The skyrocketing cost of insurance has brought about a crisis for the trucking industry. The annual inflation rate for the economy as a whole over the past 10 years has averaged 1.7%. For the healthcare industry, the average is 2.9%. Compare these figures to the annual increase in the cost of verdicts against trucking companies—51.7%—and you see how worrying the trend has become. Meanwhile, the cost of insuring a fleet has increased 17% since 2013, forcing many companies out of business.
There are a few factors driving up the cost of both verdicts and insurance. For one, trucks are getting in more accidents. Between 2017 and 2018, trucks weighing from 10,001 to 14,000 pounds were involved in 4.6% more fatal accidents than the year before. Trucks weighing over 26,000 pounds were involved in 1.6% more fatal accidents.
What’s going on here? One factor is that there is a shortage of drivers for fleets to hire, leading fleet managers to cut corners when it comes to both vetting and training new drivers. At the same time, the emergence and widespread adoption of smart phones is leading to entire new categories of distraction. The FMCSA estimates that distracted driving is behind 71% of crashes involving large trucks.
Then there are the lawyers. A recent report from the ATRI shows that between 2006 and 2011, there were only 26 “nuclear verdicts,” which are cases that result in penalties of $10 million or more against a trucking company. But from 2011 to 2019, that number shot up to almost 300.
Verdicts against trucking companies have been getting larger for a long time. Some analysts cite the 1977 Supreme Court decision that allowed lawyers to advertise. Others believe the problem is that third parties are investing in lawsuits against fleets, hoping to get a share of the rewards.
The basic fact is that big verdicts are too tempting for some lawyers, and when they go after fleets, it’s not individual drivers they target. It’s the entire company, which they like to paint as criminally negligent in their hiring and training, if not outright evil.
The best approach to dealing with these lawsuits is to avoid having them brought against you in the first place. That’s just one of the reasons 36% of fleet managers cite driver safety as their top priority, another being that better safety records make for easier driver recruitment. Finally, and most obviously, a good safety record means an attractive risk profile, and hence lower insurance rates.
So what’s the best way to foster a culture of safety for your fleet? This is where the latest video telematics technology comes in.
Incident Recording and Driver Training
Video Telematics records feeds from cameras installed on strategic parts of the truck. The system records on a loop, so new clips replace old ones, unless an event trigger is activated. Once one of these events takes place, the entire loop is uploaded to the cloud, so managers can access and review the video footage to see what happened both before and after the incident.
This kind of data can be invaluable in several ways. First, it provides opportunities for training drivers. If a driver hits the breaks too hard, for instance, it may be because another driver swerved into the lane ahead of the truck. But it also may be because the driver was going too fast or following the vehicle ahead too closely. All this information can usually be gleaned from the video and other data recorded by the telematics system. And, if it turns out the driver was engaging in risky behavior, fleet managers can address the issue however they see fit. A survey by the research and consulting firm Frost and Sullivan found that fleets with video telematics enjoy a 60% reduction in crashes and a 75% reduction in costs associated with crashes.
Another major benefit of incident recordings is that they can exonerate drivers in cases where the other driver is claiming a crash was their fault. The Frost and Sullivan survey found that installing video telematics leads to a 25% reduction in claims against drivers. If managers know their driver wasn’t at fault, they can prove it in court. If, however, the incident recording shows the driver is at fault, the manager knows it’s time to negotiate a settlement.
Artificial Intelligence and Crash Avoidance
But what is it that triggers the uploading of a video clip to the cloud for review? Traditionally, it was based on G-forces reaching a pre-set threshold. More advanced telematics systems today rely on these same G-sensor triggers but also make use of artificial intelligence to gauge things like how attentive or distracted the driver is.
These systems use machine learning to identify a variety of potentially dangerous behaviors on the part of the driver. Is the driver lifting a can of soda or looking at a smart phone screen? Where are the driver’s eyes directed? Anytime the system detects a behavior suggesting distraction, it can send an alert either to the driver him or herself or to a manager on call, who will in turn contact the driver and address the issue.
It’s hard to overstate how effective this type of video-based collision avoidance can be. If that 60% reduction in crashes highlighted by Frost and Sullivan seemed too good to be true, consider that these systems reduced distracted driving by 80%. Then recall that the FMCSA found that 71% of large truck collisions are caused by distracting driving.
It’s not hard to see why the video telematics industry is forecast to experience 22.2% growth from 2018 to 2025.
The Role of Cameras in Driver Recruitment and Retention
If you Google the terms truck driver and dashcams, chances are you’re going find plenty of outrage over the idea of in-cab monitoring. So how do you address drivers’ complaints about having their right to privacy violated? This question is especially important in light of the difficulty many fleets are having recruiting new drivers.
We’ve already mentioned the fact that good safety records are an attractive recruitment tool in their own right. In earlier posts, we also discussed two strategies for easing the transition to dashcams and telematics tracking. First, get drivers, or someone representing drivers, involved in the planning. What you want to avoid is the sense that new policies and technologies are being imposed on drivers by antagonistic higher-ups who just want to catch them doing something wrong. Getting these drivers involved in coming up with a solution will give them a sense of ownership and control over their own working conditions.
The second strategy for easing driver acceptance is to set the program up to focus on what drivers are doing right, not on what they’re doing wrong. The way many fleets do this is to combine various metrics into an overall score for safe driving. You may even want to post these scores somewhere public to encourage friendly competition—but again this should all be hashed out in a planning phase that the drivers are invited to participate in.
The reality is that, while there are definitely still some old-school drivers who will never accept being tracked or monitored or watched in any way while doing their jobs, younger people looking for jobs are already more accustomed to having their performance tracked. Over time, cameras in cabs are going to become a new norm few bother questioning. And many of the most stubborn holdouts will probably come around once they see video telematics is the only path to affordable insurance, and hence the only way for their employers to keep the lights on.
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