It’s like clockwork.
Tell someone your company makes cameras for commercial vehicles and you’ll hear some variation of “I bet the truck drivers just love that.”
This response is understandable if you assume the only reason trucking companies would hook cameras up to their vehicles is to catch their drivers being reckless or irresponsible. Plus, let’s face it, does anyone like the feeling of being watched when they’re doing their jobs?
Naturally, vehicle operators aren’t too happy when they first hear their companies are installing cameras. And, in some circumstances, they may be right to voice their objections. If all the cameras are being used for is to spy on truck drivers, then those drivers can be forgiven for seeing no upside.
But most trucking companies use cameras and recording devices for other purposes. Mainly, they’re pointed not toward the drivers, but toward hard-to-see zones surrounding the vehicle. And it’s not a manager in some far-off office who’s looking at the monitor; it’s the drivers sitting in the cab. So, the easiest way to overcome drivers’ resistance is to assure them the point isn’t to watch them—it’s to help them watch everything around their trucks.
Plus, being recorded isn’t always a bad thing. Truck drivers across the country are always at risk of finding themselves in the center of lawsuits when other drivers accuse them of causing an accident. By now, everyone in the industry has heard about the unsettling rise in the numbers of so-called “nuclear verdicts,” where trucking companies are forced to pay out astronomical sums to plaintiffs. In 2012, for instance, the average verdict cost a company $2.6 million. Today, that number has risen to $17 million.
While in some cases, large settlements are probably justified—an eighteen-wheeler can do some serious damage—the fact is most collisions with commercial vehicles are caused by drivers of non-commercial vehicles. A much-cited study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2013 found that in accidents involving a truck and a car, the driver of the car is at fault 81% of the time. Unfortunately, verdicts don’t favor truck drivers anywhere near four times out of five.
A camera-shy trucker may nonetheless reason, okay, so with exculpatory video evidence I won’t have to feel guilty about causing an accident, but aren’t the benefits mostly still going to the company? After all, it’s not the drivers paying out $17 million settlements. For that matter, even if the cameras are pointed outward, can’t they still be used to track performance—i.e. spy on what I’m doing?
The undeniable fact is there are plenty of ways a company can use recording devices against their drivers. But there are also plenty of ways to address drivers’ concerns about violations of their privacy. For one, if companies are intent on tracking driver performance, they can focus on rewarding good driving as opposed to penalizing mistakes.
At the same time, many of the recording devices installed in trucks can be activated by triggers, so there’s no need to watch drivers every single moment they’re on the road. Even when cameras are continuously recording drivers, the policy for most fleet owners is to only examine the footage after an incident has occurred.
The other point to emphasize is that cameras can make drivers’ jobs much safer and much easier. It’s only in the worst cases that footage will need to be reviewed. Most of the time, the added visibility will simply help drivers avoid accidents, or just help them get their trucks where they need them without hitting anything.
With turnover as high as it is in the industry, it’s just a bad idea for fleet managers to foster an adversarial relationship with their drivers. The smart thing for them to do is to work with their drivers to ensure everyone is being both efficient and safe. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that’s what any of them will do in practice.)
Will automated vehicles change this equation, rendering drivers’ privacy concerns immaterial? Most experts put the date of the first fully autonomous vehicles over the ten-year horizon. Long before then, though, maybe within the next five years, we’ll be seeing level 4 autonomy, which means the trucks will be fully automated—but they’ll be built with cockpits and still require human operators to be onboard.
So, at least for now, trucking companies have a strong incentive to keep drivers happy. And this means using cameras and other technologies to help the people behind the wheel get themselves and everyone around them home safe every day. The simplest way to get drivers onboard is to involve them in the planning and implementation of any initiative to adopt recording devices. If drivers have a feeling of It’s us against them, then there’s no way the idea of cameras is going to fly. On the other hand, if the drivers feel that way, the company already has bigger problems.
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