The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Ed Bobit: There Goes the Neighborhood

September 2008, by Ed Bobit - Also by this author

There is no conflict between liberty and safety. We will have both or neither.-Ramsey Clark

The history of liberty has largely been the history of the observance of procedural safeguards. -Justice Felix Frankfurter

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.-Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want it to rain without thunder and lightning.-Frederick Douglass


Last month, I was sitting in on one of the factory fleet advisory board meetings during a "free range" period. The manufacturer wanted to know how the group felt about telematics and which were really important.
After a number of minutes of discussion on safety elements, cost, and which items were likely to become part of the "packaging" for fleet purchases, a story evolved.

One wag related on how they had installed the sophisticated tracking gear for their many distribution trucks with the primary objective of shrinking routes (to save on gas, time, expense, etc.). He told the tale of himself and management reviewing one driver's SOP (standard operating procedure for you nonmilitary types).

His procedure was to routinely arrive at 4 a.m. to pick up his truck, whereupon he immediately drove directly to his home and actually napped for two hours. Every workday, he would then jump into the truck at 7 a.m. and work productively.

The company recorded this for a month, called him in, "discussed" it with him, gave him a warning and probation, and fully solved the problem. Telematics at its very best.

Yet, the sensitive employee privacy groups yell "foul" and aren't happy about it. Employers need to recognize all kinds of reactions with HR wielding a large stick these days.

Safety can also become an arguable issue in option selection. Keep in mind the vehicle and the driver are considered assets to the company.
A few years ago, an august group sponsored the "Drive for Life: The National Safe Driving Test & Initiative." The groups paying the tab included Volvo, AAA, National Association of Police Organizations, and the National Sheriff's Association. They researched 1,100 licensed drivers nationally chosen at random.

A striking 91 percent reported they engaged in at least one risk behavior in the previous six months. Speeding, as one would suspect, led by 71 percent of the group; eating - 59 percent; using a cell phone - 37 percent; running yellow lights - 30 percent; no seat belt on - 28 percent.

Direct Line Insurance in the UK conducted its own research (commissioned by the Brit tabloid The Mirror) and advised that GPS usage has caused 300,000 car crashes in the UK. The list of driving errors obeying "absurd commands" include: driving onto a railway line, heading the wrong way down one-way streets, hurtling headlong into ditches, and so on. We can say safety is surely an issue.

In July 2005, I wrote about the so-called "black box," which really is the "event data recorder." I believe it's now found in every car produced, and no one seemed sure as to who owned the data generated at a particular time.

Well, late in July, a federal appeals court (in D.C.) ruled that the government may not withhold key data on serious car accidents from the public. At issue are the so-called early warning data reported to NHTSA by vehicle manufacturers, tire suppliers, and motorcycle marketers. Since 2000, these entities are required to report data on defects, injuries, deaths, and damage related to their individual products.

The most vocal opponent to releasing such data has been the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Obviously, its members have been involved negatively to date; but the association points out that it has an expressed concern that providing this data to personal injury lawyers could open the tire makers to litigation. The manufacturers argue that releasing this data could cause a company commercial harm and should be withheld, including warranty and service information.

Our privacy is being challenged, but each of us has to ask if our safety and simple justice outweighs the breach. Let me know what you think.

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