Smile? On-board cameras can offer in-cab insights

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Coaches review video clips with drivers for training purposes and possible discipline.

TORONTO, Ont. — While dashboard cameras provide hours of entertainment on YouTube, they can serve a vital safety role as well. After all, one of your drivers could be featured in a YouTube video. The key is to be proactive. While dashcams, as they are commonly known, simply produce footage for future editing and possible uploading, advanced camera systems can capture events based on predetermined triggers, save the clip and upload it for analysis and possible coaching or even defense following a collision.

“Fleets are often surprised by what they see on camera after they install a system,” says Del Lisk, vice-president of Lytx, a video fleet management and fleet safety solutions provider. “Fleets tend to assume that all drivers are good until something bad happens. It’s too late then. Small indicators of bad behavior can be recorded and interventions begun before those bad driving habits lead to a more dangerous event — talking on the phone, struggling to stay awake or bullying other drivers to get out of the way. We have found that once the fleet intervenes, the behavior changes pretty quickly.”

Tom Boehler, director of safety and compliance with the Erb Group of Companies, recently implemented a camera-based event recording safety program, and he reports some pretty impressive results: a 45% reduction in collision frequency over the past year; a 44% improvement in collision severity; and a 48% decline in the number of collisions.

Boehler says Erb had experimented with another system that captured hard-braking events, but claims it didn’t offer a realistic view of what really happened. “We never knew if the action was preventable or not,” he says. “We switched that system out for event cameras that are triggered by the driver’s actions or the wrong action of others. And the analytics provided by the supplier has been a great asset in targeting key driving behaviors or drivers we need to spend more time coaching.”

While the exact menu of options varies with different camera system suppliers, in most cases cameras continuously record data to an onboard solid-state drive. The size of the drives varies along with the amount of data that is preserved before previously recorded data is overwritten. Jason Palmer, chief operating officer of SmartDrive, says a typical installation will save about 40 hours of data before overwriting, but it can go up to 800 hours.

“If someone is buying a bigger drive it’s because they have five or six cameras,” he says. “Two hundred hours is a couple of weeks of storage for most fleets, but it’s not uncommon for a fleet to get a call a week after the fact saying, ‘Hey, your truck hit my car.’ You can provide video and say, ‘No we didn’t’ or explain what happened.”

Since it’s not practical to wade through hours of data. many of these safety systems are prompted to record and save an event based on certain triggers, such as a collision or a hard-braking event. The systems will save a clip that includes several seconds of audio and video footage before and after the event. SmartDrive, for example, will save 20-30 seconds of footage, Lytx’s DriveCam will save a 12-second clip — eight seconds prior to the event and four seconds after.

“Our device has a built-in accelerometer that continuously measures changes in force including an impact, hard braking or acceleration or a sudden swerve,” says Lisk. “Any activity beyond a certain threshold will trigger the device to save a clip.”

Some systems also take certain data from the engine ECM that can be used to capture a speed violation, for example. They can be configured to report an overage of a company-set speed limit or draw speed limits from its GPS database. Some cameras can read speed limit signs and compare them to actual vehicle speed. Customers can usually set the duration or threshold before a violation is recorded.

What did I just see?

The value proposition of such camera systems lies in providing context for the violation as well as the analytic support provided by most suppliers. Many of the available systems capture a clip of an event and — sometimes automatically, sometimes upon request — will upload to either the fleet safety department or an in-house review team to determine what happened. In cases where driver-facing cameras are used, the driver’s actions at the time of the alert can also be observed.

“A clip is available to the fleet immediately after it’s captured,” says Palmer. “Our driving analysts will review the video content and provide annotations. A swerve, for example, might be marked as an unsafe lane change, or perhaps obstacle avoidance. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate without some context.”

Marco Encinas, marketing and product manager at Teletrac Navman, calls its service Safety Analytics. He says it can be very beneficial for small- to medium-sized fleets that may lack formal safety managers.

“Safety Analytics provides the tools to monitor and capture events in the truck as well as the ability to play back the event for coaching purposes,” he says. “We also offer reporting tools so even small fleets can see how their drivers rank and what they are violating. This can help drivers learn from what they are doing wrong, and it gives the fleets the ability to follow up and target individual drivers with any additional training that might be beneficial.”

Dave Gaskin, who has been a fixture in Canada’s fleet risk management business for more than 30 years, says it’s particularly important when using camera-based safety and driver analytics tools to follow up on the alerts and observations.

“It’s one thing to have cameras in the trucks, and they are great tools for proving your driver might not have been at fault,” he says. “But they opposite side of the coin is they can easily prove your driver was at fault. If a plaintiff’s attorney can show you were aware of past bad driver behavior but did nothing, you’ll be hard pressed to explain why you didn’t.”

Boehler says Erb places a high degree of accountability on its driver “coaches,” to get the events reviewed and discussed with drivers. It also measures how well drivers respond to their coaching sessions.

“We have seen a large reduction in liability claims and legal fees,” he says. “Without doubt, cameras have been the key contributor in the deterrent and reduction of distracted driving.”




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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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