Cameras Taking a Lead Role in Fleet Telematics

Fleet operators have long understood the value of telematics solutions that let them know where vehicles are, how they’re performing, and, more recently, how drivers behave.

Adding video cameras is the next phase – and one with huge benefits. “It’s part of a natural progression both from a safety and liability standpoint,” says Susan Beardslee, a principal analyst at ABI Research. She also sees video telematics as in sync with the growth of advanced driver assistance systems.

Evolution of video telematics

The first thing fueling the growth of these solutions is falling hardware costs coupled with better performance. It’s now affordable to use two cameras, one facing the driver and one on the road ahead. In fact, the trend is to use more and more cameras, Beardslee says.

Video telematics systems can also be tied into other sensors on the vehicle, as well as into the controller area network itself. Del Lisk, vice-president of safety services for Lytx, thinks video telematics will continue to integrate with other technologies and sensors on the vehicle. For example, if a truck has a lane-departure warning system, it could send info to the telematics system and alert the driver. The telematics solution could also capture a short video clip. Then, “the manager and driver can take a look at what happened and why, for example, if the driver was not checking the mirror properly,” Lisk says.

Drew Schimelpfenig, director of product management, Omnitracs, believes that the active safety system is often the best source of truth. “Do you want to rely on an accelerometer that may misinterpret an event, or when an active safety system is actually sending messages to the brakes? An ADAS system sending those messages when it has to intervene provides more accurate event notifications and fewer false positives that have to be reviewed,” he says.

The multitude of video telematics providers differentiate themselves in several ways:

Integration with existing solutions: Standalone systems may have more features but it may be less efficient for fleet managers to use multiple dashboards or platforms. It’s ideal if data from video telematics can be married with data from other systems.

Degree of automation: The simplest solutions let a fleet manager access video after an event such as an accident. Others review the video and score it for potentially unsafe situations, either manually, via machine learning or a combination of both, and then send concerning clips to managers. Finally, some products proactively identify critical events and send video to the fleet manager close to the event or even in real time.

Driver alerts and coaching: Alerting a sleepy or distracted driver in the moment can forestall many accidents and, over time, improve a driver’s safety behavior. Allowing drivers to access safety scores or review critical incidents can provide them with an objective assessment.

Prequel and sequel capture: In automated systems that don’t simply store all video, some solutions automatically save a period of video, often thirty seconds, before and after a critical event.

Moving from harsh braking to insights

Video provides much more information to fleet operators than depending on a handful of events – fast cornering, hard braking and speeding – to judge driver safety.

When Atlas Financial Holdings and Nauto analyzed collisions from more than 1,450 drivers across 17 commercial fleets, they found that 45% of drivers involved in accidents would have been classified as “smooth” drivers using the criteria of harsh acceleration, braking and cornering. Besides, there are many more potentially dangerous behaviors that physical sensors can’t identify, including nodding off, tailgating, lane drifting, moving stops, and distraction. In some cases, the driver may have been behaving safely, for example, braking suddenly if there’s a hazard past a blind curve.

Artificial intelligence is the key to delivering more nuanced insights, according to JD Hassan, an associate partner at Ptolemus Group. For one thing, the amount of data being generated via telematics is of a magnitude higher when video footage is added.

Transmitting camera data to the cloud becomes difficult and expensive, Hassan says. The answer, he believes, is artificial intelligence on the edge to look at all the data captured and decide what needs to be transmitted and saved. “The challenge,” he says, “is, do we want super-expensive edge devices? The fleet world has always had expensive hardware, but what’s the trade-off in cost to have an edge device as opposed to sending all the data off and doing analysis on the back end?”

Creating a safety culture

Driver coaching can be included in video telematics solutions and it can be an important tool. Says Hassan: “Safety is number one for fleets. Training is part of it but the most useful tool for driver safety today is the camera.”

Driver coaching takes many different forms with the addition of video. Some vendors offer real-time alerts, warnings and/or tips. If a driver’s eyes stray from the road for a predetermined amount of time, he may hear a beep that rises in intensity if he doesn’t look forward immediately. Other systems generate video clips of hazardous behavior that the fleet manager can review with the driver. Hassan notes: “Among commercial lines insurers, the general consensus is, it’s not a moneymaker. With increased telematics capabilities like cameras, it might turn into much more than just a break-even opportunity.”

Gail Gottehrer, co-chair of the privacy, cyber-security and emerging technologies practice of Akerman LLP, says that, while video telematics may be fairly new: “E-discovery is simply part of doing business in the digital world. Companies are familiar with these issues, having dealt with them in the context of security cameras and other video recording technologies.”

Therefore, fleet operators can potentially address video data through their existing information governance policies and procedures, or create new policies and procedures to enable them to maximize the value of this data while managing the potential risks associated with it.

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