There is little question that vehicles have gotten safer thanks to better materials and a slew of safety systems, such as the seat belt and air bag. These have long helped drivers survive crashes.
But even with these systems, about 34,000 drivers die in the U.S. each year.
While that statistic may be shocking, the good news is that technology is helping drivers to avoid crashes altogether, and is quickly becoming as common as the seat belt or air bag.
Subject matter experts representing some of the leading safety management technology companies outlined not only how technology is helping fleet managers to proactively help their drivers avoid crashes, but the importance of engaging drivers, and what the future of vehicle safety may hold.
Taking the Fundamental Steps
To help drivers avoid crashes, the key for fleet managers is to be proactive.
“Chasing the horse once it’s out of the barn is always more difficult than keeping it from getting out in the first place,” said Chad Lindholm, director of fleet product and marketing for SuperVision.
“If a fleet professional can take a proactive approach to managing their fleet’s safety, they’re going to have better success.”
As an example Lindholm recommended closely monitoring a driver’s MVR. In a typical situation, the driver’s MVR is pulled when he or she is hired and then once a year after that. If a driver gets in trouble soon after the MVR is pulled, he or she has a “grace period” of almost a year before a potentially large liability situation is discovered.
Lindholm, instead, recommended continuous monitoring of the MVR.
“The driver’s license is continuously monitored and new activity (e.g. suspensions, revocations, moving violations, etc.) is reported proactively to the fleet manager so they can take the necessary corrective action sooner,” he said.
Del Lisk, vice president of safety services for Lytx, echoed Lindholm, noting that preventing a crash is a function of correcting unsafe behavior when it occurs, but he also cited communication as a key factor to preventing crashes and building a safety program.
“Conversations about safety should be ongoing. Most fleets have constant turnover, and it’s important to promote a clear and accurate understanding of your safety expectations, keeping an open channel of communication with your drivers,” he said. “Share the safety program’s positive outcomes. Celebrate and reward drivers who are doing everything right to help set an example for the rest of the fleet, and help them understand what exceptional safety looks like.”
Kurt Schmidt, senior vice president of marketing for SambaSafety, also advocated continuous monitoring of all employees’ MVRs as a preventive measure. He also noted that the technology exists today to automate this process, thereby improving driver performance, reducing accidents, and limiting risks associated with poor driving behavior.
“The [automatic] ‘scoring’ of motor vehicle records is an effective way of measuring driver behavior trends and provides a standard for consistently applying any company driver safety policies, regardless of the driver’s location,” he said.
While monitoring licenses is critical for identifying drivers who may be trending toward a crash, today’s technology allows drivers to receive counseling and coaching as an incident occurs.
“There are technologies that provide actual leading safety indicators — things that happen in the cab or the vehicle to help change driver behavior and give real-time feedback,” said Michael Backman, general manager of Mobileye.
This technology is currently available on many vehicles and include such products as lane departure warning, forward collision warning, pedestrian sensing, and tailgating alerts, which can be a benefit to drivers on any part of the safety continuum.
“We all sometimes get into unsafe situations. If we can provide drivers a safety net, that can help avoid a crash,” he said.
Backman said that the “leading-indicator” data captured from these safety net devices benefit the drivers and the company by allowing management to make smart decisions before a crash occurs.
While technological tools, no matter the form they take, are going a long way to help prevent crashes, the human factor is still a linchpin in a safety program’s success.
“Getting drivers to buy into the safety program is key,” noted Lindholm of SuperVision. “Wielding a stick can sometimes achieve compliance but won’t earn buy-in. Tools that can get the drivers to engage in/with a safety program will go much further in changing an organization’s culture than threats and intimidation.”
There’s an important psychological perspective that fleet managers need to keep in mind when implementing any sort of fleet safety technology or program, according to Backman of Mobileye.
“At the end of the day drivers will embrace things that make them do their jobs better than something that will help management manage them better,” he said. “If it’s about them, then they will embrace them.”
In this case, if drivers believe that a piece of technology will first and foremost benefit them by keeping them safe, and is of a secondary benefit to the company, the technology or program will be used by them, according to Backman.
While there is little argument that a proactive safety program underpinned by robust technology is beneficial, there are technological pitfalls fleet managers and other fleet stakeholders need to be wary of.
“We know that technology in the cab is a double-edged sword,” said Lisk of Lytx. “While driver-assist technologies, like collision warning systems, help boost safety, we’ve also seen instances where drivers become complacent and use them as a crutch. They think they can put more attention to non-driving activities such cell phones, or even reading the newspaper because the technology will let them know when they need to return their attention to the roadway. We have seen these kinds of events happen because the driver is not engaged, and keep in mind even the best drivers lose concentration from time to time.”
Lindholm of SuperVision also sees some inherent risks of becoming too reliant on technology over the human element.
“Companies can become too heavily reliant on technology; dismissing the human element,” he said. “In my mind, communication is still the critical success factor in a safety culture. Technology can enhance and facilitate communication and data flow, but cannot become a substitute for personal communication.”
That being said, technology may actually have a bigger role to play in the future.
“There are many great technologies that do a good job of monitoring driver behavior — but only during working hours. Given today’s litigious society, relying on technologies that only provide monitoring during working hours can leave an organization exposed to lawsuits and bad press,” argued Schmidt of SambaSafety. “Continuous monitoring of motor vehicle records provides the cost-effective visibility organizations need to have comprehensive knowledge of their employees’ driving behaviors.”
Monitoring the Future of Safety
Without question the future of driver safety is squarely in the realm of technology.
“The future is continuing to adapt to the new technologies, dynamics, and regulatory requirements. The only constant is change, so fleet managers must continue to modify their safety programs to meet the ever-changing needs of their fleets,” said Lindholm of SuperVision. “What will the future look like in five, 10, or 20 years? Driverless cars, drones for delivery, new fuel technologies? It’s hard to say. There’s quite a bit of speculation and conjecture out there but one thing’s for sure: The rate of technological advancement will continue apace. Fleet professionals must continue to challenge current thinking and be passionate advocates for new tools, techniques and technologies which will enhance safety for not just their fleets, but for the rest of the motoring public as well.”
Building on Schmidt of SambaSafety’s observation about the country’s litigious nature, Lisk of Lytx, sees legal ramifications coming with the use of technology in the future.
“Video is becoming a standard safety tool for fleets,” he said. “Defense attorneys will expect it, insurance carriers will expect it, and even your drivers will begin to expect it as a means of having their back in the event of a collision. And in the longer term, we see more automation in the cab changing the definition of safe driving. As automation reaches levels of autopilot-like capability, there will be new challenges, like being able to stay engaged during long periods of inactivity so that the driver is ready to assume control if something unexpected happens.”
Backman of Mobileye sees the autonomous vehicle as the end point for the technology that exists today. The next steps will see technology moving beyond how the vehicle is being operated, but how it is interacting with its environment.
“We’re starting to understand not just the driver and activity, but what going on around the driver and the vehicle — such as the numbers and behavior of pedestrians,” he said. “This will lead to being able to be more predictive about the environment.”