By Jeremy Rochfort, national sales manager, Autoglass
There is little doubt that the introduction of ADAS into fleets can significantly improve driver safety - if managed correctly.
However, the speed at which these systems have appeared on the market, and the huge range of different products available, have presented challenges for drivers, fleet operators, dealers, insurers and the vehicle aftermarket.
In reaction to this, we combined forces with road safety charity Brake to host a roundtable event which explored these issues and discussed possible solutions.
Managers from some of the UK’s biggest fleets, including Skanska and Balfour Beatty, took part in a debate with experts from Autoglass, Thatcham Research and the ADAS consultancy, SBD, which brought to the fore a number of key considerations.
Some of the primary elements of the discussion are outlined below.
Reliance on technology for safety
The benefits of ADAS and other technologies were emphasised by almost all members. Chris Davies of Autoglass spoke about how human drivers are responsible for 93% of all accidents and how technology can add a safety barrier against human error.
No one technology is completely perfect, however, and the importance of calibration was also emphasised.
The growing reliance on these technologies means even the slightest change can seriously impact the safety of the driver.
If the sensor on the technology is off by even a fraction then this could lead to a wrong calculation and a potential accident.
These sensors often sit on a vehicle’s windscreen, and therefore the calibration of the technology after a windscreen replacement is of the utmost importance.
The human element
Despite the pros and cons of the technology for the time being at least fleets are driven by humans and therefore all discussions around technology should be mindful of the inevitable human element that comes into play.
Humans are (predictably) unpredictable and fleet managers must battle with the opposing issues of both over-reliance and mistrust of new technologies.
A number of participants commented on the trend of their drivers switching off the technology, either due to a lack of knowledge, frustrations with the sensitivity of the tech or a sense that their level of driving skill means they don’t need it.
Equally, some fleet managers are concerned that their drivers are becoming over reliant on the technology, in a similar way to how drivers now often blindly follow a sat-nav for directions without checking a map.
In the case of ADAS, fleet drivers can use it to either hide their bad driving, or indeed fail to fully concentrate in the belief that technology will save them.
While some of these problems are unavoidable, there was broad agreement that regular training and increased awareness can work to outmanoeuvre some of these issues.
Some level of complacency is inevitable, but the benefits of ADAS outweigh the potential risk.
Overall there was a general consensus that technological capabilities should not replace the importance of being a good, careful driver and understanding the rules of the road.
Equally different types of training and engagement would be needed for different driver groups – commercial vehicle drivers vs company car drivers for example.
The role of dealerships and manufacturers
Training and education was highlighted as the crucial element in off-setting many of these issues.
There was much debate over the course of the roundtable on the role of dealerships and manufacturers and where responsibility lies in terms of raising awareness.
With many dealerships operating within a franchise model, some dealerships do not have the same level of knowledge that the vehicle manufacturer does – many acknowledged the relationship could be fractious.
It was recognised that there is a general misconception that calibration occurs as part of a normal service.
This is not the case; an annual service does not provide a safety net for these technologies and this is an issue.
It was agreed that detailed vehicle handovers are crucial. Expecting a driver to read a new vehicle’s manual in extreme detail is unrealistic, therefore succinct handover notes with all the pertinent information can go a long way to educating a driver.
If the vehicle is leased, the lease company (not a dealer) will be responsible for the vehicle handover and for explaining the vehicles technology to drivers.
Alain Dunoyer from SBD, a leading ADAS consultancy, commented that ADAS calibration could, in future, form part of the MOT to ensure standards across the board and place further emphasis on training and awareness.
Managing an ADAS fleet
The panel acknowledged that raising awareness and knowledge is only part of the issue - managing a fleet in a technological age brings many complications.
Technology needs to be managed very differently depending on the type of fleet.
For example, ADAS on public transport vehicles creates issues around responsibility – if technology fails to kicks in on a bus and a passenger is injured, where would the blame lie?
Maintaining a fleet with all the latest technologies also adds management complexity.
One fleet manager commented that he is considering changing his leasing arrangement from five years to three to ensure that he can stay on top of technology and maintain best practice.
But is this a practical solution for all? Self-calibration of ADAS is unlikely to happen anytime soon, and as such these debates around how to manage ADAS are likely to continue into the future.
As the technology advances, so will the controlling of an ADAS fleet.
The debate then moved on to the future of ADAS, and whether there is a possibility that sensors could become self-calibrating.
The expert panel confirmed that we are only at the start of this group of technologies being adopted and as the technologies on offer get more sophisticated in their capability the sensors they rely on would likely get more sensitive in the foreseeable future if anything.
There are lots of developments and teething issues still to come and the ever-changing technology, along with the risk of litigation, means that the calibration issue is here to stay, for the medium term at least.
How can the industry respond?
As the above highlights, training and awareness was a theme which underlined much of what was discussed, and the majority of members agreed that there is a need for constant training to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology.
ADAS is a complex group of technologies, the table acknowledged that the industry needs to be mindful of grouping very different technologies under the same umbrella.
The term ADAS incorporates many different things with a wide range of safety benefits and as such this training needs to be more than general awareness training but rather focused on highlighting specific requirements and uses.
This training needs to be across the industry, from the manufacturer down to the dealership, fleet manager and eventually the driver.
It is essential that drivers follow best practice at all times when using the technology, and the panel highlighted Brake’s recent ‘ADAS Best Practice Guidelines’, produced with Autoglass, as a document that serves to guide the industry and help promote safe habits.
Many felt there is a missing link between everyone in the industry which would allow for a smooth transfer of knowledge and ensure that all parties are aware of their responsibilities in ensuring ADAS is used properly and safely by all fleet drivers.