Telematics and in-cab cameras: pushing safety standards higher

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Combined with telematics, on-board cameras can monitor driver performance while pushing safety standards higher, John Lewis reports. 

Originally set for launch earlier this year, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA’s) voluntary Earned Recognition scheme for O-licence holders is undergoing a slow gestation. Fleets meeting the right criteria were being invited to participate in a six-month pilot programme at the time of writing, with the initiative unlikely to be rolled out to the industry more widely until sometime in 2018.

Under Earned Recognition, participating companies will give the DVSA direct online access to their tachograph and maintenance information. In exchange, they will face fewer roadside checks or inspections at their premises unless something seriously untoward occurs.

It means the DVSA will be able to devote more resources to targeting serially non-compliant operators, while the law-abiding will suffer less disruption to their day-to-day activities.

Those wanting to join the scheme will have to have held an O-licence for at least two years, had no regulatory action taken against them by a traffic commissioner other than warnings for at least the past two years and have an electronic system in place to manage maintenance and Drivers Hours compliance. Their annual MoT pass rate must be at least 95%.

They will also have to undergo a systems audit, which they will have to pay for, by a DVSA-approved auditor.

Raising standards

It is clear that only the best-run fleets need apply – so how do you raise your standards to a sufficiently high level?

By making full use of the technology that is available to monitor your trucks and drivers, and that means telematics. Increasingly it also means the use of on-board cameras.

A telematics solution from TomTom Telematics is being deployed by Berendsen to help keep tabs on its near 500-strong fleet. The company’s activities include supplying linen and laundry services to a wide variety of clients, including the NHS. The vehicles used include 5.0, 7.5, 12 and 18-tonners, a mix of DAFs and Mercedes.

Having such a package in place allows Berendsen to home in on speeding and raise the matter with the drivers concerned, explains group compliance manager, Peter Kelly. “Speeds are displayed very clearly,” he says.“We can download Drivers Hours data from the on-board unit daily to Visionfta, the Freight Transport Association’s tachograph analysis software. We can also immediately see if trucks are, for example, being driven without the driver’s digital tacho card being used.” 

Appropriate action can then be taken.

Repeated prosecutions and convictions for speeding will not endear the operator concerned to the traffic commissioner. In a trial Berendsen conducted, it found that incidents of speeding were as high as 50 for every 100 miles completed.

“After we installed TomTom’s technology it dropped to four for every 100 miles,” Kelly says. Not perfect, but a major improvement. 

Nor did the figure of 50 simply reflect minor transgressions of a fraction of a mile above the limit. “We allowed a margin of 10% above the limit for longer than 30 seconds before an incidence of speeding was recorded,” he says.

Repeated accidents which are the fault of its own drivers are unlikely to do much for an O-licence holder’s good reputation either. As a consequence, G-force-based driver behaviour monitoring systems are increasingly being fitted which record instances of harsh braking and acceleration, which can subsequently be taken up with the driver.

TomTom can grade such incidents – “driving events”, as Kelly describes them – from one to five, with five the most severe. 

“Level 4 we classify as a near-miss and we interview the driver about what happened,” he says. “Our intention is to reduce the threshold to 3.5, then three, with the aim of managing accident risk downwards. In a trial we saw driving incidents fall from 7.5 per 100 miles to two when TomTom’s system was introduced.” 

 Fuel efficiency across the group of 17 trucks improved from 14.1mpg to 15.3mpg during the nine-week exercise.

Manufacturers have not been slow to introduce their own driver monitoring systems.

MAN offers EcoStyle, which measures 10 different behaviours then grades the driver overall from A to G. He or she can then benefit from targeted training if necessary, with the aim of reaching a higher standard.

Better driving spells fewer accidents and insurance claims, less wear and tear on vehicles as well as lower fuel consumption.

Cheshire-based Roberts Bakery has a similar system to EcoStyle, sourced through Microlise, to help manage its 90-strong fleet. Delivering bakery products across the UK, it is also employing the self-explanatory Microlise Remote Digital Tachograph Download module along with Microlise Journey Management, enabling the firm to see if drivers are keeping to schedule as the day unfolds.

Caerphilly-based waste management specialist D S Smith Recycling has installed a driver behaviour monitoring system from MiX Telematics. So far it has resulted in a 57% cut in harsh braking, a 39% fall in harsh acceleration and a 1.6% fuel economy improvement.

In a further attempt to improve driving standards, more and more businesses are having cameras installed that watch the driver as well as the highway. They can be integrated with existing telematics systems, or stand alone.

