Trucks at Work

Contemplating in-cab video

You may recall last week’s post digging into the reasoning regarding National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations for mandating various technologies on commercial vehicles.

You may also recall as part of that post the 45-page report recently issued by the NTSB backing the implementation of in-cab video systems on trucks and buses.

For starters, with you agree with the agency’s recommendations or not, recognize this: according to Mark Rosenker, NTSB’s chairman from 2005 to 2009, some 82% of the 14,000 recommendations issued by the agency over its history have resulted in regulatory change – even to passage of laws by Congress.

With a batting average like that, it’s safe to say the odds definitely favor the acceptance of an NTSB recommendation. Therefore, in the case of in-cab video, don’t be surprised to see a mandate for technology start to take shape in the near future.

And this isn’t restricted to trucking, either, for one of the key points Rosenker (seen at right) made in a speech at the 2015 ALK Transportation technology Summit last week is that such in-cab video is being considered for use in airline cockpits as well to help monitor pilot actions.

Rosenker noted that the critical technologies are being discussed in terms of boosting “real time” pilot and aircraft monitoring capability: a geo-ending style system that would alert ground controllers to significant aircraft flight plan variations; streaming of cockpit video recording (CVR); and streaming of critical flight data.

He firmly believes such technologies might have helped prevent the Germanwings Flight 9525 disaster back on March 24, wherein the suicidal pilot deliberately crashed the aircraft into the ground, killing everyone on board.

“On that first leg of the flight, he [the Germanwings pilot] dialed in five different altitude changes; one down to 100 feet,” Rosenker said. “If we’d been streaming that data, we might have been tipped off something funky was going on.”

He added, too, that putting a camera in the cockpit means that “pilots would know eyes are on them” and could as a result alter behaviors. “But pilots don’t like it,” Rosenker pointed out.

Not only pilots, either, for many truck drivers are leery of such in-cab recording systems, too, noted Mike Nalepka (at left), general manager of video intelligence systems for PeopleNet, during a presentation at the same ALK meeting.

“Drivers have told us they are uncomfortable with this,” he explained. “And it could be risky to use it if they don’t like it, especially in the midst of the driver shortage.”

Not only can there be legal and privacy issues when recording drivers at work via in-cab video technology, Nalepka stressed that such video will have to be produced in a court case.

“In our view, there’s a lot of data that can be taken from a truck than can be bundled with forward and other outside-facing video systems that offer trucking companies better liability protection and driver exoneration,” he said.

Those are indeed good points to consider. Yet John Billingsley (seen at right) – director of safety and training for G&P Trucking in South Carolina – provided an overview of how his fleet uses the SmartDrive in-cab video system as a way to not only improve their skills but aid in the “driver exoneration” criteria PeopleNet’s Nalepka stressed.

“There’s a lot of stress on drivers today, particularly new drivers, and the best thing we can do is find better ways to coach them and prepare them for the road,” he said.

When G&P decided to install SmartDrive’s in-cab video system – it’s now on 185 of the carrier’s 700 trucks – the company took one of its best veteran drivers off the road and made him a “driver improvement coach” dedicated to taking the SnmartDrive video and helping the fleet’s drivers learn from it.

“It’s an improvement tool only and he is allowed to do no firing based on the video,” Billingsley explained. “He’s one of our best drivers, very well spoken, and what he does is take everyone through the vehicle soup to nits to explain our safety program and why we have the technology onboard that we do. His sole purpose in life is to teach you how to drive that truck better and safer.”

[Below is a SmartDrive video clip from a different fleet showing how such training helped a driver reduce not only the severity of a collision but showed that they were doing the “right” things behind the wheel.]

The tack G&P takes with this technology is that the driver is the one who contributes most the safety profile – and to the risk profile – of a fleet. “So as an improvement tool, video is second to none,” Billingsley noted. “We see the driver as an individual and we see their driving set within other truck data, such as fuel economy, hard braking, etc. We see exactly what areas they need to work on or NOT work on. And the viewership of their video is highly limited.”

So, does it work? Here are just some of the results G&P discerned after deploying SmartDrive for about a year:

  • No seatbelts: down 10.38%
  • Too short following distance: declined 21.18%
  • Distracted driving: decreased 23%
  • Speeding: down 56.91%
  • Overall fleet risk profile: lessened 42.8%

Billingsley added two interesting points to the mix as well. The first is that G&P now uses truck data combined with the video to award performance pay – because if you’re driving safely and doing the right things, you should be rewarded for it, he explained.

The second, though, regards how G&P’s adoption of in-cab video as part of its overall safety program changed its view of what makes a truck driver truly “great.”

“In the past, our ‘best’ truck drivers used to be the ones who never went home, who were always available, and who drove the most miles,” Billingsley emphasized. “Now we look far more closely at fuel economy and safety performance. More importantly, we’re no longer looking at truck drivers like a mass of cattle; this technology has allowed us to zero in on specific individual performance. That’s why we’ve found the acceptance of this [in-cab video] technology to be very high.”

Something to consider as the day may not be far off when such systems become mandated in trucking.

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