SCHAUMBURG, ILLINOIS -- If you're not using some form of forward-facing video system in your trucks, you should be. And the sooner the better. That's the feeling of Mike Nalepka, CEO of VideoProtects.com, a consulting and advocacy company focused on transportation video technologies.
Nalepka, speaking at the Bobit Business Media Fleet Technology Expo, told attendees that video may be an emerging technology, but it's here to stay because it offers so many advantages for fleets.
"Current penetration of video technology is superficial at best," he said. "Our estimates suggest only about 6% of fleets have fully integrated video cameras and recording systems into their safety infrastructure management systems. That means 94% of fleets are not there at all or are just starting to investigate the possibilities. They are kicking the tires, doing their due diligence, talking to other carriers and trying to determine where the value lies."
Nalepka said a lot of fleets are looking to their insurance companies to step in with discount programs to support the investment. He cautioned that discounts are not likely to come our way any time soon here in the U.S., although drivers and fleets in Europe and the United Kingdom do routinely see such discounts.
"The penetration rates in those countries are in the 70-80% range because the technology is proven and is widely adopted," Nalepka said. "The story we usually get from insurers is the rate reductions will come when the claims go down. One way to reduce claims is to eliminate the frivolous claims at the source. Cameras do not lie."
Department of Transportation and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration statistics tell us that somewhere around 60-70% of all the crashes involving heavy trucks are not the truck's fault. But carriers continue to shell out millions of dollars in claims every year because of witnesses that didn't see the entire event unfold or for the lack or any other concrete evidence proving the drivers' innocence, or at least non-culpability.
Nalepka suggested some carriers may be on the fence because the technology itself is on the verge of a transition. Much of the current technology uses camera systems with fairly low resolution, somewhat akin to the grainy surveillance videos we see on the news. The resolution is often insufficient to read a license plate on a vehicle in an adjacent lane.
The updside to today's lower resolution D1 or CIF cameras (about 4 frames per second) is data transmission. At a higher-resolution 1920 x 1080, typical of many smartphones and action cameras, a 12-sec clip is about 50 megabytes in size.
"That's too large for streaming, and you'd break your data plan transmitting video like that from all your trucks," Nalepka said. "Some fleets are using forward-facing HD [high-definition] cameras, but they are not sending all that video back to the office. It's usually retained on board the truck for a period of time and downloaded if it's needed."
Some cameras record continuously. Others rely on triggers, such as a hard braking event, and then retain 10-15 seconds of video before and after the event. Those video clips can be uploaded to the fleet on a selective basis if they meet a certain critera, and they can be used for coaching purposes as well.
"After an incident, the safety supervisor might say to the driver, 'Hey, can we have a little chat then next time you stop,' and they then can push the video out to a tablet in the cab so the safety manager and the driver can review it together," said Nalepka. "The sooner after an event you can reach a driver to review the incident, the better the chance that they will recall what happened. After a week or so, it just becomes another one of a thousand right turns or lane changes."
Trailer cams are another technology carriers are very interested in, but there isn't a fast, cheap and practical way to get video from an in-trailer camera to a receiver mounted on the tractor.
"Imagine being able to record every single loading/unloading event," he said. "Suddenly your over/short/damage claims would evaporate. You'd have instant evidence of what happened. They wouldn't have to upload that footage by cellular, but instead can do it when the truck returns to the terminal and you could retain it for a period of time to protect against claims. Fleets would probably never look at it unless there's a claim."
The problem is the trailer electrical connection won't support video transfer, and wireless connections such as Bluetooth aren't always reliable, he said. "Suppliers still have to figure out a way to make it work in a cost-effective manner, but we're getting close."
Driver-facing cameras remain a contentious issue. Nalepka quoted a survey recently published in a driver/owner-operator publication that indicated 91% of drivers are opposed to the use of those types of cameras.
"That's what all the trucking companies are dealing with right now," he said. "What about my privacy? Drivers say they don't want fleets recording them. If they do, they're walking. With the driver turnover rate at 100% or higher at a lot of major truckload carriers, those companies are rightly nervous about giving drivers another reason to head for the door."
Drivers are pushing back hard and labor unions are dead set against driver-facing cameras, Nalepka notes. "They love the forward-facing cameras, but they won't accept a camera pointed their way. We may eventually see driver-facing cameras, but my instinct tells me not."
Nalepka told the audience a truck crash trial lawyer recently explained to him that driver-facing cameras could be a tremendous advantage to plaintiffs in court because all video is discoverable, and any footage of the drivers that showed any inattentiveness or improper behavior could be used to undermine even a driver who has been determined to be not at fault in a crash.
"The lawyer told me he would go after every single video of that driver for the previous six months, and he could use the driver-facing video to show [the driver] smoking and drinking coffee and not paying attention," Nalepka said. "He could create so much doubt that he would probably win. Every video is a discovery target. I recommend fleet owners keep that in mind as they are deciding what sort of a system to buy."
Nalepka said it's important for fleets and their video vendor partners to establish policy on how the recording will occur, when it will occur, whether it's constantly recording or if the recording is triggered. It's also critical to establish usage policies and erasure policies so fleets are not seen to be deleting video arbitrarily that someday could be called into question. If the video exists, it's discoverable. If you have erased some portion of it, you'd better have a good explanation for doing it.
"When it comes to triggered recordings, you have to be able to prove that you only maintain a database of the triggered video clips, not the entire video," he said. "Lawyers will want to see the storage cards and they will want to know how the triggered video is triggered and what prompts the system to save a clip and under what conditions is it saved and then eventually deleted. You need to have written policy on that and you have to follow the policy."
It's almost a requirement to have a forward-facing camera today, Nalepka said. "Carriers have to keep a bucket of money on hand just to pay off or settle bogus claims only because it's less costly than going to court. Imagine using a fraction of that pool of dollars to purchase a camera system that would practically eliminate the need to pay off a claim?"
That's certainly a compelling reason to invest in a mobile camera system, but remember, the lawyers too will know you have it.
The Fleet Technology Expo is sponsored by Heavy Duty Trucking, Work Truck magazine and Automotive Fleet magazine, published by Bobit Business Media. It is designed for fleet professionals who are looking to improve operational efficiencies.
See all comments