Waving the video wand

July 14, 2009
“A good risk manager knows there is no ‘silver bullet,’ no ‘one thing’ that will eliminate all your risk. Anyone who tries to market their product to us in that manner gets the door. We recognize there are a number of tools, not all necessarily equal, ...

A good risk manager knows there is no ‘silver bullet,’ no ‘one thing’ that will eliminate all your risk. Anyone who tries to market their product to us in that manner gets [shown] the door. We recognize there are a number of tools, not all necessarily equal, that, when applied, will collectively reduce risk. [But] this has been one of those tools which exceeded our expectations.” –Danny Pack, senior vice president-risk management, Loomis Armored

There’s been a lot of activity on the in-cab video technology front of late, with two studies being released within several weeks of each other. The first is an in-house case study SmartDrive Systems conducted with Loomis Armored, a big customer of theirs that employs over 8,000 people and operates a fleet of some 3,000 armored trucks and other vehicles in the U.S. The second is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) funded project conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) with two over-the-road fleets, both using DriveCam’s driver risk management program.

Both studies reveal some very interesting data – though you’ll have to wait until next week (12 noon on July 22 to be precise) for the full results of the FMCSA project, as that’s when VTTI’s Lead Researcher Jeff Hickman will be conducting a webinar about it (you can click here to sign up for it).

The FMCSA/VTTI study involved 100 trucks – both long haul and short haul – over a 17-week period, with four weeks spent establishing a baseline and 13 weeks using the video-recorded data to adjust and improve driver behavior and skill sets. The results were interesting to say the least, as the number of risky driving events fell by 52.2% in the first fleet and 37% in the second fleet based on their use of DriveCam’s in-cab video system to gauge and adjust driver skills

“Both carriers (long-haul and short-haul) significantly reduced the mean frequency of recorded events/miles traveled from baseline to intervention,” VTTI’s Hickman said. “The results prove that the combination of onboard safety monitoring and behavioral coaching were responsible for the significant reduction in the mean frequency of events/miles traveled at both carriers.”

Loomis Armored reported similar results with its use of SmartDrive’s technology. It’s six-month study, involving over 1,000 vehicles, more than 2,800 drivers and recording nearly 700,000 measured driving events, resulted in a 53% reduction in collision frequency.

Although Danny Pack (at left), Loomis’ senior vice president-risk management, stressed to me in an email conversation that his company already runs an exceptionally safe and responsible fleet, they still recorded significant per-driver improvements across four important metrics that are leading factors in collisions. Those factors were: Distracted driving (a 54% drop); fatigue behind the wheel (declined 56%); non-use of seatbelts (dropped by 68%); and incidents of speeding (cut by 53%).

“While having a safe fleet is our objective, as with any area of improvement, you cannot sit on your laurels,” Pack told me. “We owe it to our employees, our customers and the general public to continuously seek ways to prevent injury and provide value. In these economic times it is easy to put off investment; however, our leadership recognizes our business is built on managing risk well. So being able to quantifiably reduce collisions, send drivers home safe each night, and reduce our fleet expenses at the same time are extremely rewarding on many levels.”

Yet in-cab video – the constant real-time monitoring of truck drivers at work – is, to put it nicely, resented across much of this industry. Most drivers consider themselves professionals and are deeply offended when the talk turns to the use of in-cab video to monitor their performance on a second by second basis.

I talked to Pack a little about this and he said Loomis quickly recognized this as a major hurdle as well. “We too had a concern on how employees would react to the possibility of ‘Big Brother’ looking over their shoulders,” he told me. “However, throughout my career I found there is no substitute for good communication. That means explaining AND listening. We knew not everyone would be 100% sold on the idea. Nor was that necessarily our objective. We had to make sure we explained the benefits to them individually and to the company as a whole.”

For example, he said, all too frequently there is a dispute “your driver ran the light and hit my car” or “your driver cut me off and struck my vehicle,” etc. “We are also a company at high risk for attack,” as Loomis transports cash, jewelry and other valuables for a living, he noted.

“So we were also able to show employees how they could use the camera to capture suspicious individuals or vehicles so we are able to work more closely with law enforcement too. Showing real video clips of these types of incidents that exonerated our driver, many saw the benefit to them personally,” said Pack. “Our company also has a very well publicized ‘hotline’ which employees can use anonymously. Since these all initially come through our risk management department, and they are not shy about using it, I can confirm we have not had a single call or complaint on how SmartDrive has been used or concern regarding our expansion” of its use.

That’s right: Based on these strong results, Loomis is implementing the SmartDrive program in another 1,000 vehicles this year, which will mean over two-thirds of its fleet will be equipped with this technology.

The way Pack sees it, “This is another tool in the [safety] toolbox; however, this just happens to be a power screwdriver instead of a manual one.”

From his risk management perspective in the fleet business, there is always a better mouse trap, so it behooves any fleet to go out and test it to see what benefits it can provide.

“I see these [in-cab video] tools as not just a way of improving our safety or security programs but bring our human resources, operations and loss prevention teams more closely together to find mutual solutions which will reduce turnover, improve productivity and meet our the number one objective: caring for our people, customers and the public,” Pack told me.

So while in-cab video might not be a magic wand, with the ability to “wave away” accidents, injuries and costs, it sure seems – in the right hands at least – to give fleets and their drivers an opportunity to achieve improvements in all three of those areas. Now the trick is to see if the lessons from both these studies can be applied to the broader world of trucking just as effectively.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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