Back in the good old days when I began covering this industry, the decidedly low-tech tachograph was the height of technology for monitoring driver behavior out on the road.
We're sure tachographs are still in use somewhere, but for the most part they have been supplanted by sundry computerized systems for tracking almost any activity a driver can put a truck through, good or bad.
Now word comes of another high-tech means for keeping an eye on drivers. And they may even welcome this one — since it can be used to dramatically prove when a driver was not at fault in a highway accident.
This promising device is a palm-sized, wide-angle video camera/recorder marketed by San Diego-based DriveCam Video Systems. Mounted behind a vehicle's rearview mirror, the DriveCam “event” recorder captures what a driver sees, hears and feels in the 10 seconds before and the 10 seconds after an “unusual driving incident,” such as erratic maneuvering or a collision. The recorder can also be activated manually to capture evidence of road rage or any other threat to safety.
Once triggered, the DriveCam stores the recorded video, audio and G-forces into a tamperproof digital memory. Each event type is assigned a priority by the system. An event already recorded in memory can only be overwritten by an event of equal or higher priority.
According to the company, the system has already been installed in over 1,000 commercial vehicles, including ambulances and other service vehicles.
DriveCam notes that many of these customers use the event recordings as part of a complete “driver feedback system” it offers that is designed to give both drivers and their managers accurate, unbiased information.
The digital recording allows fleet managers to view an event on a TV, camcorder or personal computer. The thinking is that seeing and hearing an event just as the driver experienced it will provide them with valuable feedback that can be used to improve driving habits.
The company recently launched a 12-month pilot program to evaluate whether installing its recorder in 150 commercial vehicles will reduce the frequency and severity of damage caused by unsafe driving.
Among the four fleets in the pilot program is North Babylon, NY-based Tran-Star Executive Transportation Services. DriveCam says that “within weeks” of installing the system in its 65 vehicles, Tran-Star began seeing loss reductions. And the company is already using the event recordings as evidence in accident disputes, helping to prove its vehicles were not at fault.
“DriveCam adds another dimension to the fleet management process,” relates Tran-Star president & CEO Steven Paul. “It gives fleet managers the opportunity to evaluate a driver's response to unexpected situations.
“In addition to reducing accident claims,” Paul continues, “it gives our managers the ability to counsel drivers about their specific driving habits, such as hitting curbs, cornering too fast, or accelerating too rapidly. This facilitates safe driving and ultimately can lower our operating costs.”
Loss control is indeed a key selling point for the system. “Fleets using DriveCam have already experienced a reduction in insurance premiums of up to 20% due to fewer losses and faster claims processing,” says Ed Andrew, president of DriveCam.
Andrew expects the data gathered in the ongoing pilot study will help further demonstrate the system's benefits to insurance providers.