Do in-cab cameras increase a fleet’s liability exposure, or protect it from nuclear verdicts? That was the discussion during an American Trucking Associations Management Conference & Exhibition panel this week.
Attorney Janis Steck, partner with law firm Scopelitis, said no matter the circumstances, more information is better.
“I want as much information as I can find out about an accident,” she said. “Even if it’s bad, I found it’s better to know that early. You can control your exposure, control the outcome of a claim a little better.”
Plaintiff attorneys, she said, are targeting negligence on the part of the fleet when it comes to enforcing their own policies related to in-cab video. “Often it has nothing to do with the actual accident. It has to do with some opportunity they can hook onto and make a case [the fleet] was negligent in training, hiring, or didn’t do some kind of coaching or termination when they should have.”
If a fleet policy states termination will follow three coaching interventions, and the fifth incident involves a serious incident, “that’s when you’re going to have a problem,” Steck warned. “It’s easy for a plaintiff attorney to say, ‘You set your own policy and missed it.’”
One fleet manager in attendance relayed the story of a driver who should’ve been terminated after two incidents in a single year. The driver was well liked and kept on since it was late in the year and the slate would be wiped clean in January. In the final week of December he was involved in a multi-fatality wreck resulting in a nuclear verdict because the fleet didn’t enforce its own termination policy.
Driver privacy concerns are no excuse to not act on damning video. Those arguments will be pounced on by a plaintiff attorney, Steck warned.
“Does he care more about his driver’s privacy than that dead child or amputee?” she said plaintiff attorneys will ask a jury. “Do you care more about driver privacy than the people on the road? That narrative sells itself. There’s a tough disconnect between the operational component of running a trucking company and how it gets perverted by a plaintiff attorney. You have to care about driver privacy. But in the context of a personal injury case, how you answer those questions and balance general public safety needs against your operational needs is really tricky.”
Just recently, Stecks said she had a tough discussion with a fleet owner who insisted the company truck involved in a fatal accident needed to be quickly repaired and put back on the road. He complained the company was losing $2,000 a day in revenue.
“I hope you never get deposed because your company will get burned to the ground,” was her blunt response.
Steck also advised fleets to follow guidance related to video preservation. Requirements will be based on fleet policies and vendor capabilities. Some cameras overwrite video after three days. “That’s OK. Not great. But as long as you’re pulling things as quickly as you can and trying to honor your preservation obligations, you should be OK,” she said. “Generally, it’s up to a company what is feasible and what a vendor can do.”
Benefits outweigh risks
The benefits of having in-cab video do outweigh the risks, according to Abhishek Gupta, senior director of product management with video platform provider Motive. He claimed independent studies have shown in-cab video programs result in 35% fewer accidents, a 25% reduction in insurance costs, and that video exonerates the truck driver in 72% of incidents.
One attendee said his drivers are exonerated in something closer to 90% of all situations when video has captured the incident.
Mary Shepherd, staff product manager with Motive, added, “The technology doesn’t have to be scary and doesn’t have to put you at legal risk. If it’s implemented properly and you have a safety program to back that technology, you can realize some of those benefits pretty quickly.”
Coaching is key. Some systems will coach a driver in real-time when they’re driving unsafely. In other cases, the safety department will need to promptly call in a driver to discuss unsafe driving behaviors captured on camera. Accuracy is key.
“If we’re going to be alerting drivers of things they’re doing, we want to make sure we’re not falsely alerting drivers of something they’re not doing,” she said. “If that happens, they’re not going to see value in the product.”
Coaching is core to any successful video program, Shepherd insisted. And she said that includes using video to recognize good driving behaviors as well. A system should be in place to document, log and maintain all coaching interventions.
5 steps to driver buy-in
Getting drivers to buy into an in-cab video program can be tricky as well. Shepherd offered a five-step guide to get driver buy-in:
Be transparent: Clearly state the goals and reasons for implementing in-cab video. It could be responding to trends of increasing collisions or unsafe behaviors, to control insurance premiums, or to protect against nuclear verdicts. “Be clear about the safety goals and how you plan to use the technology,” she said.
Educate: The most important step, said Shepherd, is to educate drivers and everyone else in the company on why the cameras are being installed, how they’re being used, and what safeguards are in place to protect the captured video. “Have sessions with everyone across the company and send home packets to review,” Shepherd suggested.
Highlight the benefits: Inform drivers the video will be used to reward great driving, not just punish bad behaviors. Tell drivers the cameras can safeguard their professional reputations and protect them from wrongful blame.
Run a trial: Before rolling out a video platform, run a trial to ensure it works well. Allow legal teams to see firsthand how the technology works and how it can help them in the event of an incident. Collect driver feedback and take that into account when developing a written policy.
Find your champions: Identify the drivers who support the installation of cameras and ask them to share their thoughts and experiences with more skeptical drivers, Shepherd suggested.
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