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.
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 Overdrive’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.
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 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.
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.