Today & Tomorrow

If a company could eliminate thousands, or even millions, of dollars in costs each year without hurting its service, it would be foolish for a manager to not explore that option. Yet, that is the situation for thousands of fleets each year as they fail to take advantage of the technologies available to them through predictive driver analysis. The concept is simple: use historical data combined with

If a company could eliminate thousands, or even millions, of dollars in costs each year without hurting its service, it would be foolish for a manager to not explore that option. Yet, that is the situation for thousands of fleets each year as they fail to take advantage of the technologies available to them through predictive driver analysis.

The concept is simple: use historical data combined with real-time data to develop driver profiles that can be used to identify potential safety issues among drivers before they occur. Based on the number of software providers in the field, business is booming. But just having the information isn't enough.

“You can't just take a printout and say [to a driver] the printout says you're worse than our average driver,” says David Melton, director, transportation technical consulting at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “You have to understand why they're doing worse…having the data and not using it is probably worse than not having the data at all.”

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute research, using the 2000 Bureau of Transportation Statistics Report, found the average cost of a truck crash is $217,000, with about $100,000 directly related to fleet costs, including medical costs, insurance administration, legal costs and property damage. The remainder is attributed to other consequences, including 26% of the cost to lost market productivity and 11% to travel delays.

IDENTIFYING PROBLEMS

“We looked at crashes and near crashes and we coded them based on the critical reason. When we looked at the [events], we found 14% was inadequate evasive action and nearly 11% — 10.8% — was internal distraction and 6.2% was external distraction,” Dr. Rich Hanowski, director of the center for truck and bus safety at VTTI, says, adding that the institute is now mining the distraction data in a separate study that will be published in spring 2009. The study also found 5.7% of the crashes involved “misjudgment of gap,” which includes following too closely and cars that moved into the driver's blind spot and were not deemed to be the trucker's fault.

Recent research on truck safety shows an unquestioned link between driver incidents and driver behavior.

A landmark American Transportation Research Institute study, released in October 2005, identified 587,000 drivers who received roadside inspections between February 1 and March 30, 2004. After identifying the drivers, ATRI researched each driver's record dating back to February 1, 2001, until April 30, 2004, through the Motor Carrier Management Information System and the Commercial Driver License Information database.

Using April 30, 2003, as the center point, researchers created two 12-month research periods. The first, May 1, 2002, through April 30, 2003, served as the control period. The second, May 1, 2003, through April 30, 2004, was designated as the future period. Researchers identified each crash, inspection violation or conviction during the control period and compared the drivers' records in the future period. Contrasting the incidents in the future period with the control period and cross-referencing that data with drivers who did not have an incident in the future period provided the researchers with the likelihood of a future crash.

In nearly every case, regardless of the violation or conviction, the prospects of a future crash increased. For instance, a speeding conviction raises the chances of a future crash 26%, but a following-too-close conviction nearly doubles the chances — to 50% — of a crash. Among the study group, there were 46,100 crashes during the time period.

A SELECT FEW

“There's a lot of historical data that [states that] perhaps 15 to 20% of truck drivers are responsible for 80% of crashes,” says ATRI's Daniel Murray, the study's principal investigator. “The goal [of the study] was not to take every driver who has something on their record and remove them from service. It was to mitigate [circumstances].”

Hanowski agrees. “With any fleet, and data supports this, there tends to be a high-risk group of drivers. I've heard fleets refer to it as the 20/80 rule — 20% of drivers create 80% of the incidents. With that in mind, if drivers are perpetually getting into the same type of events, it may be [improper] training.”

For some fleets, recognizing they need help oftentimes comes after a series of incidents. “When a company realizes a driver has been in a crash, and they look at the records, they think maybe we [could have done something],” Jim York, assistant vp of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering, says.

York explains that all companies will follow a similar path before determining their individual solutions. First, the company will start to compile data on crashes and other incidents. Then it will flag drivers who have a consistent pattern of behavior.