Spurious claims

A camera covering the road ahead means a company is less likely to be obliged to pay out if faced with a spurious crash-for-cash claim, because it can prove it was not responsible.

Triggered by harsh braking, and including an accelerometer, Lytx’s DriveCam camera system captures near-misses as well as serious incidents, says marketing manager, Caroline Hurst. “Most of our clients want the camera to record a 12-second clip,” she says. That allows them to see what happened before, during, and just after the incident.

Using GPS, the on-board unit records the location, the vehicle’s speed and direction along with the images.

Lytx reviews all the clips before passing them to the customer ranked in order of seriousness.

Homing in on near-misses matters, says Hurst, because they might turn into a hit one day. 

“If some types of behaviour are unaddressed they could result in a serious accident,” she observes.

Filming the behaviour of drivers prior, during and after incidents does not always sit well with them or – if they are trade union members – their union representatives. 

“Employers need to talk to them, and to the union, about the benefits such cameras can bring,” Hurst says.

A key one is that camera footage can exonerate a driver from blame if an incident occurs. 

“If, for example, he has to brake really heavily and is subsequently asked why, he can point to footage that shows a pedestrian stepped out in front of him,” she says. 

DriveCam users include Clugston Distribution. “It has helped reduce our fleet’s near-collision rate by 51%,” says distribution director David Heath. “Insurance claims are down across the board in both amount and frequency.”

The help that camera evidence can provide when dealing with insurance claims – legitimate or otherwise – is an advantage cited by Intelligent Telematics. It collaborates with several other firms to deliver a claims management service to fleets. 

With a list of clients that includes Tesco, Thames Water, National Windscreens and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, it offers a 3G camera system which can send data direct to Collision Management Systems (CMS). 

CMS’s software can determine whether the system has been triggered by a false alarm – perhaps the driver hit a speed bump too hard – or if something more serious has transpired. 

If the latter is the case, it can raise the alarm while working with accident claims management specialist Sopp & Sopp to ensure consequent costs are reduced wherever possible; potentially by up to 50%, says Intelligent Telematics.

If the claim is a complex one involving serious personal injury, then solicitors Plexus Law can get involved. 

“The first question you always have to ask is whether the driver is OK and whether the emergency services need to attend,” says Intelligent Telematics head of international business and strategic development Sam Footer. 

Companies have a duty of care to their employees but also a duty to themselves – and to their shareholders – to save cash. “We recently had an incident where a third party claimed a vehicle belonging to one of our clients hit his vehicle and wanted £15,000,” says Footer.

Camera evidence

But camera evidence showed that the incident was the third party’s fault and the claim was not pursued.

Footer makes the point that the presence of a camera in a van or truck prompts whoever is at the wheel to drive more carefully. Aside from fewer accidents – collision rates can fall by anywhere from 45% to 80% during the first 12 months after installation, he says. Other benefits include lower fuel costs and less wear and tear on the vehicle.

Cameras can play an important security role. If a driver feels threatened then as well as ringing the police he or she can hit a panic button that will send video of the scene that is unfolding.

The cost of installing a camera system varies and depends on the size of the fleet. Typically the hardware will cost around £350 per vehicle, including installation, with ongoing monthly charges of anywhere from £7 to £40 a month dependent on the breadth and depth of the service required.

Forward-facing cameras can be supplemented by optional external cameras mounted either side of the truck to counter accusations that the driver clipped a parked car or injured a vulnerable road user. That is a facility MiX Telematics began offering earlier this year as part of its MiX Vision package. “It will prove invaluable for those customers who want to enhance driver behaviour, improve safety and reduce costs relating to false allegations,” says executive vice president of technology, Catherine Lewis.

Last November Lytx launched its Unisyn platform, with the same aim. Unlike DriveCam, which reacts only when triggered, Unisyn cameras mounted on the sides, the rear, at the front of the vehicle if required, or in the load area, are rolling all the time. They deliver up to seven days – possibly more – of cloud-connected video which managers can review.

VisionTrack is working on an enhancement to its camera system to enable fleet managers to see whether drivers have a habit of driving dangerously close to the vehicle in front. 

“You have to ask yourself which is more dangerous,” says VisionTrack managing director Simon Marsh. “Driving at 39mph in a 40mph limit on a wet road right up against someone’s back bumper or driving at 71mph on the motorway on a dry, sunny day when there is no traffic about.”

Now available in the UK through LEVL Telematics, with a long-established presence in North America, Geotab’s technology can be linked with cameras to provide a comprehensive picture of the circumstances under which a collision occurred.

