Fleet safety gains driven by telematics data

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CPC Logistics Canada developed a custom app that lets drivers monitor their performance as it relates to bonuses. And the insights do not end there.

NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – The John Deere fleet already has an impressive safety record. Its trophy case includes no fewer than seven annual private fleet safety honors from the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC). But there’s always room to improve. The data doesn’t lie.

While the fleet operated by CPC Logistics Canada knew that speeding accounted for just 2% of overall travel time, a closer look at the numbers showed that the worst offenders were speeding around 10% of the time.

It’s why speeding became the first target for a fleet safety program anchored in telematics.

“We found that speeding was what we really wanted to frame this program around,” said Matthew Carr, CPC Logistics Canada’s senior director of safety and operations, during a data-related panel discussion at the PMTC’s annual meeting.

Rather than adopting an off-the-shelf telematics system, the fleet opted to develop a model of its own. The goal was not only to generate customized data, but to present it through an app that would engage drivers, offer consistent data for operations teams, and evaluate performance in real time. The underlying gamification would encourage truck drivers to monitor where they were sitting in any bids to secure quarterly safety bonuses.

The change was dramatic. Speeding incidents dropped 74.4%, down to a low 0.53% of driving time overall. It looked great. But, again, data doesn’t lie. Another challenge emerged.

“We were reducing our total time speeding, but what we weren’t doing was reducing our excessive speeding,” Carr said, referring to reports that flagged the number of actual traffic violations. Back into the numbers they went, and training efforts focused on the worst offenders.

As important as high speeds had become, the next focus was on sudden stops – the high-speed braking events that take place above 80 km/h. John Deere drivers were averaging 56 such stops over every 1,600 km after safety teams removed the outliers who recorded 100-200 high-speed braking events. Once the tracking and coaching were refocused, those at the wheel dropped to an average of 31 high-speed stops per 1,600 km.

Hard-braking has almost been eliminated as well, dropping from 24 events per 1,600 km down to a low 0.2.

But as valuable as the telematics data proved to be, there were also human factors to consider. One driver who recorded more than 250 hard braking events per 1,600 km was a good employee by other measures. The data led to questions that helped to determine he was a nervous driver.

“He was getting in the right lane and he wasn’t moving for nothing or anybody,” Carr said. In just a month, though, his number of hard braking events dropped to 100 thanks to a bit of coaching. “We changed his habits to feel comfortable getting in and out of a lane.”

Matthew Carr, CPC Logistics Canada’s senior director of safety and operations, leads a panel discussion into the value of telematics.

A clear picture through dashcams

Even the best data can leave a gap in the story. It’s why Paul Quail Transport has introduced dash cams, recording videos during situations like hard-braking events and comparing all the available information at the same time.

A hard-braking event can be linked to speeding, following too close, or being inattentive – but it can also occur when a car unexpectedly cuts in front of a truck, said operations manager Leanne Quail. In a situation like that, she welcomes drivers who hit the brakes while maintaining as much space ahead of them as possible.

Like other telematics data, though, the video needs to focus on the right areas to make a difference. To Quail, this means aiming the lens in a way that picks up fender mirrors and pavement markings to help show things like whether or not a driver is in their lane.

The view came into play when a state trooper hit a guardrail and then bounced into the side of a Paul Quail Transport truck. His original accident report blamed the collision on an imaginary vehicle that didn’t exist.

“It brings a sense of reality to our driver scorecard, and I find it’s treating our drivers more fairly,” Quail said, referring to the video reports. “I have a lot more confidence in the decisions that I’m making with our drivers.”

More telematics to come with ELDs

A growing number of fleets are expected to tap into telematics data in the days to come.

“What’s really going to drive it more than anything is the ELD mandate,” said Ward Warkentin, CEO of Fleetmetrica.  “It’s going to drive more interest to analyze that data, and it’s going to drive more interest in having accurate data.”

But acting on such data in a meaningful way will involve more than safety managers alone. While it’s important to tell drivers not to speed, this needs to be backed by delivery schedules that don’t require a heavy foot on the throttle, he said as an example.

Then there’s a matter of controlling how the growing volume of data is consumed. It needs to be presented in a form that delivers information people can act upon, and edited so that important information is not lost.

Quail stresses the value of presenting data based on the way people consume other details. Some might prefer a spreadsheet; others a visual dashboard. “That’s the way they see their world,” she said, referring to the way the properly presented information will be better understood.

Fleets also need to consider how much information is shared and when. While Sharp Transportation offers everyone a live view of reefer temperatures and locations, fault codes are fed to the fleet president and drivers every 30 minutes, said Kimberly Biback, the fleet’s corporate and public relations specialist. There isn’t a single approach to sharing data with customers, either. Some want more data than others. The best answer will involve considering the client’s needs and desires, she added.

And when things like fuel bonuses are anchored in the data, redundant systems will need to be established to ensure any questions are answered, she stressed. Successful programs will depend on how well everyone understands the way data will be acted upon, too.

The ultimate goal, however, is to see data as a tool to help predict the future.

“We have data on everything,” said George Lesko, FedEx Ground’s manager of safety and performance analytics. “We’re very good at talking about what’s happened in terms of service, in terms of safety.” But the way it’s divided and combined will offer true insights — the “red flags” about risks to come.

FedEx Ground monitors everything from the driving hours tracked by an ELD, to GPS locations, and even external data like weather conditions. He would like to see a Waze-style app that offers dynamic information, considering everything from traffic conditions to weather patterns.

No single data point will tell the full story, after all. Good drivers can be involved in collisions, Lesko said, and poor drivers might escape collisions by luck alone. When compared to predicting on-time service, he says predicting safety is more of a “grey area”.

But he’s confident that growing advancements in telematics data will help to clarify the view.


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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