Due to beeps, alerts, lights, and more, some drivers find telematics systems distracting....

Due to beeps, alerts, lights, and more, some drivers find telematics systems distracting. Working with your driver and selecting the right solution will help avoid related issues. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/Komkrich Marom

Both telematics and video-based safety are components of a comprehensive safety program. As such, it’s vital that drivers understand the operational needs of their business and why telematics and other safety systems are being installed. 

“Telematics, for many years, has been considered the industry standard. Close on its heels is video-based safety. Both, in their infancy, faced driver resistance due to the misunderstanding that they’re Big Brother. But, as drivers begin to understand why these systems are being implemented, and are educated on what they can/cannot do and, they ultimately see the results/improvements that come from coaching. And, they quickly come on board. As drivers improve their driving habits and begin to experience the results, they become safer drivers,” said Jason Palmer, COO for SmartDrive. 

One of the most impactful ways to enhance fleet safety efforts is to leverage telematics systems. 

“There are three levels to it as well. There are tactical, operational, and strategic. Tackling safety in a tactical way would be to want to reduce a specific driver behavior metric like speeding and focus only on that. While it helps the organization solve challenges they are facing by providing real-time speeding, it fails to deliver the maximum safety potential because it lacks in two key areas — communication and business strategy. A lack of communication leads to the classic fear-based “Big Brother” perspective,” said Ryan Driscoll, VP of marketing for GPS Insight.

Targeting risky driving and compliance behavior is a proven benefit of telematics systems, whether video-based or just data-based.  

“A telematics system, with targeted reporting, can help identify the riskiest drivers who must be coached and trained. Lecturing a whole group of drivers on general safety issues can alienate some people,” said Mark Schedler, Sr. Editor – Transport Management for J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.  

Schedler added that a few top areas that highly correlate with increased crash risk are:  

  • Excessive speed, accumulated time over a specific upper limit, and speed limit violations.
  • Failure to yield or stop.
  • Unsafe lane changes (changed lanes without signaling).
  • Following too close or hard braking.
  • Intentional falsification of driver logs.

Telematics is one technology that is boosting the connectedness of fleet vehicles – and boosting safety as well. 

“A fleet management system sends out alerts when vehicles are due for maintenance. These alerts can be set based on calendar time, engine on-time, or mileage, depending on the type of service needed. This helps prevent truck breakdowns or accidents due to maintenance issues and keep drivers safer when they’re on the road,” said Kevin Aries, head of global product success for Verizon Connect.

Fleets have been seeking safety benefits from telematics for almost a decade, but, according to Jeff Clark, senior vice president of Product Management for CalAmp, they have only recently begun to reap a return on investment (ROI)

“With telematics, fleets can streamline data from individual drivers to provide real-time coaching and improve company-wide safety training programs,” Clark said.

Telematics allows fleets to see where the equipment is being operated, under what conditions, and how it’s being operated. 

“With this data, not only can an investigation of a safety incident be more precise, but the data can be used to train operators to avoid these conditions to prevent future incidents Adam Oppermann, product manager at Stellar Industries Inc.

From a food safety standpoint, the commercial trucking and logistics industry plays a critical role in the journey from farm to fork. 

“For sensitive goods such as perishable produce, trailer tracking solutions allow fleet owners to monitor their cargo in near real-time, tracking everything from temperature, humidity, door status, and cargo load state. This tracking provides peace of mind to customers and regulators alike that shipments are safe, secure, and in full regulatory compliance. Fleet owners can also set up real-time alerts should certain thresholds be exceeded to ensure actions are taken before any loss in cargo quality,” said Christopher Plaat, SVP and GM for BlackBerry Radar. 

While getting fresh tomatoes and avocados to the grocery store before they are past their best is often what people first think of when it comes to food transport, according to Plaat there are many industries — and products — whose success or failure are based on reliable climate-controlled conditions.  

“For example, knowing that a shipment of expensive wine or pharmaceuticals is kept at the right temperature can mean the difference of millions of dollars if not properly monitored and managed. From cherries to Chianti, cough medicine to chocolate, for fleet owners that deploy trailer intelligence solutions, customers across a wide range of industries can ensure the safety and freshness of their products,” Chandler said.

Mitigating Distraction Concerns

While telematics solutions are intended to monitor and help reduce distracted driving, there are times where the opposite can be true. Due to beeps, lights, and alerts, and more, some find the system can be more of a distraction than a solution. 

“It’s important to ensure that any implementation doesn’t distract the driver and that the telematics data is used. Collecting but not using data can perpetuate an existing safety concern – there must be a clear organizational drive to improve safety. When properly understood, there is no safety detriment to using telematics,” said Jonathan Bates, Head of Global Marketing for MiX Telematics.

Try a test group before implementing a program to help mitigate the concerns of too many alerts.

“Ride along with drivers testing potential telematics systems to experience the systems first-hand in a realistic environment. Test more than one system and take driver feedback into account as well as the feedback of office personnel who work with the back-office portion of the system,” said Schedler of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.  

In addition to test groups, training is also essential to a successful program. 

“Conduct in-depth training of the drivers, so they understand what you will be measuring, what causes alerts, and how to respond to alerts, so they aren’t startled or wondering why the alert was triggered. Drivers may be nervous about a new telematics system and the possible consequences. Focus on the benefits of the system for the driver and the company, such as exoneration. Also, coaching and eliminating unsafe behavior helps secure the driver’s job and the company’s future,” Schedler added.

