’s driver scoring system to issue a gift card to the top-scoring driver. The plan started as a weekly prize, now it’s monthly.
Yet even without the gift card opportunity, Ruchty says the system has dramatically improved his drivers’ performance.
In GPS Insight’s driver scoring system, each driver has 1,000 points to start the day. If the system triggers an event, the driver loses points. The first two days the cameras were installed, Ruchty saw drivers regularly ending their days at about 600 points.
After those two days Ruchty introduced the video evidence to the drivers — the “introduction to themselves” conversation. “After being made aware of their habits, the next day they were all consistently in the 900 range from that point on,” he says.
The positive coaching has had a spill-off effect. “They’ve actually talked with each other about their own downfalls,” he says. “I thought talking it up was great.”
In both outward-facing and in-cab camera technology, fleets have a powerful new tool to know exactly what happened when an incident occurred — a video recording of an event being even more effective than just dots on a map in many incidences.
MV Transportation is even adapting training initiatives based on trends that are captured by the technology, Weber says.
Yet simply generating and collecting video clips is only one part of the process — which is why MV employs algorithms and analytical tools to determine the root causes of the incidents. It’s a lot of work, but worth the effort.
“Studies have shown that over 90% of collisions are caused by unsafe behaviors,” Weber says. “The correction of those unsafe behaviors can be difficult, if not impossible, without the video capture and analysis.”