It’s one thing to “look at the camera” — but quite another to have the camera looking at you, says David Cullen in his Passing Zone column. - Graphic: HDT

It’s one thing to “look at the camera” — but quite another to have the camera looking at you, says David Cullen in his Passing Zone column. 

Graphic: HDT

It’s one thing to “look at the camera” — but quite another to have the camera looking at you. Especially when it’s always eyeing you, as can driver-facing cameras (DFCs) inside truck cabs. 

Along with road-facing cameras, DFCs can boost driver safety awareness and performance by discerning when more or refresher driver training is needed. Both types also provide camera-eye accounts of collisions and other accidents and often help exonerate drivers. Video captured by a road-facing camera can show how the incident unfolded on the roadway, while the driver-facing one can reveal whether a driver was paying full attention before and during the event.  

Nonetheless, the “useful for when it might happen” advantage of DFCs are a hard sell by carriers when their drivers feel such cameras are constantly invading their privacy — the mere perception of which can unnerve them while they’re trying to earn a living. Big Brother? No, thank you. 

No wonder the American Transportation Research Institute jumped in to take a closer look at how to make that unblinking gaze into the cab less aggravating for truck drivers.  

The nonprofit research group’s new report concluded that driver-facing cameras are not well utilized across the trucking industry, often for the following reasons: driver privacy issues/concerns; confusion over video use, personnel access and recording models; and concern that truck driver negligence, however subtle, will be highlighted. 

ATRI found that driver approval of driver-facing cameras “tends to be low,” sitting at just 2.24 on a 0-to-10 scale as rated by 650 current users from across the industry. The report states that "low scores are driven in part by limited experience, confusion over the variety of camera systems, unclear carrier policies, and strong concerns about privacy.”  

The good news is that ATRI identified specific carrier policies and driver management approaches that it said should lead to higher driver ratings. 

For instance, the report found that overall approval of driver-facing cameras was 87% higher when carriers used video footage for a combination of safety programs, driver coaching, and training, compared to when there was no proactive safety use.

One driver was quoted in the report, “you get the feeling that you are being watched 100% of the time. I know that is not the case, but it’s the perception. The company has to find a way to assure the driver that they are not looking to punish the driver for every little thing that they may do wrong.” 

Additional analysis focused on insurance and litigation aspects. Experts in both those fields expressed a preference for event-based driver-facing cameras over continuously recording cameras. They concurred with drivers that primary video footage access should be limited to safety managers as much as possible. 

ATRI also cited other research finding that road-facing cameras are a truck driver’s second most preferred in-cab technology. “[Yet] decades ago, truck drivers abhorred all in-cab camera systems — providing a hint that education, clear policies, device costs, and litigation precedents can influence truck driver attitudes over time.” 

In short, by all means consider investing in both types of in-cab cameras to improve safety, including your drivers’ safety, and to reduce litigation and insurance risks. But don’t go all “1984” with the driver-facing cameras. That you have the right to peer into the cab doesn’t mean you have to see all at all times — just the ability to see what you truly need to see.  

This commentary is published in the May 2023 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking

For research on driver-facing cameras in the trucking industry, you can read our report here

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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