Telematics systems were originally designed as navigation aids. But as technology progresses at an amazing rate, these devices are being used more and more as a risk management tool as van fleet operators set out to cut the damage caused by accidents.
Accidents not only cause damage at a personal level but can also threaten the viability of a company with vehicles off the road, drivers in hospital and the ever-present threat of the Corporate Manslaughter Act in the background.
So although telematics systems cost money upfront to install, they are estimated to start paying for themselves within six months, both through better productivity and safer driving.
Some of today’s cutting-edge systems offer features unheard of even a few years ago.
With the Trafficmaster system, for example, a driver can tap an icon on the screen and immediately be put through to an operator at the firm’s HQ in Cranfield, near Oxford.
These operators are trained and experienced to handle any one of a multitude of problems, from dealing with road accidents to finding the location of the nearest curry house.
Then, for £20 per vehicle per month, fleets can opt for the Fleet Director package which is a browser-based fleet management solution that will allow fleet operators to keep an eye on the driving habits of employees and can be used for route scheduling and messaging between driver the fleet operator.
Trafficmaster has also launched a new system called Teletrac that allows operators to study the driving behaviour of every driver on the fleet at a glance, with red, amber and green zones for the most dangerous and safest employees.
Penalty points are given for such violations as harsh acceleration and braking, speeding and dangerous cornering, so that managers can discipline those responsible.
Drivers may not particularly like this system at first but Trafficmaster’s director in-vehicle products, Pat Gallagher, pointed out: “The old claims about a spy in the cab have long ceased to have any relevance. Fleet managers have a duty to make sure their vehicles are being driven safely and drivers have to accept this. There is also an upside – if, say, a driver is wrongly accused of something, like speeding through a village, we can prove that he or she wasn’t.”
Gallagher reckons that fitting such a system will save the fleet operator £2,000 per vehicle per year in overall running costs.
The traffic light system is one which is being offered by several of the big telematics companies now.
Trimble, too, offers a “traffic light” device which sits on the dashboard and flashes amber and red when drivers brake, accelerate and corner too sharply. This information is transmitted back to the company’s computers and can be accessed in real-time by the customer’s fleet manager (see feature right).
Tracker Fleet has also upgraded its offering after consultation with fleet customers. Users can now set their own key performance indicators (KPIs) which then feature on their own customised dashboard.
These include confirming whether vehicles are exceeding daily mileage allowances or breaking speed limits.
Vehicles can be arranged by groups according to use, such as sales, service or by region or depot and can have identifiers added to them, all of which can be easily modified by the user.
Stephen Doran, Tracker managing director, said: “Before we started on re-engineering our proposition we wanted to have in-depth conversations with our customers to ensure that what we developed would actually meet their needs now and in the future.
“We realised it was time to overhaul our existing offering, both from an architecture and interface point of view. The result has been the creation of a powerful fleet tracking tool that is far more flexible than before and can be easily customised by our users.”
One area where telematics is increasingly being used is in helping to lower insurance premiums and several of the big operators now have agreements in place with insurance companies.
TomTom recently teamed up with motor insurer Equity Red Star in a deal aimed at lowering premiums for van fleet operators.
The deal follows hot on the heels of a consumer partnership with broker Motaquote and means TomTom technology will be used in a risk management capacity for both the consumer and business markets. Businesses using TomTom’s fleet management technology to manage risk will be able to reduce their premiums as part of the insurer’s new Equitrack product.
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