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  • Dennis J. Junk

How to Get the Most from Your New Cameras and Telematics System

So, you’ve chosen to have cameras installed on all the trucks in your fleet. There are several benefits you probably weighed in making your decision. First, cameras can protect your company against litigation, as 80% of collisions between cars and trucks are caused by the driver of the car. Having video evidence showing what really happened will help you avoid costly verdicts.

Second, you can use cameras and machine learning programs to coach drivers and improve your safety record. Obviously, safer driving is a worthy goal in its own right, but over time a better record will also translate into a lower insurance premium.


Third, you can use operational insight into where your vehicles are and how much time they’re spending there, along with details about which routes are taking drivers the most and the least amount of time, to reduce fuel costs. Cameras can also be used to monitor driver behavior with regard to things like idling too long or accelerating too rapidly, which can likewise have a major impact on fuel economy.


Perhaps most obviously, cameras can provide visibility into areas mirrors can’t. And, finally, trigger-activated recordings can make your freight more secure when drivers are away from the vehicle.


Some of these benefits, like overnight security, require only proper installation and configuration to achieve. But others, like improved safety and fuel efficiency, call for more planning and strategic implementation.


So, what does it take for a fleet to get the most out of an investment in telematics?

1. Get Drivers Involved in Planning


One of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to implementing a telematics strategy is driver resistance. Truckers tend not to like having managers looking over their shoulders—that’s why they chose a career on the road in the first place. So, you’ll need to do whatever you can to minimize your drivers’ suspicion that you’re using cameras to spy on them or gather dirt you can use against them.

You can go a long way toward heading off that concern by making sure your drivers are, not just present, but involved in the decisions and planning that go into your telematics strategy. Ideally, you will have already consulted with all your drivers—or representatives standing in for them—in the leadup to installing the systems. But, even if you haven’t, the key is to present the initiative as the solution to a problem you must all work on together.


The thing to avoid is the perception that installing cameras is a decision handed down from on high, and hence your drivers have no say either in having the systems on their trucks or in how those systems end up being used. If such a perception is allowed to take hold among your drivers, they are much more likely to suspect the tracking technologies are somehow going to be used against them. In that case, there’s no upside for them.


Instead, you can present the challenge you’re facing as a business to everyone who will be affected, and then you can let them all know the cameras are meant to help address that challenge. For instance, you might say something like:


“Our insurance rates are growing out of control, so to stay in business we need to lower our rates. Other companies in our position have had success by installing telematics systems and using coaching to improve their safety records, so we’re going to try that as well. But we need your help figuring out exactly how to put this plan into action.”


2. Set Goals and Determine which Metrics to Focus on


Okay, now your drivers are attending and taking part in the planning meetings. But what are you actually doing in those meetings?


Once you’ve got buy-in from all the main stakeholders, the next step is to figure out what success means for your fleet. If the ultimate goal is to reduce insurance rates, for instance, your planning may begin with a call to your insurance provider to inquire about what measures would most likely result in a lower premium.

Speeding, distracted driving, tailgating, hard stops, taking turns too short, safety belts—find out which of these are most likely to result in costly accidents. And then determine how to use your telematics technology to measure performance with an eye to improving your key indicators. Machine learning programs can be trained to identify these and other behaviors, so you can address them in close to real time.


So, the question becomes, what needles do you need to move to achieve your main goal? Only after you answer that can you move on to specific tactics for how you’re going to move those needles.


3. Determine What Incentives Will Drive Progress toward Your Goals


No matter if you’re talking about raising kids, training dogs, or coaching athletes, psychologists agree the biggest mistake most people make is focusing on punishment for unwanted behaviors. Far more effective are approaches that emphasize rewarding good behavior. Focusing on the good instead of the bad will also help avoid the perception that you’re simply trying to catch your drivers doing things they’re not supposed to.


With that in mind, the next question is, what can you offer as rewards for drivers whose performance moves your fleet closer to your goals?


Obviously, the most basic currency you have on hand is, well, currency. Many trucking companies offer prizes or bonuses to drivers who reach specified benchmarks, or who achieve a certain rate of improvement. If your drivers are the type who enjoy some friendly competition, you can also post scores in some common area where everyone can see them, encouraging each driver to try to get the highest score. (Software developers call this “gamification.”)


Naturally, this is another area where you’ll want to solicit input from the drivers themselves to get a good idea what they’ll find both fair and motivating. Again, including them in the process will simultaneously instill in them the sense that they’re being heard, which will in turn make compliance more readily forthcoming. Drivers may prefer cash, bragging rights, or something else—like more vacation days—but the important thing is that they get some say in how they’re rewarded.


4. Set Follow-up Assessments and Coaching Guidelines


Once you’re in the implementation phase, you’ll need to have protocols in place for updating drivers about their progress. This part can get tricky, because it may involve instructing lower performing drivers on better techniques, which can in turn lead to resistance to the plan in general if the driver feels singled out. Again, get your drivers’ input into how they would like to be coached—and do it before you embark on implementation.


You will also want to have a process in place to evaluate the strategy itself as you make progress over time. The famous adage in boxing—“Everyone has a plan until he gets hit”—applies here too. There will always be difficulties and contingencies you can’t anticipate, so the best plans are the ones you can update on the ground.


Here, too, your drivers are going to be valuable sources of information about how well, or how poorly, the plan is working. So, how will you solicit and incorporate their feedback? Will you have monthly meetings? Will you have an anonymous suggestion box? Will you set up a company wiki? Ask your drivers beforehand what they’d prefer.


Most importantly, make sure the drivers are actually seeing their feedback put into action. Don’t make the mistake of asking for ideas and then going about business as usual without making any changes. Again, the plan will need to be flexible to be effective.


Okay, now you have a general sense of what needs to go into your telematics strategy. Of course, it would be best to go through some of this process before you choose the technology you will be using, as some systems work better for specific purposes. You can in fact use this overview as a tool to assess prospective providers—is your telematics partner asking you the right questions to help you achieve a successful implementation?


But, whatever stage you’re at now, involving your drivers, setting meaningful goals, determining how to track and reward progress, and building flexibility into the plan all play a critical role in paving your way to a better-functioning fleet.

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