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Safety Spotlight: On the Record

Event logging and video recording systems offer safety and operational benefits, but scrap fleet managers must ease drivers’ minds about being monitored while on the road.
November/December 2017


Event logging and video recording systems offer safety and operational benefits, but scrap fleet managers must ease drivers’ minds about being monitored while on the road.

By Katie Pyzyk

Safety-Feature-On-the-Record-ArtE.L. Harvey & Sons (Westborough, Mass.) had concerns about its fleet of 180 vehicles. “Our accident rates were getting higher,” says Safety Director Jerry Sjogren, and there was “frustration with having a lot of ‘alleged’ incidents that we couldn’t prove one way or the other without witnesses.” Their drivers were being accused of dropping material that damaged other vehicles, for example, or causing damage at customer pick-up locations.

To get to the heart of these problems, the company decided it needed better information about what was happening while its trucks and drivers were on the road. It launched a pilot program earlier this year in which it installed MobileVision driver cameras from 3rd Eye (Katy, Texas) on 15 trucks. After seeing positive results, it decided to expand the system to the entire fleet.

The devices revealed some bad habits that could have had disastrous outcomes. “We actually found a driver at 2 o’clock in the morning driving 65 miles an hour down the highway with the cab lights on, reading his route sheet,” Sjogren says. “Those are the types of behaviors we don’t want.” Without cameras, the company might not have realized the driver was engaging in dangerous—yet correctable—behavior. “With all the distractions out there now, we found that we really have to take a more aggressive stance” with driver monitoring, Sjogren says. He’s certain the cameras have improved in-cab behavior in ways that reduce the risk of accidents.

Compliance played a role in Schupan & Sons’ (Kalamazoo, Mich.) decision to install Lytx (San Diego) driver cameras in 2013; the devices are now in 34 of the company’s vehicles. “With the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration being a little more stringent, we wanted to see our drivers and what actions they were taking out on the road,” says Gerald Anderson, Schupan’s transportation safety manager. “It’s been an extremely useful system for our company,” says Andy Wichman, the company’s environmental health and safety manager.

These and other scrap recyclers are realizing the safety and compliance benefits of vehicle-based monitoring technology such as electronic logbooks and driver cameras. Educating drivers and managers about how and what these systems record—and their defensive value—can help overcome any resistance, they say. And their potential to improve efficiency and lower costs are a bonus.

How They Work

Driver camera systems focus one camera inward onto the truck driver and one or more other cameras outward onto the road. E.L. Harvey’s trucks have five to seven cameras, with the number varying based on the type of vehicle. “For instance, a roll-off truck has five: … one looking at the driver, one looking out the windshield, one on either side of the rear of the truck looking forward, … and a rear-vision camera,” Sjogren says.

The cameras are running continuously, but they only record jarring events. Hard braking or swerving, for example, triggers the recording of a video clip. With the Lytx array, cameras record 8 seconds before and 4 seconds after a triggered event, and the system sends the clip to a center where analysts review and score the clips. “Every video clip that gets generated is reviewed by a human who determines whether or not that video clip indicates a coachable event,” says Gretchen Griswold, Lytx’s senior director of corporate communications. The review differentiates incidents brought on by road conditions, such as suddenly hitting a pothole, from those that show driver behavior in need of improvement or worthy of recognition. Lytx forwards the latter types of clips to fleet managers.

Lytx also gives scores to all of the video clips it receives—from 400,000 customer vehicles across a range of industries—and enters them into its archives to provide a large, consistent database on which to draw conclusions. “You may have a fleet of 10, or even fewer, scrap collection vehicles, but you will benefit from the collective knowledge of those 400,000 vehicles,” Griswold says.

The analytics also offer insights into correlative behaviors, not just causal behaviors. For example, when there’s any triggering event, the cameras note if the driver isn’t wearing a seat belt. This is relevant because, according to Lytx’s data, “drivers cited for seat belt violations are 3.4 times more likely to get into a collision than the average driver,” Griswold says. “The act of not wearing a seat belt doesn’t cause an accident, … but there is a correlative relationship.”

