USIC collates video telematics data to demonstrate distraction-free driving to management. USIC’s Tom Karnowski says the figurative benefit of safe driving is the “ice cream,” and the literal...

USIC collates video telematics data to demonstrate distraction-free driving to management. USIC’s Tom Karnowski says the figurative benefit of safe driving is the “ice cream,” and the literal benefit is drivers getting ice cream during summer when the company celebrates its Driving Defense heroes.

Image: Canva/Automotive Fleet

USIC, a provider of underground utility damage prevention services, recently completed a pilot program with telematics provider Samsara in which the company reduced mobile phone usage by 92%, no-seat-belt instances by 85%, and rolling stops by 50%. 

USIC has subsequently selected Samsara to digitize its operations and enable improvements in safety, efficiency, and sustainability through Samsara Video-Based Safety, Panic Button, and Vehicle Telematics.

USIC’s Mission

USIC’s mission is underground utility damage prevention. About 20 million miles of underground infrastructure connect the U.S. to the power, water, and communications that serve homes and businesses.

More than 12,000 USIC field service technicians operate in the U.S., marking these utility lines to both protect and maintain this critical infrastructure and ensure public safety. USIC completes about 84 million projects annually.

“USIC is accelerating the massive infrastructure expansion happening from coast to coast. Bridging the digital divide by bringing Internet services to rural communities, establishing new underground power lines so the lights stay on when a storm surges, and much more — this is all important work for our nation’s future,” said Richard Batelaan, chief operating officer at USIC, in a press statement with Samsara.

How USIC Plans to Use Samsara

Samsara Video-Based Safety enables USIC to better support and coach its technicians on the road through real-time incident detection and preventative in-cab coaching. In addition, footage from Samsara AI Dash Cams allows USIC to recognize outstanding performance and lower risky driving behaviors at scale.

With Samsara Panic Buttons, technicians can alert managers of emergencies or compromising situations.

Using Samsara Vehicle Telematics, USIC expects to increase fuel efficiency across its fleet which means less carbon emissions in the atmosphere and lower fuel costs. In addition, USIC is expecting to improve vehicle utilization and customer service as a result of real-time data on the location of its vehicles and their maintenance needs.

Automotive Fleet connected with Tom Karnowski, vice president of environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) at USIC, to discover how the Samsara integration is going so far, and to understand how the company intends to use the system to promote safety and efficiencies further.

AF: You saw great reductions in mobile phone usage, seat belts, and rolling stops by analyzing Samsara data. Any other safety metrics you’re analyzing based on Samsara data?

TK: We are also making use of Forward Collision Warning, speed limit violations, and harsh driving actions (accelerations, brakes, turns). In the first quarter of 2024, we saw our severe speeding rates drop by 50% and our heavy speeding rates drop by 64%. Our harsh driving event rate is down 50%. Our FCW gave us 432 opportunities to prevent collisions.

AF: What other ways do you use the Samsara system to improve safety?

TK: The cameras have provided us with an incredible set of examples for positive reinforcement on Driving Defense, specifically by way of letting management see countless situations where our drivers have been distraction-free, with proper speed for conditions, and buckled up and focused so well that when the dog jumps out, or the ball rolls across, or the multi-lane changer cutoffs occur — our teammates were READY!

At USIC, we call these moments “ice cream” because “you can’t get the ice cream until you eat your green beans first.”

All that readiness is the green beans. Earning that ice cream is our super fun way to figuratively and literally “get ice cream” during the hot summer months when we publish company messages and internal social media shoutouts to all our Driving Defense heroes.

Regarding gamification, we have a strong history of doing bracket-based tournaments for harsh driving event reduction and will be rebooting those in mid-summer once the whole fleet has the Samsara technology.

AF: Are you investigating new ways to use your telematics system to enhance safety, but haven’t deployed yet?

TK: We have two focus areas for future deployment:

  1. Using geofences to set up alerts for the departure and arrival of our technicians to emergency callout situations in the 811 space, where underground damages such as a water main break or a gas line rupture can present a huge risk to the general public, and to our workers who need to travel to and from those sites. By alerting supervisors and dispatchers with the where and when of a technician on those overnight and weekend irregular emergencies, we can better protect them with check ins.
  2. Using the idle time features in connection with the Panic Button to identify and alert for potential personal medical conditions where our lone worker technicians may need assistance because they have not registered interactions with company equipment at certain intervals. Let’s say a heat wave is occurring, and our tech is called out to a remote site in southern Arizona for an urgent contractor request, but the contractor is not there. Our tech reaches the site and is outside the vehicle, back and forth from the site to the truck cab. He overheats, gets into the cab, and turns on the air conditioning, but he starts seeing stars and is physically immobilized. An idle alert can go to supervisors and dispatch, triggering a Wellness Check and timely medical intervention.

AF: After you have the driver data, how is that data most effectively communicated to drivers to make sure they act on it?

TK: Our supervisors immediately began using the “send video to driver” feature of Samsara to amplify and clarify the entire leader-to-worker engagement. We use sports analogies, and our supervisors like to say, “This is your game film from the big day. We’ve got some opportunities to get smarter and safer behind the wheel, let’s look together.”

The Samsara mobile app for both the supervisors and the drivers gives everyone the Safety Score, Efficiency Score, trip history, and innate communication channel to stay active on improving then maintaining that Driving Defense mindset.

AF: Independent of telematics and cameras, what are the most effective methods you’ve employed to enhance fleet safety? What methods have proven most effective?

TK: We really appreciate engineered solutions at USIC, and a couple of examples really shined in the last few years. One is a seat belt interlock, in which the seat belt must be buckled before the truck can be taken out of the park gear. There are still about 8% of American adults who choose not to use seat belts, and we want that to be 0%.

The other example is Forward Collision Avoidance with Automatic Emergency Braking — a feature in which the truck’s radar and computer realize an intense stop is needed faster than typical human reaction time. This feature has saved us on enough occasions from collisions in congested construction areas where other workers jump out from behind parked cars that it has paid for itself.

There is also one very low-tech solution that we found insightful: the old 1-800 How’s My Driving program!

By going through a decade of our data, we discovered that if a driver had two alerts of the same variety in a 12-month period, then they were at an 85% likelihood to end up in a crash in the next 12 months — a pretty astounding correlation! It became a great opportunity to do some intense intervention by leaders to reset our Driving Defense methods for that driver.

About the author
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Associate Publisher

As associate publisher of Automotive Fleet, Auto Rental News, and Fleet Forward, Chris Brown covers all aspects of fleets, transportation, and mobility.

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