In-cab cameras and the arrival of real-time liability

by James Menzies

ORLANDO, Fla. — More fleets are installing in-cab cameras to monitor driver behaviour in real-time, but with that could come an expectation by the courts that they also monitor that data in real-time and intervene when a driver’s having a bad day.

“We’re getting to the point where you’re going to be held responsible for stopping a driver who’s having a bad day (such as numerous lane departures),” said Rob Moseley, a lawyer with Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP, who spoke at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s fall meetings. “We’ve got so much real-time data that we’re going to have to do that. We’ve got a real-time opportunity and soon we’re going to have real-time liability if we’re not stopping drivers.”

This may give pause to fleets that are considering installing in-cab cameras yet don’t have the resources available to monitor data generated by them in real-time. However, Moseley said there are many good reasons to take advantage of the technology.

Since statistics show 75-80% of crashes involving a tractor-trailer are caused by another motorist, Moseley said having video available can vindicate the professional driver and trucking company more often than not.

“If we capture the data and an image of the accident, we know we’re going to find 75% of the time we’re not at fault,” Moseley pointed out. “The problem is, juries don’t believe your driver. They hate trucking companies. They walk into the courtroom hating trucking companies. You take a case, and we may think we have a completely defensible case, but if your driver is substandard and doesn’t make a good appearance, our chances of winning are maybe 30-40%. If we film it, we have a 75% chance of winning. So it’s a no-brainer to add the cameras.”

Especially, he added, since the average cost of an at-fault fatality in the US is $3.5 million.

When installing in-cab cameras, Moseley said fleets must also put in place a data management policy that dictates, among other things, how long data and video generated by the cameras is retained.

“If your company doesn’t have a data management policy that you can pick up and look at and you don’t know how long you’re supposed to be keeping things, you need to fix that,” he warned. “In the courtroom, if you don’t have a policy for how long you’re going to keep this stuff, the court decides how long you should’ve kept it.”

While many drivers resist the installation of in-cab cameras – especially those that face the driver – citing privacy concerns, Moseley said “privacy is the least of your concerns.”

He said a jury will want to know why rear-facing cameras weren’t used if forward-facing cameras were present.

“In the courtroom you will always be questioned if there was data you could have that you don’t have,” he said.

Paul Stock, director of risk management with insurer National Interstate Risk Management, said his company’s clients have about 30,000 trucks deployed with in-cab cameras. Most of these fleets, he added, are choosing both forward- and rear-facing cameras. The biggest benefit to carriers, he said, is the help they provide in resolving liability in the event of a crash.

“The time and cost of settling claims decreases significantly,” he said. However, Stock said fleets that get the most out of installing in-cab cameras also use the technology to identify risky driving behaviours and provide additional training to drivers who need it.

“Just because you put a camera in a unit doesn’t mean you’re a safer operation,” he pointed out. “Make sure you’re utilizing this technology proactively.”

This means also putting into place a plan for downloading and reviewing the video and analyzing the data it generates. Some vendors offer to do this as a service but many fleets prefer to do it internally.

Wayne Finchum, vice-president of maintenance with Shelbyville, Tenn.-based Titan Transfer, said his company has installed forward- and rear-facing cameras in all its company-owned units. It also made the technology available on a voluntary basis to its 50 owner/operators but there were no takers among them.

So far, in just one year, Titan Transfer has recorded 92,219 events and of those, has provided coaching based on 10,527 events. That’s a rate of just 11.28% but Finchum pointed out that’s more than 10,000 coached events that would have gone unnoticed without the cameras in place.

Driver behaviours that result in coaching are prioritized, with the following actions the first to trigger coaching: Exceeding 75 mph; unfastened seatbelt at more than 20 mph; texting/dialing a mobile phone; using a handheld cell phone; and obstructing the camera’s view.

The cameras have helped Titan identify areas in which it didn’t know it had a problem (ie. there were more than 200 events recorded of drivers attending to their personal hygiene while driving).

Finchum admitted not all drivers welcomed the installation of the cameras – especially team drivers, including husband/wife teams. In those cases, he said, the location of the rear-racing camera was altered so it didn’t capture the bunk. Finchum emphasized the video is only accessed when there’s been an event that needs to be looked into.

Titan Transfer became a believer in the technology when one of its drivers was absolved of blame following an accident caused by another motorist. A truck driver in a following vehicle activated his dash cam to record the incident and sent the footage to Titan, which was able to use that video to exonerate its driver.

And that’s why, despite the additional responsibilities that come with the installation in-cab cameras, Moseley prefers his clients use them.

“If I’m defending an accident case, I want as much information as I can get,” he said. “If we have video, it’s one place a jury can’t speculate. We want to wall off as many of those areas of speculation as we can, because that’s where these runaway verdicts come from.”

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