Video witnesses: Dual-camera systems making in-roads in fleet trucks

| July 21, 2014
Most truck cameras are road-facing, installed by fleets or owner-operators. Some fleets install dual technology, adding a lens trained on the driver.

Most truck cameras are road-facing, installed by fleets or owner-operators. Some fleets install dual technology, adding a lens trained on the driver.

Independent Brad Willis paid for a forward-facing video camera system in his Freightliner Columbia. He runs it continuously so it will capture safety events, but he’s more interested in the $150 system for other reasons.

Independent Brad Willis uses a Blue Tiger video camera on the windshield of his Freightliner Columbia. “You can set it for the amount of force needed to make it record,” he explains. Otherwise, “it will record in a loop on a mini-SD card,” saving over itself unless triggered manually or by a force incident, such as a hard bump or braking maneuver.

Independent Brad Willis uses a Blue Tiger forward-facing video camera on the windshield of his Freightliner Columbia. “You can set it for the amount of force needed to make it record,” he explains. Otherwise, “it will record in a loop on a mini-SD card,” saving over itself unless triggered manually or by a force incident, such as a hard bump or braking maneuver.

Willis wanted to stave off theft incidents – “antennas stolen off of my truck in broad daylight,” for instance – and capture other vehicles’ behavior. “I have been backed into by other truck drivers,” he says.

Perhaps due to the camera’s visibility in the windshield, “nothing has been touched [by thieves] on my truck since installing it.”

Fleets’ interest in truck camera devices shares similar concerns, but Prime Inc. Safety Director Steve Field says they amount to just 1 percent of the potential benefits of systems that not only record the road ahead but the driver inside as well.

The rest, Field says, lies in the expanded ability to coach drivers “and prevent accidents. If we all stay focused on that, a driver who’s being honest with himself [will say], ‘If they’re picking this up on the camera, maybe I’ve picked up some bad habits over the years.’ ” The cameras “are truth tellers on how driving is done. Now, if we’re involved in an at-fault accident, we know the true cause.”

Having video evidence neutralizes the emotions around on-highway incidents and allows all parties to increase safety, users believe. “How could you expect a basketball or baseball coach to coach his players if he couldn’t see what he was doing?” Field asks.

Dual-camera systems – one camera facing forward, the other trained on the driver – have made inroads among <I>Overdrive</I>’s audience. Seven percent of respondents to the following spring 2013 poll noted their trucks were equipped with such a system.

Attendant to their growing presence in trucks, concerns about privacy invasion have been legion from many drivers faced with the idea of driving under the microscope, so to speak, of a video camera.

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Following some of Overdrive’s earliest coverage of dual-camera systems in 2012, readers complained about in-cab video being an invasion of privacy. One owner-operator compared cameras in the cab to surveillance cameras in public restrooms. While the operator noted he used cameras on his truck’s exterior for security, he’d never do the same in-cab.

“The truck is the trucker’s home,” noted another reader.

Two San Diego companies, Lytx and SmartDrive, lead as dual-camera system providers. Both companies’ systems are triggered to record only either by the driver or by a specific event such as a hard brake or abrupt swerve. Lytx and SmartDrive representatives review the clips, sending along to the fleet only those that meet parameters specified, whether there’s a coachable moment, a safety-critical event, an infraction that goes against company policy or, the worst case, an accident.

As of June, Prime was three months into a test of systems from SmartDrive and Lytx’s DriveCam in 25 trucks each. It’s one of only a few such dual-camera tests or implementations that include owner-operator trucks.

Prime’s tests are taking place in a mix of volunteer company, lease-purchase and fully owner-operator trucks, says Field. The fleet is picking up the cost of the devices for owner-operators during the test.

Prices for such technology include more than just the single hardware purchase or ongoing leasing costs associated with the devices because the huge amounts of generated video need to be filtered to what’s useful. Both DriveCam and SmartDrive employ hundreds of people, many tasked with reviewing clips.

Angie Buchanan, in safety and human resources at Melton Truck Lines, says the 1,000-plus-truck fleet has outfitted close to half of its company tractors with DriveCam dual-units, which capture g-force-activated clips in 12-second intervals, saving the eight seconds directly prior to the incident and the four seconds following. Connected to the cellular network, they upload the clip for review by DriveCam staff.

If something in the video rises to what Melton and DriveCam have determined is a coachable event, it’s sent to Melton. As many as nine of 10 saved clips she receives, says Buchanan, “show that the driver was doing everything right.”

If someone spots something the driver might not have been aware of, the driver is notified. “They might not realize it from a habit perspective,” she says.

Buchanan offers the example of a hard-braking and evasive-maneuver event that shows a driver not maintaining an adequate following distance. Once the eight seconds leading up to it on video is reviewed, “the driver then never has a hard-brake event again. You know he’s increased his following distance.”

The SmartDrive system operates similarly to DriveCam’s, but the most common setup records 10 seconds prior to and 10 seconds after any triggered event, says representative Adam Kahn. The unit’s control box typically is mounted “discretely under the dash,” he adds, with the road-facing camera near the center top of the windshield. Depending on the fleet, the driver-facing camera may be mounted with the road-facing one or detached and placed elsewhere.

Food and retail-products wholesaler and distributor Bozzuto's Inc., based in Connecticut, installed the SmartDrive camera system in the fleet in mid-2011, utilizing the cameras in hopes of correcting driver errors that lead to moving violations and a negative effect on the Unsafe Driving BASIC score under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety-ranking program. Over the near three years since implementation, the company Unsafe Driving ranking has fallen by nearly 100 percentage points to among the best in its peer group.

