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Fleet telematics: Improving commercial driver behavior and fleet safety through technology
June 04, 2020
Despite the best efforts of fleet safety managers, terminal managers, and company risk managers, accidents still happen. Even those companies with regular driver safety meetings, fleet safety programs, enforced safety policies, and strong driver hiring practices will still experience accidents.
Even though many companies operating a fleet of vehicles today have those measures in place, accidents continue to occur. By the end of December 2018, 40 percent of all work-related fatalities were transportation incidents. In fact, for companies with fleets (including taxis, limousines and delivery vehicles), the annual accident rate is 20 percent.
For companies and their safety managers, finding the source of such accidents and fatalities is crucial to the health of employees and the company’s viability. Beyond the potential loss of life, there is the price tag: for employers, the costs associated with company vehicle accidents came to $57 billion in 2017.
Fortunately, there is another tool available that can help companies reduce significantly their fleet safety-related costs. Enter telematics. A combination of telecommunications and informatics, fleet telematics is a system of onboard communication services that can gather data on the driver and the vehicle in real time to help companies and drivers improve vehicle and fleet safety.
When telematics is used in commercial vehicles, the data provided can vastly improve driver behavior and mechanical safety. Fleet telematics can capture data such as speed, location, idling time, fast acceleration or braking, sharp turning, fuel consumption, vehicle issues, and more. Also, telematics can provide critical information in the event of an accident to improve settlement outcomes or exonerate drivers when the other driver is at fault.
Benefits of fleet telematics
When applied across a fleet, information provided by telematics can give companies insight into the effectiveness of their safety training, safety policies, driver hiring processes, and vehicle maintenance. Also, monitoring drivers can alter driver behavior noticeably. Commercial drivers who know they are being monitored tend to obey speed limits, reduce their idling time, and be more cautious when changing lanes or braking.
The ways in which telematics can help your company improve your fleet’s safety culture include the following:
- GPS data
Telematics systems come with GPS locators that monitor vehicle location, distance traveled, and speed. Also, telematics programs allow your company to map out faster routes, safer routes, and allow you to get updated information on traffic and construction. Also, companies can use telematics systems to get emergency assistance to drivers in case of an accident or breakdown.
- Driver scorecard
An onboard telematics system tracks driver behavior – speed, braking, accelerating, idling, and any behavior you think is warranted. The system can give your driver a score, which your company can use to augment driver training, or to apply rewards or disciplinary actions.
- Driver feedback
Beyond the data, fleet telematics systems can give commercial drivers a voice in how to improve fleet safety. By empowering drivers to communicate with fleet managers, telematics can help employees give valuable feedback and report concerns before they become accidents or costly issues.
- Risky behavior
Understanding what the distractions are for your drivers can help you build better fleet safety programs and stronger disciplinary measures for prohibited behaviors. Driver behavior can often be attributed to unsafe behaviors, such as checking text messages, changing radio channels, or using the phone while driving. Telematics can determine if your drivers are using seatbelts, conducting safety checks, or securing loads. And some telematics programs are able to lock drivers’ phones when they shift out of park or will not allow the truck to be shifted until the seat belt is fastened.
- Maintenance recommendations
Not all accidents are caused by driver behavior. Fleet telematics can be used to make sure routine maintenance checks are being performed on all vehicles prior to driving. They can also report potential vehicle issues. The system pulls engine data from in-vehicle diagnostics systems. This real-time data helps fleet operators keep vehicles maintained and in safe, drivable condition.The telematics system can also send warnings when mechanical issues develop, making it easier for managers to fix problems quickly, reducing vehicle downtime. Fleet managers are able to schedule preventative maintenance easier, keeping fleets on the road more consistently.
- Improved communication
Staying in touch with drivers on the road is much easier with a telematics system. By simplifying the communication process, drivers are automatically checked in and reports are provided instantly. Less paperwork means more time to focus on the job itself.
- Regulatory compliance
Thanks to the automated capabilities a telematics system provides, companies can easily establish accurate logs of driver activity and fleet maintenance.
- Onboard video recorders
Video monitoring of drivers works well to reduce accidents. In one study, video monitoring systems reduced truck-related motor vehicle accidents by 63,000 annually. The National Transportation Safety Board recommends that heavy truck and bus fleets use video monitoring technology. Video telematics system collects driving data and vehicle data along with video footage to help companies easily identify driver behaviors. Also,video telematics can help your company train drivers. Dash cam footage shows drivers their unsafe behaviors and can be used to reinforce driver education. Video footage can help companies protect drivers and their businesses by providing evidence in the event of an accident. Even in the event the video evidence is not favorable, it may allow for a quicker and less expensive claim settlement. Also, using video telematics illustrates to your customers, employees, and potential plaintiffs that your company is committed to safety and accountability.
Aside from helping drivers avoid crashes, fleet telematics can help reduce vehicle running costs, which include:
- Fuel consumption
- Vehicle use
Plus, an active telematics program can help your drivers improve their performance, thus reducing accidents. Because telematics systems are set up to help drivers communicate and do their jobs more efficiently, your company could see higher driver retention rates. Likewise, thefts and breakdowns are less likely to occur if your fleet is equipped with telematics systems.
The Comprehensive Fleet Safety Process
When adopting a fleet telematics system, it is important to communicate to your drivers the focus on safe driving and how critical their feedback becomes. Technology can help reinforce and encourage safe driving practices, but it can also open the lines of communication and empower drivers to play an active role in improving the safety of the entire fleet.
Telematics systems alone will not reduce your fleet’s risk of accident or loss. Fleet safety programs, strict policies, and strong driver hiring practices are essential parts of fleet safety. By adding telematics to that risk management plan, your company can improve significantly your company’s overall safety culture.
With more than 20 years of experience providing risk control services within casualty insurance lines, Chris O’Neill is a risk control associate with AXA XL’s environmental insurance team. He can be reached at Christopher.ONeill@axaxl.com.
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- About The Author
- Chris O'Neill
- Associate, North America Environmental Risk Consulting