Fleet News

Traffic light telematics: Real-time or time for reflection?

The fleet telematics market is a crowded one, so it’s important that managers make the most of their time and data to ensure they’re not overloaded with information.

The good thing about having a wide choice of systems available is having the opportunity to find a telematics product that is a custom fit for the company’s objectives.

Paul O’Dowd, sales manager at In-Car Cleverness, says it is difficult to advise how often, or for how long, fleets should interrogate their telematics data, as it is usually determined by the needs of the business.

However, if data is raising an issue where the business would be liable if it did not take action, using alerts could be the best option.

Depending on what telematics system a fleet is using, they can set up parameters for an alert such as speeding or to flag up something outside policy.

O’Dowd says: “Alerts can help those managing the system to be proactive and to be positioned to rectify these kinds of issues, rather than waiting until the matter has passed or has lost its importance to the business due to the time taken to act upon the transgression.”

Real-time traffic light systems can give visual and audible warnings to drivers that are operating their vehicle outside preset safety and efficiency parameters.

David Wilson, Tracker chief operating officer, believes that, while real-time systems are great at ensuring drivers are alerted of offences as they happen, spending more time with the data can provide greater detail.

He says: “Certainly fleet operators need to be selective about the amount and type of data their company needs – and has the resources to analyse.

“It has to be usable and, most importantly, the right resource has to be in place to interpret it, to give it meaning and relevance to the business.”

Paul Foster, Telogis solutions engineer, says no fleet manager can afford to sit and spend hours each day looking at telematics data. Foster believes a weekly check in to make sure trends are moving in the right direction is a good idea.

He says: “Don’t try to boil the ocean, just pick out the key areas you want to pick up on.”

While the Telogis system doesn’t use a visual real-time traffic light system, drivers are encouraged to check their progress on their smartphone before they start driving and after they have completed a journey.

This is illustrated with a red, amber or green rating. Drivers can also see how they rank compared to others within the company. This can be named or anonymous, depending on what the company wants.

Foster says: “If everyone knows they’re being compared across the same level and they’re being monitored in the same way, I think it helps with acceptance.”

There is also a module fleets can add which blocks the app from being used while a vehicle is in motion, for those fleets concerned their drivers will check in mid-journey.

Foster says: “Introducing an element of competition for who is the best driver can always be a good motivator and introducing prizes for the best each month can be good too. It doesn’t have to be a monetary reward necessarily. One company we work with awarded the managing director’s car parking space to the best driver for a month.”

Data-informed driver training

Mark Roberts, managing director of real-time driver train-ing company Lightfoot, says: “That whole admin cycle of getting data, interpreting it and then implementing a
plan to improve is something we’re looking to cut out for fleets entirely.

“If the company has set their parameters for what constitutes a violation we don’t see managers having to check in other than glancing at the report they get from the system each week.”

Roberts says this is because the majority of drivers will not drive outside what is acceptable due to the way a real-time system works.

Vehicles fitted with Lightfoot give drivers two audible warnings if they accelerate or brake outside a fleet’s set parameters. These warnings are not reported to managers. Only when a driver continues to drive outside a fleet’s policy will a violation be added to their driver profile.

A weekly Lightfoot report shows the percentage of time each driver spent in red, amber or green. If any driver is in the red for an unacceptable percentage, managers can step in with training. A real-time traffic light system provides a prompt to the driver based on their driving style. This is usually generated by a visual light bar that illuminates green when driving well; amber-to-red when driving becomes persistently worse.

The information generated from a ‘traffic light’ system requires a configuration of triggers to determine good or bad driving behaviour. A score is typically generated based on real-time analysis taken from gear changes, revving, speed and breaking.

A real-time system can provide instant feedback to drivers, but is it the best way to improve efficiency and behaviour? Some fleets are worried drivers will be focused on whether the display is changing from green to red, rather than giving their full attention to the road.

Roberts says: “We like to look at our system as a distraction from bad driving.

