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Monitoring Driver Behavior can Improve Safety and Reduce Costs

monitoring driver behavior
By Jim Beach, Contributing Editor Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

Driver monitoring has evolved tremendously in recent years. Some carriers still rely on reports from a 1-800 “how’s my driving” number to find out when a driver is driving poorly, but many more are putting technology to work to take advantage of near-real-time reporting on driver performance. Today’s technologies allow fleets to keep track of not only where their trucks are at any moment, but also how the trucks are being operated.

Fleets have become more interested in tracking driver behaviors, particularly in response to the new CSA enforcement program put in place last year by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

“The biggest things we are seeing a push for (from customers) is driver performance and driving habits,” said Robin Hamlin, product manager for McLeod Software. “Anything to do with driver performance such as lane changes, braking and quick starts.”

Ray West, vice president and general manager of the Innovative and TL200 divisions at TMW Systems, said his company’s customers want information from collision avoidance and stability systems transmitted back to the home office. Fleet managers can then use this information in predictive modeling based on driver behavior to help prevent accidents and to identify drivers who may need additional coaching and training.

“Safety, cost and regulations are driving carriers to automate the driver management process with mobile communications tied to equipment on the truck and the trailer,” West explained.

Jim Sassen, senior manager of product marketing for Qualcomm Enterprise Services, agreed that in recent years there has been a rise in the emergence of safety systems that can monitor following distance and lane departures.

“There is no doubt that driver safety remains an increasingly important issue with fleets,” Sassen said. “In addition to the need to manage the high costs associated with accidents, many of our customers are also finding that their increased focus on safety is also leading to greater driver satisfaction and retention.”

Info on the truck

Brian McLaughlin, chief operating officer for PeopleNet, says safety, security and compliance have become important issues for fleet managers. Mobile communications companies such as his are working with other providers to integrate information from devices such as lane departure monitoring systems, rollover prevention products, speed monitoring and black box data that captures what happens in the moments before a truck crash. He says customers also are interested in the ability to remotely shut the truck down. “That is our largest growing segment of applications that we deliver,” he said.

The amount of information that can be accessed from the truck’s electronic control module and other systems is astounding. For instance, Rand McNally’s new in-cab mobile communication product, the TND 760 Fleet Edition, monitors more than 200 metrics collected from the vehicle, such as vehicle speed, idle time, hard brake count, cruise control usage, coasting out of gear, rpm and more. Captured in a Web-based fleet management application called FleetWatcher, some metrics can be viewed in near real-time by the fleet, and some via exception-based reports. Fleets can receive e-mail alerts for exceptions. It also integrates with back-office management from providers such as TMW and McLeod. (T­his is in addition to navigation, e-logs and wireless communications.)

There also are companies that focus specifically on the driver monitoring aspect. Take GreenRoad Technologies. Its GreenRoad Safety Center is a system installed in the truck that monitors up to 120 driving maneuvers and alerts drivers to unsafe handling, such as hard braking or improper cornering. An LED display in the cab flashes a green light when a maneuver is safe, a yellow light when it is unsafe, and a red light when it is hazardous. The system also provides detailed reports through GreenRoad Central, a Web portal where drivers and managers can pull a history of each driver’s behavior and look at overall patterns.

Seeing in and out of the cab

Some systems are using video cameras to offer insight on what’s going on both in and out of the cab. For instance, C.R. England and Dart Transit recently entered into partnerships with Mobileye, a technology company that offers collision-avoidance and lane departure warning systems.

The Mobileye system uses a camera mounted on the vehicle’s windshield that records at 15 frames per second. The system identifies lane markings and vehicles beside and in front. Algorithms within the system determine if there is a risk based on closing speeds between the truck and the vehicle in front. Audio and visual alarm is given if a collision is imminent. The lane departure warning system sounds an audible alert when the truck moves too close to the lane markings on either side.

It’s not just in-cab alerts, however. The system can also send notifications of following time violations or lane departures back to the fleet via the truck’s onboard mobile communications systems such as those from Qualcomm, PeopleNet and DriverTech.

Skip Kinford, chief executive officer of Mobileye, said fleet managers can select the types of notifications they want. For instance, some may only want to be alerted to following-time violations and not lane departure events. “The fleet manager can then use the information for training and coaching their drivers,” he said.

With a driver shortage plaguing the industry, Kinford noted that “fleets want to retain their drivers, but want to improve their drivers at the same time.”

Monitoring driver behavior can extend beyond what is happening on the roadway to behavior inside the cab. SmartDrive’s system uses video and vehicle data to identify critical safety issues. The device is triggered by sudden vehicle movements, such as swerving or hard braking, or by speed-sensor information from the vehicle’s computer. This system records video of driving incidents from inside and in front of the vehicle before and after an event.

These events are transmitted to a SmartDrive review team, where teams score the events based on 50 driving observations, including what the driver was doing just before the event. Once the event has been analyzed by the review team, that information is made available to the fleet via a Web-based response center.

