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Pros & Cons: Driver-facing video

June 5, 2017
Saving lives & money VS invading driver privacy

Pro: They can help save lives (and money)

by John Billingsley, safety director, G&P Trucking

More and more fleets in the commercial trucking industry are recognizing the value of video-based safety systems. No other type of technology today is as effective in exonerating drivers and the company in collisions where the driver is not at fault, or helping fleet managers and safety directors in pinpointing specific areas of risk.

However, some fleet managers are hesitant to implement driver-facing event recorders in addition to road-facing systems for fear of resistance from drivers. Issues of privacy and mistrust are common concerns, but I’d like to lay those worries to rest.

When G&P Trucking first adopted the SmartDrive video-based safety system with both road-facing and driver-facing event recorders, we made communication with our drivers a top priority, making sure they understood how the system actually works—and works to their benefit. A common misunderstanding is that the driver-facing camera is recording at all times, and that a fleet manager can peek into a driver’s cab at any time. That’s simply not true.  All of the cameras, including the in-cab camera, only record when triggered by a G-force movement or other risky maneuver such as speeding, hard braking, U-turns, etc.

Early, frequent and thorough communication with our drivers about how the system works and its purpose—their safety and exoneration—led to a smooth rollout and widespread driver acceptance.

Another critical benefit of video-based safety systems that will bring peace of mind to drivers and fleet managers alike is exoneration. When a driver is in a collision, there’s no better way to know exactly what happened than with video evidence. We had a driver involved in a collision, and the SmartDrive video was automatically offloaded and sent to his mobile device within minutes. He was able to prove on the scene that he was not at fault and get back on the road with very little downtime. Our company also saved thousands of dollars in potential damages. Overall, in the last year G&P has experienced a 50% reduction in accident-related costs thanks to video.

Some may argue that these benefits can be achieved with road-facing cameras only, and that there is no need for driver-facing cameras. While any level of video coverage is better than none, driver-facing cameras are a critical piece of the puzzle for showing a complete picture of a fleet’s risk. Only with driver-facing event recorders can safety managers see what drivers are doing behind the wheel that could lead to a collision.

For example, drivers may be engaging regularly in distracted or drowsy driving, and have thus far avoided a collision by sheer luck. That luck will run out one day.

Having visibility into a driver’s risky actions gives fleet managers the opportunity to prevent collisions before they happen. The actionable data provided by driver-facing event recorders enables fleet managers to tailor training and coaching sessions for each driver. This helps the driver and the manager focus on the skills or habits that need improvement, saving time and resources.  

Finally, driver-facing video systems enable fleets to reward drivers for good driving habits. G&P implemented an incentive program to encourage safety shortly after adopting SmartDrive. By leveraging the unique driver safety scores generated by the system, our drivers can see if their score is too high, and what exactly they can do to improve. Our drivers—like most in the industry—are professionals and take pride in their work. When they have access to their safety scores, they have a natural inclination to improve, especially when rewards and incentives are on the line.

Overall, including driver-facing cameras in a fleet’s video-based safety system is the best and most complete way to understanding risk. It is paramount to controlling loss and ensuring the safety of drivers as well as others on the road.

On the next page, read the argument against driver-facing video

Con: They’re just not worth the stress

by Norita Taylor, director of public relations, OOIDA

News feeds on social media are filled with them every day. Videos from dash cams in truck cabs depict every kind of scenario you can imagine on the highways. Speeders, weavers, brake-checkers, red-light runners: There’s no shortage of idiocy to be documented. Modern technology has given us all a front seat to heart-stopping crashes and near misses.  Viewers of the videos posted on social media can offer their “expert” analysis about what went wrong, who was at fault, or what could have been done to prevent the outcome. But those popular videos are outward-facing cameras, showing us the viewpoint of the driver.

Based on what we’ve heard from drivers, it seems the added stress isn’t worth any possible benefits of inward-facing cameras. When polled, the vast majority of drivers have said that outward-facing dash cams are a great idea, but inward-facing cameras are an invasion of privacy and an insult to their professionalism. 

It’s fair to say that most people should be accustomed to a certain level of workplace surveillance. Cameras of some type are just about everywhere. But there are negative consequences to consider when you take away every possible unwatched space from a person. Managing people from the assumption that they are always doing something wrong lowers morale and causes higher levels of anxiety.

Truck drivers are already under pressure to deliver loads on time, comply with regulations, get through congested traffic, and find a safe place to park for the night. They don’t need the added stress of a camera constantly pointed at their faces.

A small number have said they think such devices could possibly exonerate a driver from accusations of distracted driving; however, this shouldn’t be necessary when there is so much other technology to monitor and measure everything else. Is the possibility of exoneration worth the possibility a video could be used to unfairly incriminate? Here’s an idea: Try an experiment with a camera facing you and see how often you scratch your nose, roll down the window, yawn, look at mirrors, etc.

If having to prove or disprove every move we make becomes the norm, what’s next? Body cams to capture maintenance practices and everything else going on while not inside the truck?

Manufacturers claim that the devices are intended to only retain recordings when a “triggering” or “hard braking” event occurs. But the level of mistrust among drivers is too high. Too many of them report getting harassed by companies that abuse the cameras.

If you are the owner of the truck you drive, it’s your choice as to what technology you choose. But no one really knows how much benefit it can provide. And in the case of employee drivers, what message is a motor carrier sending when installing these cameras? Especially to the ones with many years or miles of safe driving? Perhaps if you think you need that level of surveillance, maybe you should rethink your hiring practices.

Here are some other questions:  Does it record sound? Who has access to turning it on and off? Can it be hacked? Can recordings be recovered if subpoenaed? Will it become illegal to delete any of it?

It’s understandable that drivers feel they need as many tools as possible with so many false accusations against them. “Guilty until proven innocent” seems the norm instead of the exception.

Driver-facing cameras will remain extremely unpopular until more is known about how recordings will be used. With so much other technology, it’s just not worth the stress. For now, we see a driver-facing camera as a very pricey hat rack.

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