Fleet News

Guest opinion: Telematics and the danger of big brother

THE necessity of vehicle insurance is an area which annually taxes the minds of fleet managers and finance directors, particularly as the cost of insurance and claims now forms a significant part of the fleet budget.

Over the past few years, fleet insurers have become better at profiling the risk presented by fleet drivers. In addition to the usual basic information on the number and cost of claims, much greater attention is now paid to the driver’s abilities, whether there has been driver training, the fleet’s attitude to health and safety and risk management and the nature of the journeys undertaken.

The result of such profiling is to enable the insurer to accurately calculate the most appropriate annual premium based upon the risk. Even in an environment of ever-increasing premiums, the better-managed fleets have seen a consequential reduction in the cost of insurance, or at least a manageable rise. Conversely, the less well-managed fleets have seen a sizeable increase in premiums or have become uninsurable.

The use of technology as a tool for efficient fleet management has become a growth industry.

These products rely on global positioning (GPS) technology to keep fleet managers informed about where their vehicles are at any given time.

The sophistication of some of the systems results in an ability to collect a wide range of data on how the driver controls the vehicle. For example, the speed they are travelling and whether they accelerate or brake sharply can be early indicators of an increased risk of collision.

But issues over privacy, combined with the initial cost of fitting the technology, perhaps offer some explanation as to why these systems have yet to take off in a major way.

Will fleets ultimately be required to fit GPS systems to their vehicles anyway? The answer is probably a resounding ‘yes’ if the Government has its way and introduces the proposed ‘Lorry Road User Charging Scheme’.

The current thinking seems to indicate that the preference for such a scheme would be for the vehicle telling the charging system what type of road it is travelling on and at what time, thereby avoiding the need for Government investment in roadside sensors or number plate recognition cameras.

We should also remember that the EU is quite keen for occupational vehicles to carry digital tachographs which could also carry a GPS capability.

There can be no doubt that a fleet with a good claims record could achieve reductions on vehicle insurance by subscribing to a GPS-based insurance system. But where this would leave those fleets with indifferent claims records, or those with the odd rogue driver, is anybody’s guess.

In addition, such systems could potentially provide too much data on the vehicle and driver, infringing on the driver’s privacy, instead of just the intended information of what road they are on and at what time they are travelling.

The prospect is that all fleet vehicles will have this technology within a few years. My concern with such developments is the lack of regulations controlling the use of the data collected. This was summed up by a spokeswoman from the Information Commissioners office, who said: ‘As long as people know the device is there and have given specific consent, there is no problem, provided the information is not used for secondary purposes.’

It is the extent of the consent ,and ‘the secondary purpose’, which is likely to trip up data collectors or the drivers’ employers, both in respect of systems currently in use and future insurance-based schemes.

I suspect that eventually the Information Commissioner will get to grips with this area. Until then, the legal position will remain a little fuzzy.

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