“It will tell you where the incident took place, how fast the vehicle was travelling before, during and after impact, whether the driver was braking or swerving and the weather conditions,” says LEVL director Andrew Pearce. The details can then go straight to the fleet’s insurers.

More than 750,000 Geotab devices are in operation worldwide, with customers including major fleet operators such as DHL.

Best known for the systems it has developed to make reversing safer, Brigade Electronics has just launched a managed service that enables footage from up to eight vehicle-mounted cameras to be viewed remotely in real time along with the vehicle’s speed and location.

The package includes a 3G SIM card and access to Brigade’s hosted server. Customers can get to the footage via the Brigade dashboard or through the app to their mobile phones.

Safety schemes

Much of the drive towards using technology to improve vehicle safety and protect vulnerable road users has been prompted by the steady roll-out of FORS, the Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme, and CLOCS, the Construction Logistics and Community Safety programme. Adherence to such schemes shows a business is taking a proactive approach to managing road risk, and some construction sites may refuse admittance to vehicles whose operators do not comply with CLOCS.

Operators should, of course, ensure their vehicles do not have excessive weight on board. Repeated convictions for serious overloading offences could result in action being taken by the traffic commissioner and potential denial of entry to the Earned Recognition programme.

Part of industrial weighing equipment specialist Avery Weigh-Tronix, Exactrak offers a tracking system that gives the fleet manager a truck’s location, along with its gross, net and axle weights. It signals an alert if there is an overload.

Telematics can help ensure adherence to the maintenance standards O-licence holders are obliged to meet, a key requirement of the proposed Earned Recognition scheme. 

Monitor a truck’s whereabouts and you can ensure that it goes into a workshop on time for its periodic statutory safety inspection, for any servicing or repairs that are required and for preparation prior to undergoing its annual MoT test. 

MAN says that if the telematics system is plugged into the on-board diagnostics port then any fault codes can be transmitted to a dealer’s workshop prior to the truck’s arrival. As a result technicians will know in advance what they will be dealing with and how long it will take, and will be able to ensure that any parts required are available.

Scania says real-time data from its trucks can determine when they need to go into a workshop for basic service work such as oil and filter changes. These requirements can be aligned with the timing of the statutory inspection so the truck does not end up visiting the same workshop twice in one week.

Flexible maintenance

It makes the point that maintenance is increasingly flexible and related to the type of work a truck is on rather than the mileage it has covered. Hauling cargo across the flatlands of East Anglia is going to be a less arduous application than hauling the same cargo across the Pennines, and servicing schedules need to be adjusted accordingly.

Trailer maintenance should not be neglected so Michelin Solutions offers a telematics package called Effitrailer. It captures data from the on-board tyre pressure monitoring system to ensure action is taken before pressure loss becomes critical. Trailers are less likely to end up stranded at the roadside as a consequence, tyres can be replaced safely in the workshop and a valuable tyre casing can be saved.

Effitrailer also monitors the trailer’s electronic braking system.

Drivers should carry out walk-around checks of their vehicles daily. To help them, Microlise offers DriveTab, a seven-inch Android-based tablet which, among other things, they can use to report defects, complete with photographs if required.

Jaama has a mobile phone app that can be used for the same task says managing director, Martin Evans. “The checklist is defined by the customer so if the vehicle is refrigerated, for example, then fridge units can be included,” he says.

Details of the daily check are sent to Jaama’s K2 Workshop Management system so action can be taken if any defects need prompt attention.

That could involve taking the vehicle to the nearest workshop or sending out a mobile technician.

As its contribution to cutting fuel usage, accident costs and maintenance bills indicates, telematics can do far more than ensure regulatory compliance, and its use is not restricted to heavy trucks.

Earlier this year veterinary supplies distributor Henry Schein Animal Health announced it was adopting Ctrack’s Online web-based tracking system to help it manage its fleet of more than 100 delivery vans. 

As well as monitoring driver behaviour, the package is providing the operator with data it can use to help plan delivery schedules.

Geo zones are placed around each delivery location that trigger email alerts to confirm a van has arrived.

Evans makes the point that if these initiatives are going to work then everybody in the company needs to buy into them. As well as the directors, that includes staff who work in departments other than the transport department, in particular in human resources.

“Communication is vital if you are going to introduce in-cab cameras or fit telematics black boxes,” Evans observes. “They could easily be met with objections, but if you involve stakeholders in the decision-making process, detail the business and driver benefits and outline the return on investment then you will reduce the risk of opposition.”

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