With driver-facing cameras, the American Transportation Research Institute has always centered research on how drivers feel about the technology. But in 2022, ATRI took a new approach and also examined the technology’s existing and potential role in litigation.

The research revealed that while drivers expressed concerns over privacy and misuse of video footage after an incident, attorneys were far more positive. They noted driver-facing camera footage can provide clear evidence of whether a driver was negligent and help exonerate them after an incident.

In fact, legal experts responding to the survey estimated footage helped:

  • Exonerate truck drivers in 49% of the cases
  • Proved driver negligence in 39% of the cases

However, legal respondents also shared footage from road-facing cameras is more beneficial to the defense than driver-facing camera footage. Road-facing camera footage, they said, helped exonerate the driver 63% of the time and substantiate driver negligence 36% of the time.

These statistics come from the ATRI research paper titled, “Issues and Opportunities With Driver-Facing Cameras.” The answers came from defense attorneys at outside firms, in-house corporate attorneys, and subject matter experts in litigation, incident claims, or risk management. All had significant legal experience in this area, with most reporting over 20 years of experience.

A Double-Edged Sword

Plaintiffs receive access to driver-facing camera footage during the discovery process, which caused legal respondents to say they view this footage as a double-edged sword.

While driver-facing camera footage can vindicate truck drivers, they report the footage also can show a longer history of driver actions or inactions for plaintiffs to present as driver negligence. For this reason, most legal experts, 88%, noted they prefer event-based driver-facing cameras to continuously recording ones, 12%.

However, 77% of legal experts also reported at least one experience where an event-based camera failed to capture critical driver behavior. But attorneys warned continuous recording cameras may capture too much information, with 42% of respondents reporting at least one incident where a continuous recording camera captured damaging information.  

Plaintiffs can use both capture types to support their cases, they said. A continuously recording driver-facing camera may capture discoverable, potentially damaging footage that plaintiff attorneys can mine for granular examples of subpar driver behavior. But plaintiffs can also use event-based camera usage to create suspicion over why a continuously recording camera was not used.

Keeping Footage

The survey also queried legal experts on how long fleets should keep video footage. Here, the consensus was this footage should be kept for the statute of limitations for the state in which the incident occurred.

The time window for the statute of limitations varies from state to state and from incident to incident, the paper noted. The statute of limitations in most cases is two years, but each incident should be evaluated individually to decide how long to keep the footage, respondents said.

Legal experts also recommend deleting incident-free video used for coaching and other purposes periodically to prevent it from being used against carriers in litigation.

Access to Footage

Legal experts were also asked who should have access to video footage. Here, 83% believed access was most important for safety directors, in agreement with the driver survey.

The breakdown was as follows as to who should have the footage:

  • 83% said safety directors should have access to video footage
  • 60% noted attorneys should have rapid access to driver-facing camera footage after an incident
  • 40% said truck drivers should have access
  • 37% noted carriers should also have access to footage

Using footage to coach drivers can improve driver safety and show a carrier’s commitment to safety, respondents added.

However, attorneys also warned poor coaching can be worse than no coaching at all because it creates more evidence. “Repeated coaching to eliminate a bad behavior that ultimately still occurs and leads to an accident can be used against the carrier. On the flip side, a record of coaching … with improvement by drivers demonstrates a safety culture,” one respondent told ATRI.

Legal experts also warned against capturing too much data and over-coaching based on video footage. Recording excessively or recording minor behaviors as “incidents” for coaching creates artificial and unwarranted evidence of “negligence” that plaintiffs can leverage in litigation, attorneys reported.

Improving Acceptance

Legal experts made several recommendations to help carriers improve driver acceptance of driver-facing cameras. They include:

  • Bonus systems based on good driving behaviors captured by driver-facing cameras
  • Only sharing clips from specific types of incidents
  • Emphasizing driver-facing camera ability to help protect the driver’s livelihood and get them back on the road sooner after an incident
  • Honest and empathetic dialogue with drivers

Legal experts say taking these steps can improve driver acceptance without negatively impacting litigation. The experts also recommended removing audio recording capabilities from the systems and only capturing video footage.

These same experts also suggested carriers choosing to implement driver-facing cameras do the following to get maximum benefit from these systems:

  • Establish thorough driver-facing camera policies in accord with expert recommendations
  • Document and apply policies consistently
  • Develop standardized coaching programs that prioritize positive reinforcement
  • Cultivate driver trust through clear communication and understanding

Impacts on Insurance

ATRI also surveyed insurers about driver-facing camera adoption rates among carriers, insurer policies regarding in-car camera technology, and driver-facing cameras’ impact on safety and related claims processes.

Insurance respondents shared most of their policyholders using driver-facing cameras were truckload carriers, representing 51.3%, followed by LTL and private fleets at 11% each. In terms of fleet size, the research found 25.9% of policyholders using driver-facing cameras have six to 25 power units, 20.6% had 26 to 100 power units, and 18.2% had 101 to 500 power units.

None of the surveyed insurers currently require driver-facing cameras. But 35% required road-facing cameras.

Most insurers,79%, recommended event-based driver-facing cameras, but just 25% of insurers gave discounts of 5% to 15% to defray equipment and installation costs. In addition, just 21% of insurers offer premium discounts to carriers using driver-facing cameras. These discounts can range from 1% to 10% based on factors that include a motor carriers’ driver-facing cameras policies and procedures.’

Insurers, 61%, also believe safety directors should have access to driver-facing camera footage, followed by 50% who believe attorneys should have access, and 39% who believe drivers should have access. Just 36% of insurers believe they should have access to driver-facing camera footage.

Insurers also reported driver-facing camera footage exonerates drivers in 52% of claims and proves negligence in 38% of them. These respondents rated the overall effectiveness of driver-facing cameras footage in resolving claims at 7.1 out of 10 and rated its effectiveness in improving safety at 7.9 out of 10.

As with legal experts, insurers recommended a consistent and transparent coaching policy with progressive discipline for unheeded feedback. Using driver-facing cameras with an excellent coaching program can improve safety, they said, with most noting policyholders that installed driver-facing cameras improved safety by 10% to 45%. 

Driver-facing cameras have a place in commercial truck driving fleets. But how carriers implement driver-facing cameras can help or hinder legal and insurance claim outcomes. Following the above tips can help fleets make the most out of driver-facing cameras and protect them after an incident.