Installing cameras on vehicles has become the most popular strategy for fleets in search of a way to deal with the trucking industry’s insurance crisis. Insurance rates have risen 17% since 2013, and fleets are paying something like 8.4 cents a mile for coverage. This trend isn’t simply bias against trucking companies on the part of insurers but rather reflects some real headwinds buffeting the industry.
Capturing video footage and transmitting it through telematics not only helps clear drivers of charges when they’re not at fault in an accident, they can also be instrumental in driver training and a reduction in safety incidents. A better safety record translates into a more attractive risk profile for any prospective insurers, and that in turn can mean lower rates.
Keith Dunlap, senior vice president for global claims-services provider Gallagher Bassett, explains,
Of the top fleets in the United States, the majority have implemented some type of telematics. These motor carriers understand how collision-avoidance technology, auto braking systems, and video captures help reduce both the frequency and severity of loss. They also understand how implementing telematics helps protect against meritless claims by third-party attorneys. In my view, this is a key risk-management investment.
So, there are a few ways cameras and telematics can lead to better insurance outcomes. First, video footage can tell fleet managers what really happened in the event of an accident. These managers can exonerate their drivers, or, if the driver really did do something wrong, agree to a settlement, avoiding costly litigation. Second, strategically placed cameras can help drivers avoid accidents by giving them a clear view into all the blind spots surrounding the vehicle.
It’s the third approach, the one that uses cameras and telematics as a tool for driver training, that we’re going to focus on here. This is a topic a lot of fleet managers are just beginning to research as they explore solutions to their own ballooning insurance premiums. So, we thought we’d lay out some of the most common pitfalls to steer clear of as you move from weighing options to choosing providers, all the way to kicking off your first camera-based safety initiative.
Mistake Number 1: Not Beginning with Your Goals
Okay, so your insurance rates are going up, you’re getting pressured to do something about it, and you hear that a lot of fleets are installing cameras and telematics to improve their safety records and hopefully lower their rates. Naturally, you start trying to figure out who the top providers of these technologies are, identify the one that seems like it would be the closest fit for your fleet, and make a call to begin the process of working out a deal and getting started with the implementation.
Any telematics provider would be happy to be placed in the driver’s seat like this, and to be fair, the good ones will encourage you to back up and start with strategic goal setting. But why take the chance of being steered in a direction that doesn’t lead to the most beneficial outcomes for your fleet?
Instead of making that first call to a video and telematics provider, consider making it to your insurance company. Your main priority after all is lowering your insurance rates, so you can get intel straight from the horse’s mouth about what specific areas to focus on. Some insurers offer discounts for merely installing dashcams in your vehicles. Find out what your provider offers in terms of discounts, what safety measures you should prioritize to achieve lower rates, and whether they prefer one telematics provider over another.
What if your insurance company offers no discounts and has no guidance to give on how to lower your rates? In that case, your next call should be to another insurance provider who’s more willing to work with you.
The thing to keep in mind here is that telematics come with a slew of potential benefits, from boosting fuel efficiency, to finding quicker routes, to improving customer satisfaction. But none of these benefits come about through simply installing a system and turning it on. A successful implementation requires a great deal of planning, customized configuration, and user training. That all starts with setting clear goals, determining the best ways to measure progress, and getting buy-in from all the key stakeholders, particularly your drivers.
A good telematics provider will probably walk you through the proper steps, but it’s usually better to have all these questions answered before you bring in any outside help. After all, knowing what your goals are will help you decide which provider will be best suited to your needs in the first place.
Mistake Number 2: Trying to Measure and Improve Everything at Once
Once you know what dials you want to see moving, then you can determine how you’re going to measure performance in those areas. The pitfall to watch out for here is getting distracted by all the different types of information the telematics system delivers.
One way to think about this is to start with the assumption that you’ll have about twenty or thirty minutes a week to go over any given driver’s performance metrics and offer instructions on how to improve. (Though many fleet managers take even less time than this.) Within that window of time, you have the following options for what to focus your coaching on:
Mobile Phone Use
Food and Beverage Consumption
Idling and Leaving the Vehicle Unattended
Now, you could briefly run down the list, give an attaboy or attagirl for the measures showing improvement and a slap on the wrist for measures moving in the wrong direction. But is that really the approach that’s most conducive to real changes in your drivers’ behavior?
Returning to your goals, you could instead prioritize the performance areas most directly tied to what you’re hoping to achieve. Maybe your insurance provider highlighted metrics that could influence your rates. Maybe your goal is to achieve better fuel efficiency while optimizing route choices. Obviously, these are the areas you want to prioritize.
But what about all that other information?
The key isn’t to take on two or three areas and ignore all the other measures. Instead, you simply need to realize that you can only effectively address two or three areas at one time. So, start with the most impactful focus areas, and then, after you’ve reached your goals, take on another two or three areas in the next stage.
The applicable adage here is that the best way to teach a student nothing is to try to teach that student everything. We’d amend that to say it’s to try to teach them everything at once.
Mistake Number 3: Losing Track of What the Measures Stand for
The benefit of using machine learning technology with your performance tracking is that you won’t have to watch your drivers every minute they’re on the road to ensure compliance with your safety protocols. Instead, the system will recognize potentially problematic behaviors and send an alert—either to the manager or to the driver.
The corner-cutting approach some fleets use with this technology is to score drivers on the number of times their tracking systems are triggered. Fewer incidents means fewer safety issues means safer driving—or so it would seem. The problem is not all triggering events result from unsafe driving.
A driver may hit the brakes too hard because he wasn’t paying attention. Or he may hit them because another driver cut in front of him. Back at headquarters, you won’t know what the alert means until you review the video footage of the incident. By using alerts as a proxy for poor driving, these managers are essentially punishing the drivers who spend the most time in high-traffic areas.
Cameras and telematics are powerful tools, but merely installing the technology on all your vehicles isn’t going to radically transform your fleet’s behavior. Having the right tools is only one of three critical elements to any effort at reducing your company’s risk profile—the other two being a set of strategic goals and an effective coaching program for drivers. But far too many fleet managers fall prey to the temptation of letting the gadgets do all the work and thus fail to achieve the results those tools might otherwise deliver.
The key takeaway here is that your camera and telematics program isn’t ultimately about technology—it’s about behavior. Performance tracking is a great tool for changing behavior, but at the end of the day gadgets won’t improve anything on their own.
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