Don’t worry about ‘Big Brother’

by Kevin Dutchak

George Orwell didn’t describe Big Brother in a flattering light. In his book 1984, the slogan “Big Brother is watching you” offers a recurring reminder that everyone is under constant surveillance.

It’s an image that many drivers tend to reference when they’re worried about the way their activities are monitored.

The days of a truck driver disappearing from view between a fleet yard and a customer’s dock are long gone. Equipment locations can be plotted right down to the intersection, and that is just the beginning. Electronic logging devices track hours of service.

Telematics can identify how light or heavy someone is on the throttle or brakes.

Add cameras into the mix, and fleet managers now have a view that was once limited to people riding along in the passenger’s seat.

They are all valuable management tools, but the secret to driver acceptance involves clearly explaining how the technology will make a positive difference in their lives.

Long-time drivers, for example, often push back in discussions about electronic logs, usually insisting that they will no longer be able to perform their job, or have to drive when they need to rest. Many are surprised to learn how the systems can improve situations. Aside from eliminating a form of paperwork, one fleet found that drivers gained about 30 minutes of driving time per day after eliminating common logbook errors. (They were often applying “on duty” time to “driving” time).

The more forthcoming and detailed the related explanations can be, the better. It is always better to address questions and concerns in an open meeting than to leave room for the rumours and innuendo that come from “truck stop philosophers.”

The introduction of speed limiters offer a perfect example of that. When Ontario and Quebec first introduced the requirements, I actually came across drivers who insisted that setting speeds at or below 105 km/h would void an engine’s warranty.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, but it is difficult to address concerns until they are raised.

Some technologies are even being embraced by drivers before the fleets themselves. In recent years, many owner/operators have begun to install dash cams after viewing YouTube videos of close calls that showed other motorists at fault.

Truck drivers, after all, are often not to blame for collisions. After studying more than 8,000 collisions, the University of Michigan Transport Research Institute (UMTRI) found that trucks were at fault 26% of the time. With video evidence, drivers can offer more than their word as proof of what happened.

The best way to introduce dash cams is to explain to drivers how the images can prove they were also in the right. Even the lenses that point into a cab can prove someone was not texting while driving.

The data generated through telematics can give fleets valuable insights to help improve everything from fuel economy to insurance claims.

An unusually high number of hard-braking events can identify a driver who tends to tailgate, making it possible to focus training in defensive driving.

Data from the US-based CSA program, meanwhile, suggests that a driver caught speeding by more than 24 km/h is 67% more likely to be involved in a crash. They won’t all get tickets for these speeds, but the engine and GPS data will watch the rest of the time.

Drivers are even more likely to accept the idea of monitoring if the data is combined with incentive programs. The secret is to ensure that any related criteria is specific and manageable. The ultimate goals and targets need to be within reach as well. Some of the most successful rollouts involve installing the equipment to gather data to establish benchmarks before actually suggesting what drivers have to achieve.

A fleet-specific tracking system can also protect people from using the wrong types of technologies.

Without an in-cab guidance system, for example, someone could decide to use the mapping software already on their smartphone.

The problem is that many of the recommended routes may not take into account restrictions on vehicle heights and weights, or steer a truck onto an expensive toll route.

And one of the best ways to introduce any new technology is to involve champions within the fleet. Coaches, trainers and supervisors need to understand the reasons for these tools so they can convey the same details to those who are driving the equipment. It is just another example of how powerful information can be.


This month’s expert is Kevin Dutchak, risk services specialist with Northbridge Insurance. Kevin has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years as a driver, in operations, safety, training and risk management services. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a longstanding history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at

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