Electronic logging devices gather much of the same information as camera-based systems, but ELDs exclusively record data from the engine and do not have cameras. With ELDs, “we’re capturing things like speed, how much time the vehicle idled, various time spent in rpm ranges, as well as things like harsh decelerations and harsh accelerations,” says Keith O’Brien, vice president of product management and professional services for CarrierWeb (Atlanta). The device stores some information in the vehicle, but it transmits most of it back to the ELD host’s servers, and customers can access the information online. “That allows you, as a fleet manager, to look at your fleet—your entire fleet or one truck or one driver at a time—and see how they performed over a specified date range,” O’Brien says. “That gets translated into [monitoring] not only safety issues, but also maintenance issues.”

ELDs and driver camera systems both offer customizable features, such as the ability to set speed restrictions. You also can set camera systems to recognize whether drivers stop at red lights and stop signs. With that setting enabled, a driver violating either of those rules generates a video clip that goes to managers.

Additional features on both driver camera systems and ELDs boost safety in other ways, such as by flagging necessary maintenance. “This system is fully integrated,” Sjogren says. “We’ve signed on with the engine telematics so our maintenance staff can look at the vehicle and do diagnostics.”

Compliance Benefits

OmniSource Corp. (Fort Wayne, Ind.) has been using CarrierWeb’s ELDs on nearly 300 of its commercial fleet vehicles for the past five years. “It’s benefited safety in terms of [recording] hours of service,” says Lisa Merkle, Department of Transportation compliance manager. “Now there’s clearly not any question [about] hours of service.” The ELD tracks “to the minute, by the second,” Merkle says. “Theoretically, you could look at a paper log [to see] if a driver says they took a 30-minute break, but maybe they really only took 15 minutes,” she explains. “There’s no manipulation of the system” with ELDs, she adds. “[That’s] what it comes down to.” The ELD system and its GPS tracking capabilities—in conjunction with other company procedures and buy-in from management—have boosted safety, Merkle says. “Our unsafe driving score has improved immensely. … We have had a reduction in accidents.”

Tracking driver hours ensures compliance with federal regulations, and it’s also a factor in monitoring and deterring driver fatigue—a danger that studies have shown to be as hazardous as operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Although fatigue is a natural occurrence, humans ignore it and consequently put themselves in unsafe situations, Mitch Cowart, a Caterpillar Safety Services (Peoria, Ill.) marketing consultant, said in an ISRI convention presentation. He pointed out that an employee who shows up to work and reports being “just a little drunk” is deemed unfit for duty, but the same is not true for an employee who reports being “just a little tired,” despite strikingly similar functional impairment. That risk prompted Caterpillar to devise its own in-cab fatigue-detection system, which monitors a driver’s eye closures and head position and triggers audio or seat vibration alarms if the driver appears to drift off.

Overcoming Stigmas

Technology vendors emphasize that the systems aren’t a form of Big Brother, as some drivers fear. “There are a lot of myths and misconceptions that somehow you have the ability to peek in and watch the driver … without them knowing,” Griswold says. “But the camera only captures and … holds on to clips when an event is triggered.” Lytx stores video clips in a client’s account for 90 days and in its archives for an additional nine months. Clips drop out of the system altogether after a year.

At E.L. Harvey, “some of [the drivers] pushed back because they [didn’t] particularly care for the camera looking at them,” Sjogren says. “Our philosophy is [that] if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. These are tools to help you in many ways.” Even the drivers who initially protested the technology “get used to it pretty quickly,” he says. Many fleets already have multiple outward-facing cameras as a safety aid, such as backward-facing and side cameras that allow drivers to view their blind spots on a dashboard screen, he notes.

OmniSource hasn’t received significant pushback from drivers about the electronic logging devices, Merkle says. While she was researching the possibility of adding driver cameras, however, she found that other companies did report initial hesitance from drivers. The drivers adapted, though, and “seem to be receiving [the cameras] quite well,” she says. “Every one of us has bad habits. It’s a matter of how you feel about your bad habits being exposed.”

Further, “I think drivers have found over the years that these things can actually help them,” O’Brien says. As Merkle puts it, having supervisors “looking in on bad habits is much better than [drivers] trying to explain how an accident occurred, losing their job, and then upcoming employers may have resistance [to] hiring them.” The idea that the gathered data can exonerate drivers when they are erroneously blamed for incidents is one factor that often changes drivers’ negative perceptions of the technology.