Fleet managers can then use the information for driver coaching or training. This enables them to focus their efforts on the riskiest drivers or the riskiest driving behaviors. And unlike systems that simply track data such as hard braking or speeding, the video of the events themselves can be used in training/coaching drivers.

Another camera-based system is DriveCam. Its video event recorder continuously monitors and captures driving behavior, and provides real-time driver feedback. Exception-based video and data are uploaded via cellular connection to DriveCam’s Data Center, where they are immediately available to the fleet. Proprietary data analytics, combined with expert video review, highlight the causes of poor driving and prioritize actions needed to reduce fleet risk and operating costs. Configurable alerts direct fleets to online tools, including hotspot mapping for analysis of poor driving.

Different strokes

Of course, different fleets have differing driver monitoring needs.

“I don’t see mass adoption of lane departure or driver cams or crash avoidance systems,” said Christian Schenk, vice president of product marketing for Xata Corp. “Where we have more aggressive adoption is inside private fleets. In a for-hire environment, the truck is a revenue generating machine and it becomes a question of how you can pull cost out of it.”

And size does matter. “I don’t think you will see companies between five and 100 trucks start buying these systems, because there is no cost benefit for them,” he said.

Whether such systems make sense also depends on the kind of operation you have, Schenk said. “In an LTL, regional operation, the costs associated with the transportation of goods extends outside the truck. In many of those types of operations, the driver spends as much as 60% to 70% of his day outside of the asset.”

For these fleets, Schenk said driver monitoring is much more about when the driver arrived, how long he was at a stop, or if he had signatures or PODs to transmit back to the home office. In this type of operation, the fleet manager is interested in optimizing not only safety, but the time the driver is out of the truck as well.

But even with local or pickup and delivery operations, there is increased interest in monitoring driver behavior. Tony Lourkis, chief executive officer of Complete Innovations, said his company’s systems are “capturing a lot of behavioral data – things like speeding, idling, hard braking, rapid acceleration, hard cornering. This is important data for a company to track and monitor the driver so they can be proactive in mitigating risk and improving safety. Tracking and monitoring of behavior is critical.”

The Complete Innovations product uses a combination of a sensor called an accelerometer and GPS data. The GPS data is sampled to get vehicle speed and location. Coupled with the accelerometer, which measures g-force, the device can tell if the driver is braking or cornering too aggressively. That data is then transmitted to Complete Innovation’s server. Customers pre-determine how they want to receive that data, either by logging in for a complete report on demand, or via a real-time alert.


Another trend we’re seeing is fleets being alerted not only when drivers go over a pre-set highway speed, but also when they exceed posted speed limits. After all, knowing a driver is going 50 mph in a school zone may actually be more important than knowing he’s driving 70 instead of 62 on the interstate.

PeopleNet, for instance, has a partnership with SpeedGauge that offers regular reports on which drivers are exceeding posted speed limits. It’s just added near-real-time alerts when a driver triggers a speeding event, so management can address the issue promptly and knows where and when the event occurred.

GreenRoad recently added Posted Speed Performance to its offerings, which tracks incidents where a vehicle is traveling above the posted speed limit. Integrated with GreenRoad Central, a web-based management dashboard, Posted Speed Performance can be customized to suit specific fleet policies and features color-coded graphical reporting for easy review and efficient management.

“Speeding is a major contributor to fleet crash incidents and excessive speed can dramatically increase fuel consumption. Additionally, because speeding on city and residential streets is often riskier than speeding on highways, managing posted speed performance is a key requirement for most fleets,” said Glenn Pereira, director of product marketing for GreenRoad.

Fuel savings

Drivers can be monitored for behaviors that not only affect safety, but also fuel use, such as speeding, too much idling, even how much they stay in the “sweet spot.”

For instance, Blue Tree’s R:Com offers data on excessive idling, harsh acceleration or braking, speeding, driving without use of cruise control and over-revving. It connects to the engine ECM to record data such as fuel burnt per vehicle for any time period or trip, fuel tank level, vehicle speed, engine rpm, braking, cruise control, gear selection, and more. It reports the performance of individual trucks and drivers to highlight areas for improvement.

GreenRoad recently added idling maps to its driver performance monitoring system, giving fleet managers an “at-a-glance” view of idling hot spots across specific geographies and routes. Idling policies can be customized to specific fleet vehicles and specific fleet operations or locations.

While each fleet must make the determination on whether or not such systems make business sense, safety agencies are looking at such systems as ways to improve safety. As HDT reported earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been testing onboard driver monitoring systems for their effectiveness in improving safety. In the study, 270 trucks from three volunteer carriers are being equipped with an onboard monitoring system, DriveVision Pro by Transecurity. The system integrates safety technologies such as forward collision and lane departure warning with driver observation systems designed to detect fatigue or inattention, and provides immediate feedback if the truck is at risk. Data from the device also is fed into a management information system to help with driver coaching.

The test is a few years from completion, and it is unclear if the agency will follow up with new rules based on the study’s findings, but there is always that possibility.

Maybe it is time to move beyond that “How’s my driving” sign.

From the November 2011 issue of HDT.

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