“Companies will start integrating information and generally the next [batch] of information is [motor vehicle] records,” York says, while cautioning against using just motor vehicle records. Those records, he says, rely on the reporting process as well as the speed of the judicial system. In some cases, it could be 30 days or more before a manager learns of an incident. Also, a manager may never learn of the incident because some states allow training classes to wipe citations off driver's records before they become convictions.

“Companies [then] start integrating historic data, including roadside inspections,” York says. “As early as 2000, Zurich was tabulating roadside data.”

WHAT'S NEXT?

Thanks to technology, fleet managers now have many different options to track their drivers' behaviors. Between historical data, safety studies and newer software programs that provide real-time data, managers can quickly identify trouble spots even before they occur.

“As I overlay historic information with the real-time data, our ability to predict driver behavior becomes more accurate and [the new programs] bring that into one house,” York says.

York cautions managers who believe it's as simple to eradicate problem drivers as buying a program. “The most important point is having a coaching component — or some people would call it an intervention component,” he says.

Melton points out that one issue remains and that is managers are not committed to preventing future incidents. “We're not going to recommend a particular brand of software [to a client], but we will make a manager aware of the tools available to them,” he says.

York adds that it's just as important for managers, owners and drivers alike to realize that most drivers will not fall in the center of the safety curve. The average driver, York says, falls on the left-hand side of the curve with the troubled driver on the far right. Few drivers fall in the middle. “If the company is going to make a difference and make an impact, a company has to understand the data,” York says. “All of their efforts, or the majority of their efforts, should be focused on the right side of the curve.”

For fleets, there are many options available — everything from simple data mining to complete solutions, including companies that serve in an advisory role.

If a fleet is interested in obtaining just driver data, there are companies like IVOX (www.ivoxdata.com) available to help. Its DriverScore 2.0, released in February, creates a “credit score” for drivers. IVOX partners with Laird Technologies, which collects the data using GPS, accelerometer and g-force shift data that is outside the norm of the vehicle to create a driver profile.

Craig Lotz, IVOX president, says the company uses the data and reports it in “sub-indexes” such as speed, time of day and aggressive driving index. “Because of the way we approach it, it's not just speed versus the posted speed limit, it also accounts for time of day,” Lotz says.

The program also creates data scores that companies can use to identify potential claims. “We gather claim data and we mine that against common behaviors,” Lotz says. An example of how a fleet can utilize the data is analyzing what the vehicle is doing by using the g-force data. One fleet driver, Lotz says, was found to be using his brakes instead of downshifting to slow the vehicle. Once aware of the behavior, the company provided more training and created a safer environment, while also saving on equipment wear.

CONSTANT MONITORING

Founded just six years ago by a group of researchers interested in driver behavior, GreenRoad Technologies (www.greenroad.com) has developed quite a reputation as a safety-first organization. Its Safety Center was researched and tested for several years before its launch in September 2007.

The system relies on hardware that “gives us the ability to ride along as a passenger,” GreenRoad CEO Dan Steere says. It records over 120 different maneuvers in the vehicle, reporting back to managers and drivers alike. A small display is mounted inside the cab, usually on the dash, and if a driver performs an unsafe move, a yellow light will flash alerting the driver of that fact.

“It starts with the driver by giving them information on their habits,” Steere says. GreenRoad has two objectives it focused on in creating Safety Center, Steere says. First, the company wanted to use technology to understand what drivers do behind the wheel. Secondly, it wanted to create “automated coaching [for] drivers and managers.”

The subscription-based system incorporates a Safety Stars reward program where drivers can accumulate points for safe driving and cash those in for incentives set by their employer. It also offers everything from data collection to recommendations for improvement by an assigned safety account manager. “We've been real careful in our product design to put the driver first,” Steere says.

According to GreenRoad, the system has reduced crashes by an average of 54%, cut at-fault crashes by 42%, and reduced repair costs by 49%. “The No. 1 issue in safety is [that] drivers themselves are just not aware of their habits. It's not being communicated to them,” he adds. “Most of the time, it isn't a skill issue. It's not that people don't know how to drive, it's just that they fall into habits.”

An interesting component of the system is the feedback method. The program will provide the interpreted data back to the managers, owners and drivers. Each driver can then easily compare their safety performance with other drivers in the same fleet.

