See change: Dash cams and telematics can reduce risks, enhance training

If a single picture is worth 1,000 words, imagine the value of video.

Dash cams now capture dramatic images of crashes and near misses alike, offering views that were once limited to drivers alone. (Check out popular YouTube videos from Russia and Korea for a few distressing examples.) In addition to helping determine fault after a collision, the videos even supply information about underlying habits before any damage is done.

Look no further than insight from the American Transportation Research Institute*. It found that drivers are 88% more likely to be involved in a collision after being cited for improper passing, and 84% more likely to face a crash after being convicted for an improper turn. Improper lane changes and failures to obey traffic signals are connected to 68% increases of their own.

The unblinking eye of the camera lens could spot these situations long before they ever attract the attention of law enforcers.

Some drivers are initially wary about the idea of every turn being monitored, and they will echo privacy concerns that were once expressed about satellite tracking systems. But proactive fleets have been able to demonstrate how the latest technology can be used to back a driver’s version of events, enhance training, and support incentive programs. Even the mere presence of a camera will encourage drivers to monitor their own actions more closely.

Choosing a dash cam

Camera choices determine just how useful the recorded images will be.

The clearest videos are produced by High Definition (1080p) equipment with night vision capabilities and a high-quality lens. Such features will be particularly important when trying to view important details such as vehicle models and licence plates. Other options such as motion detectors will capture images of approaching threats when a truck is parked. Rugged models with secure mounts and temperature-resistant designs, meanwhile, will be better able to withstand the operating environment of a truck. And small cameras will leave drivers with an unobstructed view through the windshield.

Some portable models can even be removed from their mounts after a collision, to record close-up images of any related vehicle damage.

Cameras equipped with larger memory cards will be able to store more videos before being downloaded, while versions that feature seamless video will immediately begin to record over the oldest files once available memory is filled. WiFi devices make it easier to download the content onto shop computers, and integrated LCD screens offer a quick look at the images from inside the cab.

Matching videos and telematics

As valuable as the videos can be, they only tell part of the story.

A more comprehensive picture emerges when cameras are matched to data from telematics tools, such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) that track exact locations and speed. Fleets which connect their cameras to Lane Departure Warning Systems will record videos when trucks gradually drift out of a lane – offering an early sign of someone who struggles in the fight against fatigue. And a system that ties the camera into vehicle Electronic Control Modules can record exactly what was happening during a sudden change in vehicle speed, such as a hard braking event, or during potential rollover situations that require the support of Roll Stability Controls.

A second lens pointed at the driver identifies other contributing factors, such as someone distracted by a mobile phone or rolling down the highway without a firm grip on the steering wheel. Not only that, it will identify other safety-related threats such as someone failing to wear a seatbelt.

The emerging reports make it possible to turn every incident into a teachable moment. The benefits that come with the training are not limited to avoiding collisions, either. The same steps will help to support the habits which improve a fleet’s reputation with surrounding motorists, reduce the wear and tear on components such as brakes and tires, and enhance fuel economy.

The data that emerges can even support related incentive programs. Those who embrace “gamification” regularly feed the data to drivers – offering a tool to monitor personal performance and show how close someone is to meeting specific benchmarks.

Like any other piece of equipment, these technologies come at a cost, and the initial purchase price is just the beginning. Operating budgets need to consider the price of monitoring the information and managing the data. Privacy policies must consider how information is collected, used, disclosed and stored, and fleet managers will have to adhere to any limits imposed by collective bargaining agreements.

But when everyone takes the time to consider the value of these systems, the real returns on the investments begin to emerge.

It is the type of equipment that can see a change for the better.

*SOURCE: American Transportation Research Institute study, “Predicting Truck Crash Involvement: A 2011 Update”.