“We find that most drivers don’t tend to look at the colour display at all once they are used to the system and the audio notification gives an indication without having to take your eyes off the road. If they’re driving within the set parameters the fleet manager has set, they won’t see or hear a thing.”

Roberts argues that while some telematics systems provide data fleet managers sit and react to, the benefit of using a real-time system is that you cut out the analysis.

He says: “Real-time driver coaching is pre-empting bad driving, rather than being reactive. Having a real-time system is like giving a voice to the engine and training the driver on each journey.”

Amanda Mullans, operations director at Total Accident Management, argues that instant feedback alone is not enough to improve driver behaviour.

Mullans says: “Instant driver feedback does not prevent an incident from happening; it notifies the driver when an event has occurred.”

O’Dowd says one of the downsides to using a real-time traffic light system over a long period is that drivers can become complacent.

He says: “The traffic light system is reliant on the type of personalities or individuals using it.

“Will they follow the prompts? Would the system make a driver more nervous and prone to making mistakes? You still have to make sure drivers are following the
prompts correctly.”

O’Dowd claims that a real-time system also does not tolerate certain situations that may arise, for example, preventative measures to avoid accidents, a particularly hilly delivery location or increased payloads (which affect fuel consumption, braking and accelerating) and all would be seen as bad driving by a real-time system.

The crucial consideration is that operators choose a system that is right for them and their drivers.

For: Christie Intruder Alarms

Security solutions business Christie Intruder Alarms (CIA) chose to install a real-time traffic light system across its 100-strong fleet of Vauxhall Astra vans after fleet manager Andy Jenkins researched the market for driver training and duty of care.

He says: “As a company, we take our responsibilities seriously. I needed to know we’d done all we could to make sure that our guys are safe and also that they are responsible road users.”

CIA ran an eight-month trial of Ashwood’s Lightfoot system to see what effect it would have on saving money on fuel, as well as on driver behaviour.

The trial had to establish that CIA would be saving enough on fuel in order to make the installation of a real-time system self-funding. 

Jenkins says: “Through experience, I know people change their habits for a short time only. As humans we generally know what we’re supposed to be doing but we often don’t do it.

“Driver training is a quick fix; its impact lasts for maybe three or four weeks. Whereas a real-time telematics system is a long-term fix; it provides continuous reminders to help drivers maintain a safe and efficient style.”

CIA has now been running the system for more than five months and is seeing a consistent monthly fuel saving of 12%. There has also been a reduction in the fleet’s accident rate.

Jenkins says: “The reduction in our accident rate could be a coincidence. However, now that our drivers are much more aware of their driving style, it follows that there will be a lower risk of accidents. The picture will become even clearer when we have 12-months’ data.”

Against: Hobart UK

Eric Bristow, fleet manager – service division, at catering industry kitchen appliance provider Hobart, has reduced the amount of time spent on administration now his telematics system has had time to bed in.

Bristow was making 35 calls a week to staff about excessive speeding when the company’s telematics system was first fitted to 200 LCVs, making a total of around 300 deliveries a day.

The number of cases has been reduced to just four a week after using the system for a period of four years.

Bristow gets daily reports from Hobart’s telematics provider Navman Wireless and he then uses a custom programme he wrote himself to monitor drivers. It takes around 10 to 15 minutes each day.

There is a clear education and disciplinary route in place at Hobart, with drivers receiving a phone call, a letter, training and then a formal warning. Bristow says: “We look at speed as the main issue and the system we use has a parameter which highlights the single worst incident on each day.

“I would say the first step has always got to be education.”

Hobart doesn’t use a real-time system using traffic light indicators. “I think sharing that information in real-time can be a real distraction when they should be focusing on driving safely,” says Bristow.

Drivers that speed are given training, while those that improve their driving efficiency receive a monetary reward.

Bristow says: “I think that, if drivers are saving the company money through using less fuel and helping to lower SMR costs due to lower tyre and brake wear, it’s only right that we reward them for that saving in some way.”

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