Today’s low truck inventory and high prices make it difficult to upgrade fleets, but aftermarket products can equip aging vehicles with new safety technology.

One in five truck drivers will be involved in an accident in any given year, potentially punching a painful hole in fleet budgets. One analysis indicates that fleets can expect to pay an average of $120,000 for non-fatal crashes involving large trucks and $382,000 for incidents involving tractor-trailers. The price tag soars in the event of a fatality, with the average verdict for a truck crash lawsuit skyrocketing from $2.3 million to $22.3 million from 2010 to 2018.

While truck manufacturers have begun implementing safety features such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and lane-keeping functions to help reduce accident risk, these advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) technologies are available as OEM packages only on newer trucks. Fleets with older vehicles must upgrade in order to gain the benefits, but today most vehicle purchases are on hold because of two roadblocks caused largely by the ripple effects of the pandemic.

The first hurdle is that new and even used vehicles are so scarce because of the global chip shortage that it’s difficult to find anything to buy. (Some trucking firms are even turning to junkyards to find used truck cabs, trailers and truck parts they can harvest to replace aging engines and other components just to keep their fleets running.) The second snag is that prices are at record highs as more buyers compete for fewer vehicles.

Buyer Blues

Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight to either the low inventory or the sticker shock. In early March, for example, Ford again cut production of medium-duty trucks, chassis cabs and other trucks and SUVs at plants in Kentucky and Ohio because of limited availability of semiconductors. The war in Ukraine threatens to exacerbate the problem because that country produces 70% of the neon gas supply needed to run the lasers used in chip manufacturing.

On the price front, dealer markups for new vehicles are so prevalent – including a $30,000 markup over the MSRP for Ford’s electric F-150 truck reported earlier this year – that Ford and GM have both threatened to reduce allocations to offending dealers. Meanwhile, used vehicle prices climbed an average of 35% from February 2021 to February 2022. That includes an 85% jump for used Class 8 trucks during the same time period, according to ACT Research.

Aftermarket ADAS and DSM

In the face of these obstacles to refreshing fleet inventory as well as for fleets with older vehicles in good working order but lacking newer technology, one solution for increasing safety is to equip existing vehicles with aftermarket ADAS and/or DSM (Driver State Monitoring)-enabled video telematics systems.

Typically using a combination of dashcam video, GPS location information, machine vision and artificial intelligence, these products can detect imminent collision risks in real time and send audible in-cab alerts that prompt drivers to take preventive action with functions such as:

  • Forward collision warnings when a collision is imminent
  • Lane departure warnings when the driver crosses a solid lane line
  • Tailgating alerts when the driver gets too close to the vehicle in front
  • Speeding alerts when the driver reaches a threshold established by the fleet company
  • Warnings to distracted drivers who take their eyes off the road long enough to be unsafe
  • Alerts to fatigued drivers show signs of falling asleep or who fall asleep at the wheel

While these features don’t replace built-in equipment like automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping systems that automatically correct lane drift, they provide critical warnings that can prevent many collisions and also reduce accident severity – even for commercial vehicles with installed ADAS functions.

They also augment the benefits of OEM ADAS technologies that have been reported in numerous studies, ranging from a 41 to 44% reduction in rear-end crashes involving large trucks (per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) to the ability to prevent up to 63,000 truck-related collisions annually (per the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety).

More Than ADAS

Aftermarket ADAS solutions also have other important fringe benefits. They supply fleet managers with important information on driver behavior that can be used to strengthen corrective coaching. They can add new safety features without requiring vehicle replacement. And they can help fleets reduce insurance costs as underwriters begin to consider ADAS technologies in calculating insurance premiums – all without spending anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 apiece to purchase new trucks.

The SmartWitness ADAS-enabled AP1 camera, for example, costs less than 3 fill-ups of fuel on an average 15-foot box truck including the dashcam and the supporting software subscription. It can be installed in as little as 15 minutes. It also provides core video telematics capabilities such as capturing road-facing video for use in post-accident analysis, and includes cloud-based artificial intelligence software that dramatically reduces erroneous reports of risky driver behavior while also slashing camera size and cost by moving AI analysis from the edge to the cloud.

Finally, aftermarket ADAS products can be transferred from vehicle to vehicle, enabling fleets to add new safety technology even if they can’t purchase new trucks today without losing the investment when the market returns to normal. Upgrade your fleet, move your video telematics equipment to your new vehicles, and retain the safety benefits. That’s a plus for your bottom line.

Michael Bloom is Vice President of Product for SmartWitness, a global provider of video telematics solutions that help fleets optimize operations, improve driving behavior and mitigate risk.