The next generation of driver training, Part 1: caught on camera

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Updated Dec 23, 2013

drivecamEditor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series on advancements in driver training technologies. Part two discusses classroom training. Part three evaluates new mobile technologies and ‘gamification’ strategies.

Last August, a C.R. England truck was sideswiped at an intersection. A few hours later, Marcus Edwards, the company’s director of corporate safety, saw the event unfold from his desk. Immediately, he knew the driver was innocent. The truck remained stopped until the traffic light turned green.

C.R. England, the nation’s largest refrigerated carrier (#14 on the CCJ Top 250), is currently testing two video-based driver risk management (DRM) systems.

Cargo Transporters (#214 on the CCJ Top 250) has had similar experiences using a video-based DRM system. Last winter, a driver was on a two-lane road near the company’s headquarters in Claremont, N.C. While rounding a corner, a passenger car drifted into his lane coming from the opposite direction.

Instinctively, the truck driver moved over to the shoulder. The car continued on its deadly path but only clipped the truck’s bumper. The video showed the truck driver had avoided a head-on collision by swerving off the road and overturning his rig.

“The car driver told the state trooper at the scene that he was reaching for his cell phone,” says John Pope, chairman of Cargo Transporters. Even without this confession, Cargo Transporters had convincing evidence.

The number of truck crashes has been trending down for a number of years. The cost, on the other hand, is rising sharply. On average, a single fatality costs $7 million. Big judgments of $10 million and more are common. Meanwhile, the average payout per injury is $321,000 and property damage $13,000, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Video evidence can put an end to frivolous lawsuits, but the real reason video-based DRM systems are growing in popularity is to eliminate accidents. The technology can identify risky behaviors early on and give fleets and drivers an effective training tool to eradicate mistakes that might otherwise become very costly.

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Caught on camera

SmartDrive and DriveCam are the largest providers of video-based DRM technology. C.R. England has been testing both systems. The products are similar, Edwards says; both continuously record forward looking and cab facing video and vehicle operating data.

The only footage that makes it out of the truck are short clips when risky driving events occur. The clips show what happened before, during and after an event like a sudden lane change, a rapid acceleration or deceleration or rolling through a stop sign.

“When we talk to fleets, it is not about collisions but about the risks that keep them up at night like texting while driving, speeding, u-turns, etc. This is the stuff that leads to collisions,” says Steve Mitgang, chief executive of SmartDrive.

SmartDrive and DriveCam upload the video clips and data surrounding risky events from the onboard device to servers in the cloud through cellular networks. The events are reviewed by behavior analysts before the next business day. Analysts score events according to individual fleet policies. Any contributing factors or non-safe behaviors like not using a seatbelt, distraction or fatigue are noted.

Fleets then manage the events using very robust online portals.

“If we see an incident that is unsafe, we contact the driver and tell him what we’ve seen,” explains Edwards. “Depending on the severity, we will bring him in and go over the action, put an action plan in place and reprimand. We may even disqualify them from driving.”

One of the differences between the two systems, at least for the time being, is the integration of data from vehicle safety systems. SmartDrive recently announced the inclusion of alerts and data from third-party active vehicle safety systems such as Meritor-Wabco, Bendix and Mobileye. High-risk events are separated from low-risk events and combined with onboard video, audio, and vehicle data into a unified view for driver coaching.

The presentation of event data is another major difference. Each vendor has designed their online portals to weave a very complex stream of data into simple and straightforward visual workflow tools to assess and manage driver risk.

DriveCam’s latest portal, version 3.0, has new role-based user dashboards with customized key indicators, including a stack ranking of drivers according to their accident probability. Individual events are also ranked and displayed by severity in a “to do” list tied to a workflow that is designed to improve “coaching moments” with drivers.

DriveCam also has a mobile version of its portal for the iPad so that fleet managers can review video clips and coach drivers while outside the office. Drivers can also visit a website for in-cab coaching.


Driver acceptance

One of the difficulties of implementing video-based DRM systems is driver acceptance. Some view these in-cab devices as an invasion of privacy.

“Some drivers don’t like it,” Edwards says. “They feel the truck is their house.” Once drivers understand how the system works they are a lot more receptive, but others may continue to have reservations. “Some have bad driving habits and don’t want a camera,” he adds.

When leading crash risk indicators like distracted driving, illegal cell phone use, speeding, and poor following distance are caught on camera, drivers have no room for excuses. This alone creates self-awareness. And when combined with subsequent coaching to correct bad behaviors caught by the camera, change is inevitable.

Bozutto’s, a wholesale distributor of food and household products to retailers in 13 New England and Mid-Atlantic states, is in the third year of using SmartDrive. To say drivers were reluctant towards having a camera in the cab would be an understatement.

“The initial rollout was a hostile environment. Drivers didn’t like it at all,” says Tom Halpin, transportation safety manager for Bozutto’s. The Cheshire, Conn.-based fleet employs 280 drivers. A town hall-style meeting was held during the rollout to assuage their concerns. Representatives from SmartDrive answered questions and explained the benefits of the system.

Halpin remembers a very different meeting six months later. Drivers were applauding the system for exonerating their peers from wrongdoing and the difference the system had made to the company’s safety record. Compliance, Safety, Accountability scores and accidents went down dramatically. The score in the “unsafe driving” BASIC fell from 27.1 to 7.8; accidents dropped 22 percent. Seat belt and cell phone violations went down from 30 per year, on average,  to zero. And for first time in recent history, Buzzuto’s insurance company did not raise its rates.

“We went from non acceptance to 360 degree acceptance,” he says. “Now our drivers would be hesitant to take it out.”

Almost immediately after Cargo Transporters began using DriveCam in June, 2011, it focused on drivers not using seat belts, a problem that otherwise would have gone unnoticed, says Dennis Dillinger, the company’s president.

“That was one of the biggest campaigns we took on. We have been very successful with it. We now find very few instances where someone is not buckled up on the highway,” he says.

Recently, Cargo Transporters has focused a training campaign on inclement weather and winter driving. Nearly all of its 525 drivers have received classroom training in October. As part of the course, the company included four incidents from 2012 caught on video.

“We did that for a couple different reasons,” Dellinger explains. One is to show that these types of accidents do happen within the company. The other is to show that experience can be deceiving. Two of the drivers in the videos had a lot of experience; the other two had much less.

“There was a broad range of abilities that drivers were able to see,” he continues. “Whenever we have conversations about driving and inclement weather, drivers say they are not going to run fast when there is snow on road. In all four of these incidents drivers were running at speeds that no one would think about on that type of highway, but we would not have known it without footage. Everyone swore they would not do it.”