FUEL SAVINGS, TOO

Another benefit to the program, just like most safety programs, is a fuel savings. The same techniques that make safer drivers also happen to correlate to a fuel savings, on average 7%, Steere says. Because of that, the return on investment for fleets is typically in the three-to-six month range for the Safety Center, Steere says, and the benefits are ongoing. “When you put a driver through a seminar, you can see a change in behavior that can last a few days. Because we're providing ongoing feedback, there is a much more sustained level.”

If fleets are looking for an all-everything solution, Interactive Driving Systems (www.virtualriskmanager.com) offers just that. Done in partnership with Zurich, the program provides support and data for each step in the process. This includes helping the fleet manager develop a safety plan.

“We try to bring the whole thing together as a total solution,” CEO Ed Dubens says. IDS's service begins with a check on what policies, procedures and training the fleet currently uses. “We do a lot of work right from the get-go,” he says.

Using its Virtual Risk Manager-Fleet program, IDS will compile, analyze, recommend solutions and help fleets follow through on the recommendations. Fleets can also purchase just one aspect of the program as well. Among the solutions IDS offers are driver training programs, workshops, DVDs and videos, and web-based programs.

“We try and start and evolve from policy and also from liability, which is the area that people don't like to talk about,” Dubens says. “Historically, road safety programs are reactive. The last 10 to 12 years, we've been pioneering a proactive [system].”

To gather the data, Dubens says IDS takes information from black boxes, motor vehicle records, crash data, risk data and many other sources, including roadside inspections and 1-800 numbers. “We put all that data together to create a driver risk,” he says. IDS will then categorize the drivers and rank them for managers based on their relative risk.

Dubens says with all the technology, it's still management's responsibility to follow through on a recommended course of action. “At the end of the day, we have to create a [policy] that tells the driver this behavior is acceptable and this behavior is not acceptable,” he says. “Weak leadership from [the driver's] boss to put in policies and behaviors they need” is the biggest obstacle companies still face.

For some companies, it's not until they face a significant financial penalty that driver safety becomes paramount. “Eleven-and-a-half million dollar rewards — these are not case studies,” Dubens says. “Those companies that have been close to a fatality… they will have programs in place. Eighty percent of companies [don't].”

Whichever program a fleet chooses, all the experts agree that managers need to use the data correctly. Using the information can help fleets reduce incidents and fuel costs, Melton says, but don't expect the big, immediate returns that some companies promise based on the software alone.

“A company that buys software or hardware to improve safety will probably also do something else like [make] changes in driver training.”

Another aspect to improving safety through IT is the buy-in from management. “Firms can make big improvements in their safety as long as, one, their management embraces it, and two, they use the data,” York says.

National notification on the way?

Despite the technology available, one problem area that continues to affect carriers is the timely notification of driver violations. With drivers from coast-to-coast, it can be months, even up to a year in some cases, before a manager becomes aware of a commercial driver's license status change.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, along with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the American Transportation Research Institute, is studying this problem through its Driver Violation Notification Service Feasibility Study. Two states, Colorado and Minnesota, performed pilot tests in July 2008. That data is being compiled and will be reported when a Phase II final report is released in 2009. The system would provide near real-time reporting of change to a driver's CDL.

For Daniel Murray, vp-research for ATRI, it's something that is needed. Murray says the combination of a high driver turnover ratio, the lack of a national system, and how companies can view incidents differently are issues facing the industry. At least in terms of CDL violations and convictions, this system would help solve that issue.

But will the system speed the notification process enough to make it worthwhile? The answer is probably yes, but the actual time improvement will depend on the individual carriers. Some carriers check their driver's CDL status once a year, some more often. FMCSA requires companies to check at least once a year. Also, a driver is required to report convictions within 30 days and suspensions of their CDL within one day. That doesn't always happen, FMCSA says. In an extreme case of the company only checking a CDL once a year combined with a driver not reporting an incident, the notifications process could be improved by eleven months.

Who would be in charge of such a system — government or private enterprise — is still open for debate, according to FMCSA. Currently, eleven states utilize some form of an employee notification system.

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