SmartDrive: ‘We analyse camera data on your behalf’

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Video review service flags areas of concern so fleets can focus solely on implementing solutions

Telematics systems have become an inherent part of the commercial fleet manager’s toolbox with the data often used to improve driver behaviour is often a top expectation. But the information on harsh braking, acceleration etc doesn’t always give the full picture and newer video-based systems are now becoming the must-have accessory for fleets.

Dash-cams aren’t new technology; they have been around since the 1980s. But popularity has only gained momentum in the past three years and the benefits they offer are hard to ignore.

Many operators purchase crash recorder systems which capture footage of a collision, allowing the vehicle owner to see who was at fault. This is helpful if it proves innocence, but the key to getting the most from a camera is to see what’s happening in your vehicle when it isn’t crashing.

Aidan Rowsome, vice president EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) at SmartDrive, says: “Every fleet operator understands that the challenge of driver behaviour has been with us since the year dot.

“But telematics only tells part of the story. You know what the outcome is in terms of harsh breaking or acceleration but you don’t know what the input is – you don’t know what the root cause was.

“So you bring in the video element, but video is not data – it’s very difficult to manage efficiently. When you get a piece of video, somebody at some point has to have eyes on it.

“Anyone can put a camera in a vehicle. The difficult part is getting to the point where it’s efficiently used to spot driver behaviour that can be trained out to prevent a collision.

“If a fleet manager has 50 vehicles, even with a very efficient algorithm in the system, what are they going to do with all those clips? There could be hundreds of training incidents they aren’t seeing. 

“For example: a driver using his phone spots a pedestrian and at the last second jams to a halt. It’s not catastrophic – nobody is injured, but it’s a training clip we want to capture. 

“It needs to be offloaded, watched, commented on and put in a forum where the driver can be called in and told ‘this is against our policy’. Then that can be recorded and used to measure the outcome and effect of the intervention.”

The SmartDrive system operates in a similar way to other telematics-based camera systems on the market, but with one key difference. Instead of clips being recorded and stored for the fleet operator to view, the system instantly uploads clips to SmartDrive’s video review centre via a 3G data connection, where a team of specialists analyse each clip and decide which ones need to be flagged.

Operators are then notified by email and can access the relevant clip through the SmartDrive portal along with a commentary and telematics report, to do with as they please.

“When people understood the limitations of pure tele-matics, it fell down in terms of intervention. If you have a data-driven report and are trying to say driving is unacceptable, we realised that it needed a video element,” says Rowsome.

“All you need is 30 seconds with the driver to show them what happened and talk about what you want them to do. It’s a training event.

“We then take the stats and roll them up by driver, by depot and by company. We do everything, you just need to do the bit of coaching with the driver.” 

This approach to improving road safety was acknowledged by Brake, which awarded SmartDrive its Fleet Safety Product – In-Vehicle Technology award in September 2016.

Two cameras are installed in the vehicle, one facing the road and one the driver. The system can also record sound and connects to a vehicle’s diagnostics system to feed back a full suite of telemetry.

“The outcome that fleets are looking for is a reduction in crashes, a reduction in fuel burn and a reduction in minor accidents and this is what we can give them,” says Rowsome.

He adds: “Collisions can be reduced by as much as 70%. Most clients get at least 50% because they are capturing unsafe acts, understanding the root cause and coaching them out.”

While Rowsome admits that SmartDrive isn’t the cheapest solution on the market, he is keen to point out that the return on investment is likely to be much higher than with conventional camera systems.

Initial costs for the equipment are around £350 per vehicle, although this can be incorporated into monthly payments.Added to this is a monthly subscription which varies according to the number of vehicles and number of clips the user wants to receive. But the company expects an average operator to see a 50% reduction in collision costs in the first year if the training system is utilised to its full potential. 

“We spend a lot of time working on return on investments because ultimately there has to be a payback – it’s mostly due to a massive bill for bent metal. Most of our customers are self-insured and are paying a fortune for dinks and scrapes, let alone major incidents which can cost millions in fines down the line,” says Rowsome.

“We are reducing those direct costs and we are reducing the risk of a major incident dramatically. Collisions have so many downstream effects including reputational damage, replacement vehicle hire and lost trade through missed appointments or deliveries.” 

Since its foundation in 2004 the USA-based company has amassed more than 140 million video clips and a database full of accident statistics from its customer base, which encompasses every type of vehicle from 3.5-tonne vans up to HGVs.

“We can break data down by sector or geography allowing us to benchmark fleets against others in their peer group – putting scores in context for the customer,” says Rowsome.

But he claims there are no definitive patterns: “It’s more down to the culture of the individual organisation. I guess the only pattern you might see is the more professional drivers tend to be a little bit more trained for the driving role.”

SmartDrive’s customer base is growing quickly, doubling each year, and includes large fleet customers such as Turners, Ocado and Reynolds Catering.

Rowsome adds: “People who have had video in the past are more open to understand the differentiation we bring. Ours is a proactive tool; unlike a regular camera we want to capture the 20 or 30 incidents before an incident where there was risk but not a serious injury.”

SmartDrive gains FTA and FORS approval

A year ago SmartDrive was recognised by the Freight Transport Association (FTA) as a Van Excellence provider. 

It won praise from Mark Cartwright, the FTA’s head of vans, who says: “Its multi-level driver risk management system, combining video, driving intelligence, personalised driver performance profiles and coaching queues make SmartDrive an ideal addition to our group of recognised partners.”

More recently the company became a Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme (FORS) associate, joining 85 other businesses which improve the safety, efficiency and environmental protection of commercial vehicle operators.

Paul Wilkes, FORS business services manager, says: “SmartDrive is a true and valued partner in the quest to raise standards in the commercial vehicle sector. It has taken the latest technology and used it intuitively to help bring fleet managers even closer to their drivers.”

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