Teachable Moments

These safety and transportation managers emphasize that driver monitoring systems are a learning tool to increase safety. Some systems provide predictive analytics to figure out which drivers are most likely to be involved in an accident based on their driving habits. Lytx runs an algorithm using its database of scored video clips to identify trends. “We end up with some really good, very precise predictive analytics that can anticipate which drivers within your fleet are most likely to be involved in a collision,” Griswold says. “You can work with them directly on changing their behaviors to prevent them from having collisions in the first place.”

Managers train employees about what electronic monitoring devices do and what events they record, and then they address documented incidents to eliminate unsafe behaviors. A recorded event is “a coaching opportunity,” Sjogren says. A supervisor brings drivers in individually to talk to them. “We say, ‘Here’s what we’ve seen, and here’s what we need you to do moving forward.’” If drivers continue the unsafe behaviors after a coaching or retraining session, the supervisors can use their discretion to determine if disciplinary action is necessary.

“Think about athletes and how they use game tapes to improve their performance, to become more aware of the little things that they’re doing that might be impeding their good performance,” Griswold says. “The same exact thing is happening with driver camera event recorders.”

At Schupan, the coaching has produced both quantifiable results and praise from drivers. “We use videos of preventable accidents or close calls [for training]. We get a release from the driver, and then we share that video with other drivers for training,” Anderson says. “We have several drivers that came back and told us it made them better drivers based on having the cameras.”

Benefits Beyond Safety

Concrete benefits of electronic monitoring systems tend to show up almost immediately, users say. Worker safety improves, which of course is priceless, but businesses report financial benefits as well. For Lytx customers, “the net result has been a reduction in collision frequency by about 50 percent and a reduction in claims-related costs by up to 80 percent,” Griswold says.

Monitoring systems can potentially clear drivers of wrongdoing when claims arise, which can save a scrap business significant amounts of money in legal costs and settlements. Schupan dealt with a serious accident case in which its driver was at fault, but a review of the video showed that the sudden onset of bad weather contributed to the accident. “Based on the camera footage, it dropped down what we paid out” by about 80 percent and saved the company several million dollars, Anderson says.

Drivers also can manually activate cameras if they find themselves in a situation they want to record that hasn’t been automatically triggered.
“If a collection vehicle shows up and the client wasn’t ready for them, or the gates were closed and locked,” Griswold says, the video recordings can prove the driver was there at the right time
and place.

The electronic logging system assists OmniSource in similar ways. “If a concerned citizen calls in and says that our driver lost material [on the road], … and we’ve done damage to their vehicle, the GPS on the unit helps in confirming if we even have a vehicle in that location,” Merkle says.

Gradually, “as you improve your fleet’s safety, your costs in insurance and accidents tend to go down,” Merkle says. Other carriers have found that to be true as well. “The insurance company is very pleased” when vehicles are equipped with monitoring devices, Sjogren says.

Other savings come from greater efficiency. The GPS capabilities on all of the common monitoring systems track the quickest and most efficient routes, which, over time, saves money in fuel and maintenance costs. Managers can use the systems to determine whether drivers consistently choose the most direct route or waste resources by traveling in more roundabout ways. “We can see where drivers are located and we can look at their idling times, which … saves the company money as well,” Anderson says.

All things considered, is a vehicle monitoring system worth the additional time and financial investment? “Absolutely,” Anderson says. Wichman adds, “It’s been instrumental in improving driver and public safety and lowering our FMCSA score.”

Katie Pyzyk is a contributing writer for Scrap.

Deadline Approaches for Installing ELDs

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has mandated that, beginning Dec. 18, truck drivers who must log their hours of service must do so using electronic rather than paper-based recording systems. FMCSA requires that the ELD systems record driving time at 60-minute intervals, including date, time, location, engine hours, vehicle miles, user authentication, motor carrier name, and driver ID. For more details, read “Transitioning Drivers to Electronic Logging Devices” by Commodor Hall in the September/October 2017 Scrap, or visit www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/resources. For a list of registered ELDs, visit csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/eld/list.

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