At last month’s American Trucking Associations annual conference, “video-based driver risk management systems were the highlight of the show,” reported Aaron Huff, an editor at sister publication Commercial Carrier Journal.
Truck-mounted video cameras have been around for years, but what’s changed is the emergence of specialists helping fleets to comb through zillions of hours of recordings to harvest useful data. (Overdrive’s July cover story by Todd Dills explored this in detail; read part one and part two.)
It’s long been touted that forward-facing truck cameras can, more often than not, benefit the driver and fleet in the case of an accident. For this reason and for security purposes, some owner-operators have willingly put in their own systems.
Fleets’ addition of driver-facing cameras, though, has raised privacy concerns. Video system vendors are working to address them. For example, Lytx’s DriveCam cameras are set to record only upon hard braking or another severe event. That’s a prudent compromise since even the best workers in any industry resent a spying eye during every minute at work.
Privacy also has been an issue during the many years of hand-wringing about electronic logging devices. As with ELDs, the reality of video systems is not so threatening for safe, experienced drivers. For other drivers, as trucking executives are learning, the real value is not just capturing wrecks or outrageous behavior, but also documenting less dramatic episodes of risk-taking or poor skills that can be used for ongoing training.
A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showed that use of a dual-camera system, combined with driver coaching, could reduce truck crashes by as much as a third. Even if you take the study with a grain of salt because it was sponsored by Lytx, more fleets, with all kinds of safety technologies to throw money at, are choosing to invest in these systems.
In one sense, video-based information is just another tributary in an ever-growing river of data flooding the computers of carriers and regulators. On the other hand, video is different. Police across the nation have been stung by videos from bystanders or cameras mounted on their own dashboards. Even drivers can be their own worst enemies, as shown by our recent coverage of how a driver’s self-published images hurt him and his carrier in court.
Owner-operators, being self-employed, might never be forced to adopt truck video. Or, in this overly litigious, insurance-sensitive industry, the day might come where having a camera is a precondition to getting insured.
However it plays out for independent contractors, experience proves that technology with benefits that outweigh its costs, especially when safety is a clear benefit, usually gets adopted voluntarily or mandated by the government. Solid company drivers and owner-operators concerned over injustices in the name of safety would do better to lobby their elected officials on changing the many problems of CSA that have been exposed by Overdrive and others.