Bozzuto’s Inc., based in Connecticut, installed the SmartDrive camera system in the fleet in mid-2011, utilizing the cameras in hopes of correcting driver errors that lead to moving violations and a negative effect on the Unsafe Driving BASIC score under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety-ranking program. Over the near three years since implementation, the company Unsafe Driving ranking has fallen by nearly 100 percentage points to among the best in its peer group.

Food and retail-products wholesaler and distributor Bozzuto’s Inc., based in Connecticut, installed the SmartDrive system throughout its fleet in 2011. The hope was to correct driver errors that led to moving violations, hurting the fleet’s Unsafe Driving Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category score under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. In nearly three years since implementation, the company’s Unsafe Driving BASIC ranking has fallen nearly 100 percentaage points to among the best such scores in its peer group.

James Berry of Bulkmatic’s Southeast region, speaking at the ALK Transport Technology Summit in May, noted a recent accident involving the company that included a fatality. “We’ve already exonerated that driver,” he said, using video captured by the SmartDrive SR3 cameras.

The existence of a video record of an accident is considered a “double-edged sword” by many fleet representatives. Others view it as a plus even in cases where the truck driver is demonstrably at fault because the video record heads off attorney’s fees that would have been wasted on a losing battle in court.

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Some drivers at fleets with dual-camera systems are using them manually themselves for other reasons. Chief among them at Bulkmatic, says Berry, is to head off an irresponsible four-wheeler’s call-in complaint: The most common manual activation of the SmartDrive cameras is when a four-wheeler is cutting off a driver, Berry says. “Maybe a rude gesture is involved, and ‘they could have called in on me, so I just hit that clip,’ ” he notes, paraphrasing a typical driver comment.

Serial problems at certain customers’ docks, too, have been called out by drivers using the manual trigger, providing the back-office staff time-stamped documentary evidence of on-time arrival to an unprepared loading location.

 

Tune in Wednesday for Part 2 in this series, about the need for fleets and camera vendors to ‘honor the privacy bargain’ with drivers. 

  • truckboner

    Just another way for this hippie democrap libtard government to spy on us hard working republican truckers! I think we should have cameras following Obama around everywhere and make sure he is always doing his job right!! Once again its all the liberals fault!

  • fedupru

    Stick those cameras where the sun don’t shine. outbound is great, inbound is an invasion of privacy and perversion.

  • martymarsh

    And you know what is really fantastic about having a camera in your face, they can actually see if the harassment is working.

  • gemstoneprincess

    Listen, I have no problem photographing everything that goes on outside and all around the circumference of my truck. But it’s way too much to tape my every move. I deserve more respect and more privacy than that. Would the executives & politicians like this in their lives?

  • gearjammer2000

    any driver in today’s trucking that allows this to happen doesn’t need to be behind the wheel, their IQ isn’t high enough to ride a bicycle let alone handle 80,000 lbs of rolling metal

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  • Br0kensteal .

    I put tape over mine

  • Phil

    All you that grip about this make no sense its done in the airline business and if you would not text and drive or watch videos or read when you should be driving in might not be needed. I have had a camera system on my truck for a couple years now and it as saved me twice from being held at fault for accidents. It seams to me those that grip the most have the most to hide

  • metroman

    Guess what…they do have cameras following Obama 24/7. Documenting everything that he does. So…what now?

  • Steve

    Isn’t there a song, “Somebody’s watching me?”

  • Paul

    i have outward facing cameras forward and rearward along with side cameras and cameras with zoom and sound in my reefer and they have paid off on damaged freight by shipper receivers and damage to my trailer paid for by shipper and receiver. And drivers who don’t know how to back a trailer up.

  • Robert

    Not in his home friend. Just to the Golf course or for some special photo opt

  • localnet

    Ok, where is the video from 9/11/12, immediately after Benghazi was attacked and Americans murdered? Obama went AWOL, would be nice to know.

  • localnet

    I have thought of a forward facing camera, to protect myself in the event of an accident. Key word here , “thought” about it. A mandated one, especially in cab, not on your life. What would be nice is a rear view camera, on the back of my trailer, with a monitor, for backing. Now that would be sweet… And I know how to back… ;)

  • localnet

    What system, or cameras are you using? I’m a tech junkie, and love stuff like this… Is it all hard wired? And how do you transition the video signal from the trailer to your tractor? Wireless? Cat5 and video Baluns, or coax? If hard wired to your tractor from the trailer, are you using a separate pigtail of some sorts? Really interested in how you did this.

  • guest

    Thats whatcha need..a camera poking in yer face! Lots of fun. Office workers can “Coach” you?? On how to drive…and be a good suck ass? Really nifty….we did get along fine WITHOUT this garbage since trucking BEGAN…these Rich Guys have statrted a Sales Campaign to install this trash and get RICHER……rediculous trash like the ELOGS.

  • guest

    Next will be Shock Collars for truckers……who do wrong..lol

  • Paul

    i have a 12 ch Sony rough service security camera setup to a 2tb blue-ray gives me 200 hours continuous recording all cameras 12v dc hard wired power wireless transmit night vision 0 light clear vision 150ft have a small antenna to receive trailer up to 2000ft not all cameras have sound and tilt but all have digital zoom up to 500 ft with clarity. can turn on and off motion alarm for each camera a lot of little fun abilities like watching to see when walmart really starts to unload the trailer. system installed cost me 3700 well worth the investment and i only have 8 of the cameras mounted right now and thinking where to put the others.

  • Guest

    Invasion of privacy. The company will want you to sign a contract that has clauses in them that get you to agree to being spied on.

  • Michael

    Invasion of privacy. The company will want you to sign a contract that
    has clauses in it that gets you to agree to being spied on.

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