Safety goes high-tech

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.

From left to right: Greg St. Croix, Marsh Risk Consulting, Jason Spence, Volvo Trucks, Dino Bagnariol, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ryan Fletcher, PeopleNet
From left to right: Greg St. Croix, Marsh Risk Consulting, Jason Spence, Volvo Trucks, Dino Bagnariol, Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Ryan Fletcher, PeopleNet

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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  • I find it interesting that most of the people pushing EOBR’s have never driven a truck? Just saying! I was on the road for 41 years and I can assure you that safety (which is my primary concern) will go down the tubes. Instead of driving when they are rested and resting when they are tired, drivers will be forced to drive and sleep when the EOBR tells them they can? Humans are not machines and everyone is a little different in what works best for them as far as sleep patterns. I am thankful that I will not be on the road when they become mandatory; it won’t be safe for anyone.

  • The technologies that will really change trucking are autonomous vehicles and big data.. Being able to combine your telematics with your freight exchange with your tracking with your scheduling etc..

  • It is so interesting that a lot of money is thrown at trying to find out as they put “the bottom line” is affected. Safety is the baseline of “the bottom line” which is easily seen by someone who isn’t in a management position. It is all about numbers, not safety. As a professional driver or as most would see it “infidel” I have driven for 25 years in the US and Canada and have not had one incident. I attribute my safe travels through the efforts of training and education – (low tech) initiatives, but that wouldn’t sell because we live in a high tech society. Get down to the basics – Driver Trainers, Mentors, Defensive Driving – (one on one) quality training and education. Wait a minute that won’t work because it is too easy compared to expensive hi-tech gadgets that can’t feel and see the road as flesh can. Drivers get into accidents because of the lack of actual proper training and education…….

    • Amen. Would like to add to the need for proper training that companies need to also have proper policy and procedure when it comes to their operations.

      As a transit driver in a mining-based city, I content with a lot of transport traffic–and unfortunately, a lot of bad driving, both by the transport drivers, and by private vehicles. One can see clearly what companies have invested both in driver training and in policy and procedure vs. those that haven’t, as well as those that have a paid-by-load, where operators, specially at night, are rushing through downtown and running lights, vs those who pay-by-hour.

      Having previously driven transports hauling rock/ore/etc., for a company during its transition from pay-by-load to pay-by-hour, I can also say that I have witnessed first hand how a company’s change in policy can improve driver safety—the drivers who constantly did 15km/h over or more in the 50 zone suddenly drove the speed limit, and no one was rushing to beat the lights. Also, at that time, management got a little tougher with drivers who didn’t follow traffic laws, including randomly sending out a supervisor with a speed gun to check how drivers were doing. We had less equipment break-downs, fewer driver caused accidents (which usually involved a loaded truck taking a corner too fast on a dirt road and hitting the ditch), and fewer complaints from the public.

      Better technology will not fix bad policy, or correct bad drivers. It will allow bad policy and bad drivers to stay on the road longer before something happens. Better company policy, and better training, does, and will, make companies safer—technology will certainly add an extra level, but it will never operate as a replacement for good old education.

      As for us at transit, all our buses have cameras. Since the installation of them, it has been demonstrated that most accidents involving buses were the fault of the other vehicle—even when that vehicle is a new model with those fancy safety warning sensors.

      • Hi, your point is interesting! WHat do you think of the drowsiness detection technology? What if the technology can detect that driver is sleepy & warn him or trigger an intervention such as chair vibrating to wake him if no action detected after the warning?

  • High tech is here and will not go away, Europe has been ahead of North America for years. EOBR,s are the way to go. Cameras on the trucks with sensors that will slow a truck when they are following too close or drifting are a great Idea.One of the best safety courses i took was the Smith driving course, it makes you aware Many drivers now use dash cams, So i do not understand , why the reluctance to use EOBRs. There is still too much pushing a driver to over extend his driving time and driving while fatigued. No freight is worth a life. WE need more Safety departments to speak up for the driver not go against him. Shippers and receivers need more patience and tolerance, Stop speaking to a late driver disrespectfully until you know all the facts. Technology can and will alleviate a lot of these problems but it will not adjust peoples attitudes towards each other. Slow down a little ROME was not built in a day

  • I have personally witnessed rear end crashes on the 401 hwy, where all you can say is the driver,was inattentive, following too close, or fatigued. If a driver follows his EOBR , and is out of hours he cannot move and should not. He should be somewhere where he can take his time off, or within reason to move away from a shippers dock or off property at the request,of a receiver. There are allowances for this if the rules are followed drivers have to remember they are the front line of any company they represent. All companies should get on the band wagon and go for Uniforms, Hygiene, health, and a lot of other things if they want to help the trucking image improve.

  • I have worked with a lot of European drivers, and have always enjoyed their stories, and experiences. In Europe, a commercial driver has a card which he inserts and the beginning of his work shift, this card much like your drivers license is read by all the other countries you may be entering, I need enlightening how this works, Many drivers cannot drive on weekends in certain countries, I would like to hear more from European drivers as to how this works. Maybe it could be adapted here