##mikewaters--left## 'Telematics has been seen by some as the saviour of the fleet industry, by others as a solution vainly in search of a problem. All the talk initially created a situation much like the hype that surrounded the dotcom sector in the mid-1990s.
And, much like the dotcoms, some have rushed in to take early advantage of the vista of new opportunities that telematics could provide. Others remain cagier, waiting to see what develops.
While it is true that installing a system in a fleet car would provide an array of data, the key is to ensure this data is then interpreted properly and turned into management information that will aid the efficient running of the fleet.
In addition, fleet managers must feel comfortable that by fitting telematics to their vehicles they are not opening themselves up to legal or HR problems further down the line.
There is no doubt the technology being used by some of the providers is excellent and future developments will make it even better.
However, I return to the core questions that need to be asked, such as 'what value will this add to my fleet?' and 'how will this benefit our drivers?'
There are benefits. Fleet managers will have access to a wealth of data for analysing driver safety and performance, vehicle mileage and even fuel purchasing trends.
Cars will be able to book themselves in for maintenance when they meet set mileage limits, while any accident will be accompanied by information on the vehicle's location and on the nature of the incident. The car might even be able to contact the nearest repairer directly.
That is clearly the upside of telematics. However, there are a number of legislative issues that could cast a shadow over its immediate future.
For example, if information obtained from a 'black box' is used to discipline a driver for an infraction, the company's access to data for that purpose might contravene the Data Protection Act.
The same holds true for a company accessing location data while the driver is not driving on business or out of working hours. Also, any employment contract that does not have a specific section dealing with access to telematics information could be violated by the use of that data to discipline or dismiss an employee.
In addition, if the data from a vehicle is used as criminal evidence, police access to that information could be viewed as a violation of the employee's human rights under current European legislation.
Finally, at a time when the use of mobile phones in cars is under such close scrutiny, any equipment that could potentially distract the driver (mapping software shown on-screen when the car is moving, for example) is of equal concern. That is why voice-activated technology would seem to be the way forward.
There are a lot of 'mights' and 'coulds' in the preceding examples. That is because there is currently no UK case law on these issues. This serves only to make the legal waters murkier, and the risks should be understood by any employer planning to employ these devices.
So, fleet managers should not be blinded by this technology. They should determine where telematics-based services can add real value and deliver clear financial benefits.
It is also essential to ensure proper consideration has been given to all legal issues associated with use of this technology. For technology to be worthwhile, it needs to demonstrate that it has real value to those using it, both the employer and the driver. Not all the applications that add value are available at the moment. There are a number of legal and technological issues to be overcome, but in time they will be addressed. When they are, there is little doubt that telematics has the potential to reshape many aspects of the fleet management industry.'