What does a litigator want to know after a commercial vehicle crash?
Here’s how Jeff Burns, an attorney with the Kansas City, Missouri-based law firm Dollar, Burns & Becker LC, put it in his presentation to fleet managers at the NTEA Work Truck Show in March: “How did the company try to prevent this crash?”
After all, the plaintiff’s attorney is looking for a defendant that offers the highest potential settlement award – and a company is a much more lucrative target than the individual driver who may be at fault in an incident.
One of the things Burns said that companies could do to demonstrate a commitment to preventing incidents is to deploy vehicle tracking technology, like telematics, and make sure it's being used in ways that support safer driving and equipment operation practices throughout the organization.
So, how can utility fleet leaders use telematics to drive greater safety – and reduce risk exposure for their employers?
1. Keep Score
A starting point is to use telematics to monitor driver behavior so that management can provide objective feedback and coach drivers on any behaviors they need to improve, such as hard braking, aggressive acceleration, hard cornering or speeding events. You also can organize that data into scorecards that show drivers their own trends and how they stack up with their peers.
“When you start to identify for a driver directly what their score is compared to their peers or how they're trending as far as their overall driving habits, I think the drivers take notice – especially if the scorecard shows that they aren’t the top driver they thought they were,” said Kimberly Clark, telematics product leader with Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).
2. Integrate Video
Ryan Driscoll, marketing director at telematics provider GPS Insight (www.gpsinsight.com), said that his company is developing a system that integrates forward- and driver-facing cameras with telematics.
"It won't be livestream video at all times, where you can just check in as Big Brother," Driscoll said. Instead, the video would be made available based on exception – that is, a driving event that falls outside specific parameters set by management.
How does it work?
“Suppose the driver slams on the brakes,” Driscoll said. “When an exception like that happens, the system records the 10 to 15 seconds before the incident and 10 to 15 seconds after the incident so that you get a full picture of what happened that caused that event to take place.”
What can you learn from that video?
“Perhaps the driver bent over to grab his soda on the ground and took his eyes off the road for two seconds, and when he came back up, he realized he was too close to the vehicle in front of him and slammed the brakes,” Driscoll said. “This insight enables you to more effectively coach the driver on how to avoid doing something like that in the future and decrease his chances of getting into an accident.”
3. Provide Real-Time Feedback
It’s one thing to have data to help you coach drivers a day, week or month after a risky driving event has been recorded. But what if your drivers could get immediate feedback inside the vehicle to discourage high-risk behaviors?
This level of telematics capability is becoming more prominent and useful, Clark said.
"It could be an instance where the driver is speeding, say, more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, and that goes against fleet policy," she said. "The system would issue an alert to that driver in that moment – whether it be a buzz or a vocal command – that they've broken the policy. What often happens is that drivers aren't even aware that they are engaging in certain behaviors. So, it's helpful to provide an immediate interaction with the driver to say, ‘This behavior is not acceptable.'"
4. Call for Help
A few years ago, Rural Electric Cooperative (REC), a power company serving south central Oklahoma, went to GPS Insight looking for a system that would enable a lineworker to call for help in an emergency.
GPS Insight developed a panic button that REC’s lineworker would wear on their belt loop or somewhere else on their person.
“It’s basically a key fob with a button on it,” Driscoll said. “And when the [lineworker] hits that button, the system notifies dispatch of an emergency to send help to that location.”
The timing couldn’t have been better for REC. About five months after deploying the panic button system, a lineman had to use it.
"It was in an area that had been plagued by wildfires, and the lineman pulled up to a location to change a transformer," Driscoll said. "He didn't take notice of the tall grass around the truck and went up into the [aerial] bucket to start working. But shortly after, while in the bucket, he looked down and noticed the grass was on fire next to his truck. By the time he got down from the bucket, the truck had caught fire, with his cellphone and radio inside the cab."
But the lineman had the panic button on his belt, which he pushed. And the telematics system pinpointed his exact location and alerted dispatch to send help immediately.
5. Collaborate on Safety
When initiating a large-scale telematics deployment, it’s important to garner support from stakeholders in various departments across the organization to ensure the rollout goes as smoothly as possible, Clark said.
"Changing driver behavior also requires changing the culture, especially if you have a significantly high accident rate or recently had an unfortunate incident, such as a death or serious injury of one of your drivers," she said. "In that case, you're really changing a culture. And that means you need the whole team – the drivers, their managers, HR, legal and so forth – all there working together to build a strong safety culture."
The Bottom Line
While telematics can’t prevent all incidents, you can use it in smart ways that help you significantly improve driver safety and your company’s bottom line.