Certain telematics technology, such as ELD compliance, may inadvertently contribute to safety concerns. For example, there are times that telematics technology could encourage drivers to speed to get deliveries complete within their set hours of service. 

“This is a risk that was known when ELD regulations were being worked through on the federal level, but experts agreed that the way to change the culture of unsafe practices was through visibility into hours driven. Driver behavior monitoring of speeding and harsh braking is a side benefit that enables fleets to ensure one bad habit isn’t traded for another. Further, this is mitigated by monitoring driver behavior data within the larger context of the driver’s daily activities, considering all available data points, and implementing an incentive-based safety program rather than a punitive one,” said Reza Hemmati, VP of product management for Spireon.

Aside from distraction concerns, over time, drivers may become desensitized to in-cab safety alerts, and as a result, ignore or fail to respond appropriately to such warnings. 

“To help counter this, Lytx applies mute schemes to audio alerts, so a driver may not receive an in-cab audio alert with every trigger. These mute schemes include short-and long-term mute periods to limit the number of in-cab audio alerts a driver will receive. There are various mute periods for each Lytx trigger, lasting up to five minutes. The goal is to ensure drivers are vigilant and able to react appropriately when alerted to potential risks but not desensitized by a continuous stream of alerts,” said Del Lisk, vice president of Safety Services for Lytx.

However, not everyone agreed that telematics can contribute to added distractions: 

“From what we see with the proven experience of our products, telematics doesn’t contribute to safety concerns, rather mitigates fleet safety risks, keeps drivers safe, and improves overall road safety,” said Clark of CalAmp.

3 Ways to Use Telematics to Improve Fleet Safety

Telematics solutions go far beyond “dots on a map” tracking and can help assist in efforts for improving fleet safety. A few ways to utilize telematics to improve fleet safety, according to GPS Insight, include: 

1. Monitor driver behavior. Every business can help you monitor speeding, windshield time, hard braking, rapid acceleration, etc. The telematics systems at the forefront of the industry are now able to monitor more powerful behaviors like distracted driving, traffic signal violations, driver drowsiness, tailgating, seatbelt compliance, etc.  

2. Maintenance. Create preventive maintenance schedules, act on diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) that come in off of the vehicles and equipment, and use DVIR to get pre- and post-trip inspections by drivers of defects. This ensures vehicles are safe to operate. 

3. Smart cameras. Implement smart cameras to provide more context into what is happening on the road and provide more insightful coaching to make the most impact on safety. 

“The most important piece to using telematics is creating specific goals and measure the KPIs over time to track improvement and iterate until you meet your goals,” said Ryan Driscoll, VP of marketing for GPS Insight.

Building Trust

In addition to mitigating distraction concerns, fleet managers need to continue to build trust with their fleet drivers. 

“Use the tools within the technology and educate others along the way. You must drive the change in the organization. Don’t provide tools without instruction. Without guidance, you are wasting your money,” said Charlie Mahoney, business development for Derive. 

Another concern some drivers have about video solutions is that it’s going to be pointed at them and used to monitor their every move in the cab. 

“At Trimble, we see low interest from carriers in installing driver-facing cameras. That’s because our Video Intelligence solution is fully integrated with telematics data from the electronic control module (ECM), and they don’t need one facing a driver: they can see from the data exactly when a driver hits the brakes, if they signaled properly, etc. If the camera’s not pointed at them, most drivers like having cameras on the truck for the protection piece – with an objective video showing what happened in an accident, their company is going to defend them because the majority of the time, they’re not the one at fault,” said Jim Angel, vice president of Video Intelligence Solutions for Trimble.

Samsara also understands drivers can be skeptical about having cameras in the cab for the first time. But getting driver buy-in on dash cams is possible. 

“One of the most important things to consider when implementing dash cams for fleet safety is building trust through transparency. Change management can be challenging, but it’s critical when it comes to adopting the cameras and building a culture of safety within the organization,” said Ingo Weigand, director of product management for Samsara. “Ultimately, success comes down to effective change management and building a culture of safety within the organization.”

The Bottom Line

Mahoney of Derive phrased the overall goal of a telematics system cleanly: “Preventing an occurrence is far simpler than reacting.” 

Fleets see the most success when they create proactive programs for introducing new technology

“Fleets that implement strong and ongoing educational programs for their drivers can help ensure drivers understand and are comfortable with the technology before they begin to work with it every day,” said Lisk of Lytx. “One common concern we hear from users about past telematics experiences is information overload. After implementing a solution from other providers, fleet managers often find themselves inundated with data that creates significantly more work without providing clear steps on how actually to improve.”

Additionally, the fleet industry is adopting video-event recorders at an accelerating rate to protect their businesses from nuclear lawsuits. 

“Drivers are much more accepting of the video-event systems, and many appreciate the potential to be exonerated in the event they are wrongfully blamed for a crash. Passenger car drivers are at fault in more than 70% of large-truck and passenger vehicle crashes, so the odds are with the professional truck driver,” said Schedler of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.  

In conclusion, data is only as good as what you can get out of it.

“I would say that the only concern about having telematics data is if a company doesn’t do anything with it. If a company chooses to ignore it and not do anything with it, they’re putting themselves in a worse position, particularly in and around litigation, than if they didn’t have it at all. That company would be better off not having the information if they’re not going to invest the time and the culture in being able to use it for what it was intended: to make their operation better and safer,” said Angel of Trimble Transportation. 

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

Executive Editor - Fleet, Trucking & Transportation

Lauren Fletcher is Executive Editor for the Fleet, Trucking & Transportation Group. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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