How many alerts are too many alerts? Telematics providers offer insight on driver alert fatigue.

Driver uses phone
Telematics companies work to minimize driver alerts to prevent distraction and fatigue.
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Bruce Stockton remembers having to stop at a payphone to receive information on his next load and taking down directions on a piece of paper when he first started driving a truck.

Truck drivers today have more technology in their cabs than ever, from GPS navigation systems to dashcams to electronic logging devices and more, to help them more easily perform their jobs.

Opponents of technology in trucks say the many alerts from these devices can cause driver distraction and fatigue, ultimately rendering the technology not only useless but harmful. But Stockton, now vice president of fleet services at Wilson Logistics (CCJ Top 250, No. 100), said that’s not the case, and his company wholeheartedly embraces the newest technologies on the market.

“When I started driving a truck … we didn't have any telematics device on a truck that we were receiving messages from home base to tell us where the next load was or where it picked up,” Stockton said. “People talk about technology on a truck and all the distractions; well, I remember driving a truck and having my notepad of my turn-by-turn directions that I had written down from what somebody had told me over the phone, and that alone was a distraction to look down at a piece of paper that I had scribbled down where my next turn was more so than a handheld device or a computer screen on the dash.”

Distracted driving causes many accidents in the U.S. each year, claiming 3,142 lives in 2020, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But Nauto, a provider of vehicle safety technology for commercial fleets, said AI technology can significantly reduce distracted driving events and collisions rather than cause them.

Nauto’s AI performance builds from more than 1.3 billion AI-processed driving miles that cover a range of driving factors and edge cases, including drivers wearing sunglasses and masks, rainy and cloudy days, nighttime and other lighting conditions, congested urban roads with pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists, and a full range of vehicle types and usage patterns. The system fuses multiple sensors, including inward and outward video streams, vehicle dynamics and GPS in real-time to constantly assess risk and make intelligent decisions about whether to sound an alert and which alert to sound.

“There are often multiple situations evolving simultaneously; Nauto focuses the driver’s attention on the highest risk event and then guides corrective action with an appropriate prescriptive message and alert tone,” said Nauto Chief Product Officer Yoav Banin. “From the moment the technology is deployed, fleets often see an 80-plus% reduction in severe distractions and other risky behaviors within one to two weeks. For a majority of drivers, this happens automatically without manager intervention. Safer driving leads to fewer collisions, reduced injuries and damage and ultimately savings that typically range from 40% to 80%.”

In addition to the technology that offers driver training alerts, drivers may receive alerts related to their loads or HR content.

Canada-based Equipment Express uses Isaac Instruments to communicate with its drivers, and Compliance and Safety Manager Brian Sillett said his company’s drivers are accustomed to the dense amount of communication to the point where one older driver who was originally opposed to the system became to where “he couldn’t live without the technology.” Sillett said it doesn’t bother drivers if used appropriately. Brian Turner, director of safety and compliance at Isaac user Carolina FreightWays, said drivers understand that the system provides valuable information for their trip.

To prevent alert oversaturation, the system does allow fleets to send high priority messages – like changes to load destinations – with sounds and messages they can review at their leisure – like HR emails – with zero sound.

While a fleet has control over its messaging, that isn’t always the case when it comes to driver training telematics technology, and too many alerts can cause driver disengagement, frustration and even distraction.

Many fleets want to minimize any possible distraction, said Bill Westerman, vice president of product management at telematics provider CalAmp, which offers a platform that pulls data into the cloud and makes it available to managers so they can address problematic driving behavior with drivers directly. Managers can define what alerts they want based on specific activity.

“Like many things in life, there’s a tradeoff between providing that feedback directly to the drivers. On the one hand, it's very useful from the standpoint you're giving the driver direct feedback. They get it in real time so they can adjust their braking acceleration and what have you,” he said. “There are also some fleets that really try to reduce whatever kind of information is being displayed or sent to the driver because it becomes a distraction. So the positive of giving that kind of reinforcement is offset by the fact that the driver is distracted, and they really need their eyes on the road instead of looking at the tablet.”

At some point, though, those alerts may move beyond a distraction to something drivers simply tune out.

Banin said this can happen if a system alerts drivers at the wrong time or identifies a false problem, causing driver frustration and reduce overall effectiveness of in-cabin safety systems.

“Too many false alerts quickly destroy trust; they may simply ignore the alerts at best, and at worst they either disconnect, obstruct the system or even become angry, thereby increasing driver risk,” he said. “If a system can accurately alert in real-time on events and behaviors that are truly risky and can cause collisions, then there won’t be too many alerts. Improving drivers will experience decreasing numbers of alerts if the system performs properly.”

Here are some tips Banin offers to fleets that are considering adopting telematics:

  • First and foremost, check the performance and sophistication of the alert system’s AI. Ask about AI precision, inquire about independent lab testing results and investigate the range of risky behaviors detected and under what conditions. If comparing multiple systems, place them side-by-side in the cabin and go for a test drive; take note of how accurately each system triggers alerts and the timeliness of those alerts.
  • Choose a vehicle safety system that can identify and take into account driver behavior, external risks and vehicle motion and driver and location history data to assess risk, predict collisions and trigger timely audible alerts; assess the severity level of the event and trigger appropriate alerts; detect collisions and near-collisions with high accuracy; provide precise, prescriptive alerts; foster a driver-friendly approach; and ensure constant driver engagement.
  • At the end of day, you should measure risk reduction as indicated by reduced rates of risky behavior and ultimately reduction in collision frequency and money spent on collision claims and losses.