Rob Arbeiter, safety director for waste hauler Custom Ecology Inc. (CEI), is exceeding blunt when it comes to describing what life is like on the road for commercial fleets: “Our drivers are in the war zone every day.”
By that he means CEI’s 767 tractors and 100 service vehicles face all sorts of tactical hazards, especially from other motorists, that can cause crashes.
Indeed, in 2013, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) cited analysis by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) that showed actions by car drivers were “assigned factors” in 81% of some 8,309 truck-car collisions the school studied, compared with 27% of truckers.
[Those totals were greater than 100%, UMTRI noted in its report, because 10% of crashes assigned blame to both car and truck drivers.]
Other UMTRI findings in that study: Cars were the “encroaching vehicle” in 89% of head-on crashes; were at fault in 88% of opposite-direction sideswipes; at fault in 80% of rear-end crashes and in 72% of same-direction side-swipes.
So how is Arbeiter trying to better protect CEI’s fleet against such “tactical threats”? By creating a “Top Gun”-style training environment for its drivers, complete with in-cab video study sessions.
Mirroring elements of the classroom scene in the Top Gun movie, Arbeiter told Fleet Owner he uses Lytx DriveCam in-cab video clips automatically captured during hard braking and other safety incidents to conduct “pre-flight” and “post-flight” briefings for CEI’s drivers.
“We’re looking for little things that will help us eliminate accidents, protect our drivers, and save money,” he explained.
[Here’s a short clip discussing the philosophies underpinning the “real” Top Gun when it comes to training Navy fighter pilots for combat missions.]
For example, back in January, a CEI truck hit by another vehicle got forced off a rainy and wet road, rolling over and putting driver in an intensive care unit (ICU) for a month. While the wreck wasn’t CEI’s fault, the video revealed that the fleet’s driver wasn’t scanning his mirrors at regular intervals – instead, he focused almost exclusively on the road ahead.
“If he’d been checking his mirrors, he might’ve seen the other vehicle approaching at a high rate of speed and hydroplaning as well before he got cut off,” Arbeiter said. “While our driver wasn’t at fault, we want that incident to provide benefit to our other drivers. We’re able to show, rather than tell, drivers how they can sharpen their skills.”
Arbeiter added that such video “analysis” is also commonly used in sports, which is one way he “sells” the concept to his fleet’s drivers.
“What’s the first thing you see an NFL quarterback doing when he leaves the field? He goes over the sideline, picks up a Microsoft Surface tablet computer, and start reviewing video of the previous plays,” he emphasized.
“That’s why we are using it,” he stressed. “We look at you, the truck driver, as a professional going out and facing non-professionals every day. And this is how we’re going to make you a better driver as well as protect you.”
CEI is also recognizing significant savings from its use of in-cab video from 2012 to the present, reducing collision-related costs by up to 80%. Arbeiter noted that while it costs CEI about $300,000 a year to equip all of its heavy trucks – including its 40 owner-operator units in Canada – the company saves 10 times that across a wide swath of areas.
“Take our owner-operators; that truck is their business, their livelihood, and I am paying to protect it,” he said. “They were stand-offish at first but then I showed a video of a woman deliberately backing up into one of our owner-operators in Florida. She gets out claiming he ran into her, claiming she’s hurt, and all he says is ‘I’ve got it all on video.’ And she gets back into her car and takes off. The video just saved his livelihood.”
That “protective envelope” video provides also came into play in a much scarier situation involving one of CEI’s company drivers in North Carolina, who crashed into a car that ran a stop sign.
“He was going the speed limit and had less than a second to stop. But we had the video downloaded to law enforcement in two hours and we were not blamed for the crash,” Arbeiter noted. “Video exonerated our driver and fortunately no one got hurt.”
More importantly, though, it gave him a real-life traffic situation to show to CEI’s drivers, so they could break it down and look at ways to heighten their protective mindset at such intersections.
“Now that video becomes an education tool,” Arbeiter explained, much like gun-camera footage from a jet fighter is used to help pilots improve their dogfighting skills so they can survive and win. “It’s my job to get our drivers home safely. That is where the value is in video and you can’t put a dollar value on that.”