Fleet News

Telematics: Time to give your drivers the gift of a black box?

THE problem with running a fleet is that drivers have an annoying habit of taking their vehicles away from the safety and security of the base.

Apparently, their business is too important to hang around where you can make sure all is well – they have to go gallivanting about the country where you can’t keep an eye on them and anything could happen. For many years, this was a problem.

Who knew what drivers were up to? Who knew if they were doing what they were supposed to be doing and going where they were supposed to be going? Trusting your employees is all very well, but hardly a foolproof method of ensuring their safety and that they’re doing their jobs properly.

These days, however, technology has a solution – telematics.


TELEMATICS. From the Latin tele, meaning ‘far off’, and matos, from the Greek machinari, meaning ‘of its own accord’. These days, telematics means the long-distance transmission of computer-based information and primarily refers to vehicle tracking.

The technology works through a combination of a satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver and a modem installed in each vehicle – a ‘black box’ – which communicates with a central unit through PC or web-based software. The data sent back and forth between the two is turned into information by management reporting software and a visual display linked to mapping software. This means that the fleet manager sitting at his computer can keep track of which vehicle is where without constantly phoning drivers for updates.

What’s the point?

HAVING the ability to monitor, track and record vehicle activity brings with it a host of benefits that can make for a safer and more efficient fleet.

Safety and responsibility

THE S word is always high up on any fleet manager’s priority list, and telematics can be a huge help to those struggling with their duty of care responsibilities.

A decent telematics system can ensure that drivers stay within the speed limit and don’t exceed their working hours. The very latest systems can even tell if the driver is driving aggressively, skidding or braking suddenly, and can build up a profile of the worst offenders. Most systems have a feature that will allow fleet managers to enter parameters and be alerted by email or text if those parameters are breached – for example, if a driver exceeds 70mph or starts the engine before 7am.

Such information can help a company fulfil its obligations under existing and proposed legislation such as the Working Time Directive and the Corporate Manslaughter Bill. Should one of your vehicles have an accident, the information collected by a telematics system can be invaluable in determining what happened, providing an easily accessible audit trail for internal use or the investigating authorities. The systems can also track a vehicle if it is hijacked or stolen.

Management data

THE more data you have on your fleet, the better. Telematics can help you collect and analyse a wealth of information across the range of issues facing fleets.

Mileage and fuel use can be examined to find improvements, and knowing where a vehicle is at a particular time can enable you to efficiently assign jobs to those nearest the next destination.

Linking telematics to satellite navigation equipment in the vehicles can optimise the routes your drivers take, saving time and fuel.


ONE of the major concerns surrounding the use of black boxes is the ‘big brother’ impression that many employees have of the technology. Many drivers are unhappy at the concept of being monitored 24 hours a day.

But with some explanation, it should be possible to convince them that adopting telematics is for the good of everybody, rather than to spy on them.

It makes it easier to record private and business mileage, reducing the amount of paperwork to be carried out and cutting bills all round. And of course, the ultimate response is this – if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear. Should you choose to implement telematics, giving drivers a few months notice should give them enough time to leave if they are really unwilling to work with the technology in their vehicle.

The future

TELEMATICS is continually evolving, with new features and reporting abilities being developed all the time.

Possible features down the line include the ability to put webcams in or on vehicles, either to monitor surroundings or to keep an eye on drivers, for their security or your peace of mind.

Such systems could also record vital visual data in the event of an accident.

Recent developments in tracking, such as the ability to monitor aggressive driving, skids and heavy braking, suggest that Formula One levels of telemetry might not be out of the question.

The ability to accurately record vehicle data, revs, G-forces and the like could be of paramount importance in weeding out those who are pushing their luck when it comes to responsible driving, and in finding out just why driver X needs new tyres after only 2,000 miles. It can also help the police in an investigation should the worst happen and therefore help indemnify the company against prosecution.

Whatever the future, the present state of telematics is comprehensive enough to persuade all fleets to consider its use. The benefit the technology has the potential to deliver is surely worth the investment.

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