Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the trucking industry. From preventing accidents to helping investigate them after they happen, it is changing almost every aspect of the business.
The role and use of technology was the main theme of the panel discussion at the Fleet Safety Council’s 23rd Annual Educational Conference, which was held Niagara Falls, Ont. The four panellists were Dino Bagnariol, director of the highway standards branch for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ryan Fletcher, Canadian private fleet sales manager for PeopleNet Canada, Jason Spence, product marketing manager for Volvo Trucks, North American sales and marketing and Greg St. Croix, senior vice-president, national transportation risk focus leader at Marsh Risk Consulting. Fleet Executive editor Carolyn Gruske moderated.
Volvo’s Spence reminded the audience that driver error is a factor in nine out of 10 collisions. He also noted that in accidents involving passenger vehicles and transport trucks, the car, van and pick-up drivers tended to be the cause of between 77% and 85% of the collisions, and despite that, the commercial truck driver is typically cited for being at fault.
Because people’s mistakes play such a large role in accidents, Spence said Volvo is constantly looking for ways of compensating for human error and reducing mistakes. It’s to that end that Volvo emphasizes the development of safety systems “to provide defensive driving situations for the truck drivers.”
While avoiding any crash is a net positive, accounting for something that doesn’t happen can be difficult to calculate when it comes to determining ROI invested in safety systems or new equipment.
“That’s why it’s important to have numbers. It’s important to have safety councils like this so that we understand the cost of the collisions the trucks are involved in,” said Spence. It’s no doubt the costs continue to go up. The insurance rates continue to go up.
“One thing that our fleets cannot bear is to continually have to pay for collisions that would be avoidable and so what we’re doing is really focusing on prevention. It’s hard to measure a collision that you don’t have. Unfortunately, most fleets have the experience of collisions and dealing with that and so all they have to do is look at the costs they’ve already had and project those numbers in the future. Prudent fleets, they look at the numbers. They see the reality in the statistics and they move forward by choosing safety systems and putting them on their trucks.”
According to Spence, Volvo is very cognizant of the potential of technology overload, so the company makes it a point to prioritize the information and feedback the driver gets while behind the wheel. But when it’s important for the driver to get information, it will be delivered, especially as technology develops in the future.
“What you’re going to see in the future for safety systems is more cameras in the vehicles, and not just cameras for watching ahead, but cameras that process, that develop algorithms, that identify the difference between a deer and a person or a cyclist ahead of the truck. Not only will they identify these things, they calculate reasonable telemetry to identify if the truck has the potential to run into this other object on the road. If so, it’s going to alert the driver of the truck to the potential danger and it’s going to stop the truck to keep a collision from occurring. Cameras are going to be a big deal in the future going forward.”
PeopleNet’s Fletcher spoke about the use of onboard recorders and how they are integrated with the trucks’ own systems and linked with systems back at fleet headquarters, providing fleet managers an unprecedented view of every action taken on the road, and a way, via scorecarding, to keep track of how safe a driver is.
While the use of a scorecard can be viewed in a negative manner—here are the mistakes you’ve made as a driver—Fletcher said it doesn’t have to be used that way.
“There’s a number of ways to look at scorecarding from a safety perspective—you can monitor with it, hold people accountable, or even or even reward them. Sometimes a hard brake is a good thing. You can say, ‘Good job.’ It doesn’t always necessarily prove bad or evil safety-related behaviors.”
The amount of data generated by onboard recording systems can be enormous and even intimidating. Unfortunately, there is no one quick or easy solution for utilizing it properly. Knowing what data is important and can strength the bottom line or improve overall safety can be a challenge.
“I think it really does depend on the fleet because of the data coming in,” said Fletcher. “For an LTL, dedicated, private, heavy haul, or explosive, some things are the same and some things are different, so you decide what’s important to you and then hone in on those specific pieces of data, because there’s definitely a lot. Whether it’s too much I think it depends on what you want to do with it. It really depends on your priorities are as a fleet. Sometimes there’s so many reports you need. Sometimes it’s two or three that get you the ROI.”
As for elogs, Fletcher said that while it may take a while for some drivers to warm up to the idea of them, he finds that drivers eventually become fans of the technology.
“They don’t want to go back to find paper and pen, pencils, rulers and recording all this stuff manually. Doing all that is just so cumbersome and once they’ve been able to run it for a couple of weeks, they say, ‘Okay it doesn’t take away my hours. I’m just doing my regular job. I get to drive and do it and then go home: log in, log out.’ Really it’s after they use them, they trust them and they’re okay with it.”
While it may seem as if technology, particularly telematics, is offering fleets all sorts of new ways of understanding their businesses, the Marsh Risk insurance representative on the panel, St. Croix, said it’s really nothing novel.
“Telematics has been around since trucks have been on the road almost. It’s just a question of evolving telematics. Telematics was as simple as a plug-in for an ECM decades ago. Now every fleet is connected whether they want to be or not. It’s the question of whether the fleet wants to use telematics or not. Certainly the insurance industry is recognizing telematics as a driver-behavior or a human-behavior modification tool that can be used to the benefit of the fleet and to the safety of other road users. It’s been well-demonstrated in Europe for decades, and North America has traditionally been slower and more aloof to the use of telematics and the technology but it is here much like electronic onboard recorders, the EOBRs. It is here. You cannot run. You cannot hide. You might as well embrace the technology. It is here.”
Even though the cost of trucks has escalated, along with the cost of making repairs, St. Croix said those costs aren’t reflected in insurance premiums, thanks in part, to technology.
“Fortunately today there is a pretty soft market for any trucking company looking to get insurance today. It’s pretty damn reasonable, cheaper than insuring my own car. It’s exciting times that we’re into now. With telematics technology we are becoming a much safer industry.”
St. Croix also addressed the topic of pay-as-you-drive (PAYD) policies, saying there are advantages and disadvantages to them. In particular, if a fleet is known to drive lanes through high-crash-risk areas, under a PAYD policy, that fleet can expect to pay a bit extra. If, however, that same fleet is able to navigate that high-risk-corridor with a lower-than-average rate of accidents, then that will be “very cost beneficial to them; extremely cost beneficial to them.”
The final panellist was the MTO’s Bagnariol. He explained the OPP has started using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to take photos at highway accident scenes. Using traditional methods, it typically takes officers between two and three hours to photograph and map out a crash site. With the drones, Bagnariol said the process can take as little as 15 minutes, allowing the highway to be opened that much faster.
“We’re hoping the work will continue to expand the use of these devices. We have a few teams now that they’re using them. Hopefully we’ll have more and more.”
Bagnariol said the MTO is continually evaluating systems and technology companies searching for ways to improve congestion. He mentioned the programmable message boards over the 400 series of highways and said they might be able to provide even more information in the future.
“As technology changes, a lot of the information is being collected in fleet vehicles. Maybe there’s a way to collect that information and transmit that to a central location and maybe we can transmit messages on the signs about congestion or weather conditions changing, and that sort of thing.”
Along with high-tech solutions the province will have to continue to build or extend roads—Bagnariol mentioned projects to extend the eastern portion of Highway 407, and widening Highway 417 in the Ottawa area—create additional high-occupancy vehicle lanes, improve transit and repair aging infrastructure. He also said that this winter, extra equipment will be added to road cleaning crews to ensure on- and off-ramps will be cleared of snow and ice. The government has also re-introduced legislation to improve various aspects of road safety, by increasing fines for impaired and distracted drivers, and requiring drivers to take more precautions while passing tow trucks parked on the side of the road.
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