PeopleNet's Mike Nalepka at the 2015 ALK Summit. Photo by Abel Communications.

Video increasingly viewed as legal shield for trucking

May 7, 2015
It's critical for liability protection and driver exoneration, PeopleNet argues

Mike Nalepka, VP of video intelligence solutions for PeopleNet, will tell you that in the majority of truck-car crashes, the truck driver is not at fault.

Yet in the majority of truck-car crash related court cases, the motor carrier is usually ends up settling in an effort to minimize costly litigation, he said during a presentation at the 2015 ALK Transportation Technology Summit in Princeton, NJ, this week.

That “litigation avoidance” strategy, however, is rapidly becoming a major financial pain point for the trucking industry – one he believes can only truly be eliminated by the use of video recording systems.

“In 2005, the average settlement and/or judgement paid by a trucking company in a fata truck-car collision averaged $3.6 million. By 2011, that had increased to $11.6 million,” he said. “Today, it runs between $15 million and $18 million.”

The numbers are no better when it comes to injuries, according to data Nalepka displayed during his presentation. Settlements/judgements in truck-car crashes where injuries occurred jumped from $195,258 on average in 2005 to north of $500,000 by 2011.

As a result, Nalepka argued that trucking is increasingly threatened by what he called a “new version of the ambulance-chasing lawyer” that exploits the often negative perception of the trucking industry to win large legal settlements.

“The truck driver is at fault in these crashes only 23% to 40% of the time,” he emphasized. “So these settlements are robbing the whole industry of efficiency – it affects everyone.”

That’s why Nalepka thinks video recording technology will be critical for the trucking industry going forward in terms of offering liability protection for companies while offering exoneration for truck drivers.

“We conducted a 90-question survey with customers and found the number one technology they now want is forward-facing [video] camera systems,” he said. “That’s followed by back-up cameras, left and right corner cameras, and then cameras inside the trailer.”

Why cameras inside the trailer? “Because many carriers are getting involved in disputes with shippers over missing [freight] skids,” Nalepka noted.

“This is a huge problem in trucking because any such dispute delays freight bill payment. Sometimes freight payment can be delayed over 120 days because one box off a skid is missing,” he emphasized. “That’s why customers are telling us they want this kind of video service.”

Yet the biggest role for video capture technology in trucking remains accident adjudication, Nalepka stressed.

He pointed to a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute that found even while car drivers are at fault 81% of the time in truck-car crashes, without video evidence, it is “unlikely” that litigation would be “favorable towards trucking companies.”

“Fleets are exposed, yet 98% of them don’t have a video solution,” Nalepka pointed out. “Based on our data, the average ROI [return on investment] for a video subscription service is less than month. That is why video is the real story here. It will protect truck drivers and their companies.”

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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