Fleet managers have an increasing number of technologies to choose from in their efforts to maximize the safety and efficiency of their hauls, while at the same time getting the most value out of their vehicles throughout their lifespans. Fleet Management Systems allow them to access information about vehicles and drivers via a local database. Telematics, meanwhile, gives them real time insights—transmitted from the road—into vehicle location and performance, along with data on driver behavior.
So, if a trucking company has both a fleet management and a telematics system, does that mean they have their bases covered?
The latest trend in the transportation industry is to augment data from tracking and management technologies with video feeds from onboard cameras. The main force driving this trend is that video delivers a level of clarity into what’s going on in and around a truck that no other data source can match. Telematics without video, for instance, can do a good job of telling you what happened in the aftermath of an incident, but video can show you why it happened.
How Video Telematics Works
Most camera systems installed on commercial vehicles record in loops, so old footage is continually overwritten by new footage. Whenever an incident triggers the system, the entire loop gets permanently saved. This is important because it means fleet managers can see what happened not just after the recording was triggered but in the moments leading up to the incident as well.
Triggers can include anything from sudden stops to opened doors. The idea is that if something happens, like the truck colliding with another vehicle, then you can review the footage and see who was where and who was doing what to cause the accident. Was the driver of the truck texting? Or did the other driver drift into the truck’s lane? With video, you can usually answer these questions at a glance.
While drivers often object to having cameras pointed at them while they’re doing their jobs, they usually begin to see the upside once you explain that the footage can be used to exonerate them in cases when an accident is another drivers’ fault. If you further explain that something like 80% of collisions between commercial trucks and other vehicles are caused by the driver of the noncommercial vehicle, you’ll have an even better chance of getting them onboard.
Video can also record events less severe than collisions. You can set the system—with the help of some machine learning for recognizing targeted behaviors—to alert managers when a driver is texting or talking on the phone or eating a sandwich. Alternatively, you can have the alert sent directly to the driver so he or she can address the issue on their own. Here too you’ll want to take measures to avoid making drivers feel like they’re being spied on. (What many fleets are doing to this end is using the camera footage as part of training programs that focus on incentives for positive behaviors instead punishments for bad behaviors.)
What Video Adds to Fleet Management and Telematics Systems
The key point here is that while telematics without cameras can give you information about things like hard breaking, rapid acceleration, or taking corners too short, it can’t really tell you anything else about what’s going on in the cab. Where are the driver’s eyes directed? Without a camera in the cab, you have no choice but to take that driver’s word for it—or the word of other drivers who may have a strong incentive to bend the facts.
And it’s not just after-incident reports that benefit from video. Monitoring the behavior of your drivers can be the foundation of a training program to improve safety. These programs can be the first step in improving your entire fleet’s risk profile. Better safety records mean lower insurance rates.
None of this is to detract from the importance of Fleet Management Systems, which allow you to store, search, visualize, and generate reports from data about vehicle purchase dates, specifications, schedules for maintenance, and service histories. You can also use an FMS to handle details and documents about your drivers, including licensing and insurance. You can even set up alerts and emails for when a vehicle is due for maintenance or a driver is due for a license renewal.
Often working in concert with FMSs, traditional telematics systems transmit equally critical information from the vehicles on the road, including:
Miles per gallon
Weight of load
Whether doors are opened or closed
It’s surprising how much you can piece together about the details of an incident based on this information. Still, there’s really no substitute for being able to take a peek inside the cab or at the vehicle’s surrounding environment.
In addition to potentially exonerating your drivers against charges of reckless or irresponsible driving—and exonerating your fleet from charges of insufficient training—you can also use cameras to boost security. Setting a trigger to begin recording whenever a door is opened, for instance, can help you protect your freight when your drivers are away from their vehicles. You’ll not only get an alert when an unauthorized person is entering the trailer; you’ll also get video footage of the theft, potentially helping authorities identify the culprit.
In the age of nuclear verdicts and crippling insurance rates, though, it’s the reduction in liability and the facilitation of safety training that are driving increased adoption of video technologies more than anything else. In an article for FreightWaves, Brian Fielkow, CEO of Houston-based Jetco Delivery and executive vice president of Montreal-based GTI Group, advises fleet managers, “Outfit every truck in your fleet with inward- and outward-facing cameras…The return on camera investment is incredible. Avoiding one significant claim will pay for the equipment many times over. Cameras also allow trucking companies to identify and root out unsafe behaviors.”
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