SAN DIEGO — Exhibitors at the recent American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition here last month displayed a variety of wares from expected products such as tires and transmissions to computer software for every imaginable business purpose.
This year, some of them displayed a product that could soon be showing up in tractor cabs everywhere: cameras. More correctly, cameras and the recording and reporting software that comes with them.
There’s no doubt that technology has brought many changes to the truck driver’s environment. Many of those changes have been for the good, and drivers quickly adapted to features like automatic, heated mirrors, satellite radio, GPS systems and satellite communications.
Some of the technological “advancements,” however, have been received cautiously by those drivers who didn’t reject them outright.
Satellite communications units, it was learned, could track and report vehicle location and driver behaviors such as speeding and hard braking. Electronic logging devices or ELDs did more than record duty status, they provided the carrier with an instant look into the driver’s day.
The camera systems for sale at the 2014 conference may well be the next technology adopted by the industry, with or without direction from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Dash cameras are already widely available at truck stops and many electronics outlets and many drivers use them already to record evidence that could help exonerate them in the event of a collision.
Some dash cams are combined in one unit with other electronic gadgets such as GPS units. Some carriers have adopted policies that prohibit driver posting of dash cam video footage to the Internet out of fear that the wrong video can harm the company’s image or even be used against them in liability litigation.
The dash camera units marketed to carriers perform the same function as consumer units, with one key difference: They’re designed to watch the driver as well as the road.
At the Safety Vision booth, one video claimed to show a four-camera, 360-degree view. One part of the screen displayed the view through the windshield over the hood; a second showed the lane to the right of the tractor-trailer; a third showed what the driver sees in the left and right West Coast mirrors.
And the last camera showed what the driver can’t see — himself. Shifting, singing, yawning, yelling or picking his nose, the driver was on display.
When asked if the camera recorded continuously or if, as with other products, it retained video only just before and after a specified “event,” such as hard braking, the rep explained that the camera actually monitors the driver’s eyes for signs of fatigue, such as nodding or excessive blinking, providing an audible warning to the driver when detection is made. The information is also reported back to the carrier’s safety officer or designate, he said.
According to Safety Vision marketing materials, the unit can be configured to provide daily reports of idle time, stop time, vehicle speed and driver fatigue. Optional capabilities include reporting seat belt usage, leaving a specified geographic (“geo fenced”) area, detection of texting and more.
Reports are arranged on a “dashboard” that allows the fleet manager or safety officer to access everything from one screen. The display includes the view from each camera lens, plus information from the engine’s electronic control unit (ECU), such as speed, RPMs and so on. E-mail alerts can be automatically sent to safety personnel when any of the camera’s “triggering” options, such as hard braking, occurs.
While the camera, like all such products, records continuously, the recorded video isn’t saved unless a triggering event occurs. The saved video includes seconds before and after the triggering event.
Then the salesperson demonstrated the unit’s accessibility to the safety officer. Pulling a smart phone from his pocket, he punched in a truck or driver number, and the same four-part display visible on the flat screen monitor appeared on the screen of his phone. “The system is accessible 24/7,” the salesman said, “by whomever the carrier decides should view it.”
Asked if there was an indicator light or audible tone that warned the driver when he or she was being observed remotely, he said there was none.
The SmartDrive “Assurance 360” product offers many of the same features of the Safety Vision system, including the computer dashboard display.
Marketing materials tout the camera’s available triggering options. The SmartDrive system includes U-turns, lane departures, swerving, hard braking or accelerating. If the driver wants to record a specific situation, the camera can also be triggered by pushing a “manual event button.”
While both the Safety Vision and SmartDrive products are marketed as tools for training and coaching drivers, and at least some of the purchasing carriers will use it in that manner, there’s little doubt that the recorded information could be used as a basis for discipline, including termination of employment, if the carrier deems the recorded infraction serious enough.
Con-way Freight, the LTL segment of Con-way Inc., has developed a coaching and training system that revolves around the Lytx Inc. DriveCam.
The DriveCam product offers many of the same features as the Safety Vision and SmartDrive products, but the most common configuration is a single windshield-mounted unit, with cameras facing in both directions.
Con-way driver Peter Ferguson is definitely a fan. “Everybody wants to do the right thing,” he explained at the Lytx booth in the MC&E Exhibition Hall. “Using peers to do the coaching makes it easier, because the drivers don’t feel as threatened,” he said. “I tell them ‘it’s just you and I.’”
Ferguson, a 30-year Con-way veteran, is a coach for the company’s DriveCam training system, which uses the company’s safest and most senior drivers to monitor and train their peers. Each day, he reviews the computer “dashboard” for each driver he is assigned to coach. He wants to be prepared to talk to them before their workday begins.
“You want to do the coaching at the beginning of the shift,” he said, explaining that drivers are more receptive to the coaching before they face the stresses of the day.
Recorded events are assigned a score on a scale of 1 to 10, indicating the seriousness of the infraction. Occasionally, an event rises to the level where intervention by a safety manager is necessary, but most infractions are handled by Ferguson and other driver-coaches.
“We use the Smith System at Con-way, and I try to connect the driver’s actions to the appropriate “key” of the Smith System to reinforce that it works,” he said.
According to Ferguson, most Con-way drivers like the DriveCam system and use it to improve their skills.
Like some other systems, the DriveCam has an indicator light that alerts the driver when activity is being recorded. “Sometimes, drivers come to me,” he said. “They know something was recorded, and sometimes they want to get a perspective on whether they reacted in the right way.”
Drivers sometimes trigger the DriveCam intentionally, Ferguson said, when they see a situation they want to discuss further.
Regardless of the brand or vendor, carriers will undoubtedly use information received from dash camera systems in different ways. Some drivers will appreciate the protection offered by dash cam recordings, while others will resent what they see as an invasion of their privacy and a further degradation of an industry that has long been known for its independent spirit.
Like satellite communication units, ELDs and other trucking technology, no one knows for sure what the future holds. There’s no doubt, however, that it will be different.The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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