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Technological advances drive improved automotive safety

Telematics for trucking fleets

The increasing use and availability of automotive technology has helped reduce accidents and their associated injuries for fleet operators.

Companies are using technologies like telematics, such as GPS navigation, dash cameras and in-vehicle communications devices or advanced driver assistance systems, which can include lane movement detection, automatic brake assistance and blind spot monitoring to better monitor driver behavior and reduce external road risks.

The use of telematics systems has been on the upswing in the commercial auto insurance market because telematics programs with driving data are a highly predictive measure of risk, experts say.

“Auto and vehicle-related incidents are one of the big loss drivers for most organizations I work with,” said Paul O’Connor, a risk control consultant for Baltimore-based brokerage RCM&D Inc., who works with construction clients on managing their fleet programs. “We do look to technology as a way to help combat these situations.”

The insurance industry has relied on programs like predictive analytics and actuarial models for years. However, with the introduction of artificial intelligence and combining it with telematics and other technologies, companies are able to use predictive modeling to reduce exposure in their fleets by identifying the potential risk for large losses, said Leah Cooper, managing director of global consumer technology at Memphis, Tennessee-based Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

“I feel like this new technology lets us expand into accident prevention, not just anticipation,” said Ms. Cooper. “If we can start impacting the behavior that causes accidents, that’s where we can really make a dent.”

Telematics that measure biofeedback and report it in real time can significantly improve driver safety, said Steve Rodriguez, senior vice president of property/casualty claims for York Risk Services Group Inc. in Jersey City, New Jersey. For instance, if a driver is showing signs of fatigue, a supervisor could tell him to take a break.

One of Mr. O’Connor’s clients, which has a fleet of about 300 trucks, began using a dash camera system that allows the company to monitor drivers and coach driver deficiencies.

He said the system essentially takes a short video of an event such as a hard brake and sends it electronically to a review team that can sit down with the driver. He said he believes this type of camera technology — when combined with effective coaching of drivers — can reduce the total cost of incidents by 20% to 30%, and reduce wear and tear on a fleet by about 10%.

Construction engineering firm Fidelity Engineering LLC in Sparks, Maryland, uses a GPS system that tracks its 350-vehicle fleet and scores driver behaviors, sending “flags” to the company for behaviors considered unacceptable, like speeding or hard braking. The company rewards drivers who have great scores, while those who don’t have to attend remedial drivers training.

Spero Skarlatos, Fidelity’s fleet manager, said in less than a year, the technology combined with coaching has led to a more than 95% reduction in the number of “flags” it receives on a daily basis as well as a reduction in accidents.

Darren Beard, vice president and senior loss control consultant at Kansas City, Missouri-based Lockton Cos. LLC, said one of his clients, a service delivery company with a 140-vehicle fleet, implemented technology restricting the use of mobile phones while a vehicle was in motion through an app. He said the company took the hard-line stance of requiring employees to download the app on their company phones or face termination. In a single year, the company reduced preventable collisions by 70% through the use of the app and working with employees to change driving behaviors.

The American Society of Safety Professionals plans to release a report later this spring on best practices for the safe operation of partially and fully automated vehicles.

Advanced-driver assistance systems, such as frontal crash systems that slow down vehicles automatically to prevent rear-ending, are also having a big affect on accident reduction and injury severity, said Brian Hammer, vice chair of ASSP’s standards development committee and an insurance risk manager with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

The initial expense is one obstacle to the adoption of technology, Mr. O’Connor said. However, he expects more fleets to adopt technological advances “once they understand the return on investment, and the fact that they’re making their drivers better.”

The fact that recordings of accidents are discoverable in court — and that employees may be resistant to the idea of having “big brother” watching them in the cab — can also deter employers from adopting these types of technologies, said Mr. Beard.

“Just having an event recorder or telematics means nothing — what changes behaviors is the interaction,” he said. “If the information isn’t acted upon … having the tech becomes a liability.”


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