Keeping An Eye on the Driver

More companies with truck fleets are using in-vehicle cameras to monitor drivers and cut down on accidents and liability claims.

car surrounded by monitorsJeff Blackburn, the driver of a CleanScapes trash truck in Seattle, became a YouTube celebrity this summer when he was videotaped saving a baby inside a runaway carriage zooming down a steep street. Blackburn sped along with the carriage, honking his horn to warn cross traffic as the carriage zipped through intersections, until it came to rest safely at the bottom of the hill. His actions were captured by a cab camera installed by Blackburn’s employer to monitor driving.

Truck fleet operators are increasingly adopting cab cam systems to cut down on accidents, liability claims, worker downtime and reputational risk. One such company is $13.4 billion Waste Management, which has thousands of vehicles operating nationwide.

DriveCam, one of the two largest vendors of in-cab video monitor systems along with SmartDrive Systems, says that after a six-month trial, Waste Management ordered two cams—a driver monitor and an outward-looking cam—for all its trucks by yearend. “They were so excited about the success of the trial that they wanted it fleetwide right away,” says DriveCam spokesman Eric Cohen.

The two-camera system continuously videotapes the driver and the road ahead, but saves the record only when some sudden movement, such as swerving, braking or acceleration, triggers the recorder. Then the incident is saved, along with the preceding eight seconds and following five seconds, and instantly transmitted to DriveCam, where it is evaluated. A report and the tape are then sent to the fleet owner.

These systems are integrated with telematic information about location, speed and other driving data.

DriveCam claims to have 500 fleets and 400,000 drivers using its system. Cohen says the hardware costs $500 to $600 per truck, plus a monthly charge. He adds that some insurers, including Zurich, Hartford and HUB, say they’ll consider lowering premiums for companies with such a system.

David Mitchell, director of safety and risk control with Aon Risk Solutions’ trucking practice, expects cab cam systems to become more common, but doesn’t expect much impact on premiums.

“Most large fleet operators are self-insured,” while mid-market operators have very large deductibles, Mitchell says. “It’s only the smaller operators that may get premium cuts to help them pay for the systems. This is not like homeowners insurance where you get an automatic 3% discount for installing deadbolts.”

A fleet operator’s cost-benefit analysis of a cab cam system recently showed that the biggest savings were from improved fuel economy, not fewer claims or premium reductions, Mitchell says. DriveCam says its studies show the system can save about 12% on fuel costs because drivers brake and accelerate less often when the cameras are in place.

Mitchell cautions that the systems “only really work” when used for more than to “gripe” about bad drivers. “Unless you have a program to improve poor habits and to reward good driving, they won’t succeed.”

Video monitoring systems can also benefit companies by documenting that an accident was not the driver’s fault, preventing baseless claims. And, as CleanScapes’ Blackburn can attest, they can also document an employee’s quick thinking and a race to prevent a tragedy.

 

For previous coverage of telematics, see Driving Monitor.

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