Fleet News

Vehicle technology: in-car intelligence

Since the advent of telematics, fleets have been able to tell if their drivers are driving too fast or straying from the places they should be.

But speed and location don’t always tell the whole story about how your staff behave behind the wheel.

Who’s to say that when driver A was doing 60mph, he wasn’t doing it sideways, tyres squealing?

When driver B had a prang in his van, how do you know that he wasn’t reading a text message at the same time?

Telematics systems can only tell you so much – or can they? New technological developments from SmartDrive and Drive Diagnostics can let fleet managers know more about driver behaviour, and can even replay video footage of on-road incidents.


SMARTDRIVE is a US system that takes a basic approach – using video to watch the driver.

Two miniature cameras mounted behind the rear view mirror document bad driving. One camera points towards the driver, and the other points at the road ahead. Sensors detect vehicle movement – when the movement is excessive, the cameras are triggered.

A hard-drive records 15 seconds before and after the time the cameras are triggered, catching the scene immediately before an incident. Panic buttons can also be installed in the vehicle, allowing drivers to activate the recording to document other drivers’ behaviour.

Fleet managers can then review the footage and see what was happening both in the driver’s seat and around the vehicle in question.

Insurance company Mitsui Sumitomo (MSI) has jumped on the technology and is rolling it out to selected customers as part of its road-risk management service.

MSI underwriter Marc Wanless says he believes the system, when combined with further road safety consulting, will help clients reduce collisions and save money.

‘We expect to achieve substantial cost savings, not only from an underwriting perspective, but also operationally,’ he says.

Reynolds Catering Supplies has just installed the SmartDrive system for a 12-month trial in 20 vans out of the firm’s 160-strong fleet. It then hopes to roll it out to every vehicle.

Paul Collins, managing director of Reynolds, says: ‘SmartDrive enables us to record what happens in the cab of our vehicles when an accident occurs. It helps us understand what caused the problem. We’re striving for better safety and to understand exactly what will help a driver.

‘SmartDrive also acts as a preventative measure. The drivers were fully briefed prior to the system going in. There was a mixed reaction. Some drivers were very cool, others saw it as a spy in the cab, but once we explained how the system works it doesn’t really back their arguments.

‘The more preventative measures we can take, the better we feel. In the long term we hope it reduces accidents.’

The system costs £150-£400 for the camera set-up, depending on the size of fleet, and a monthly bill of about £20.

Drive Diagnostics

ISRAELI firm Drive Diagnostics takes an entirely different approach. It has developed a series of tools called SafetyCentre, based around a series of sensors installed in a black box in the car, much like standard telematics systems.

These sensors can detect each manoeuvre the driver makes, from acceleration and braking to U-turns, roundabouts, cornering and lane changing. The information collected by the black box is beamed to the SafetyCentre servers, which analyse the data and produce reports on how the motorist is driving. Sudden braking, sharp cornering, rapid acceleration and other driving styles considered undesirable by safety-conscious fleet managers can be flagged up.

The aim of SafetyCentre is not to identify individual drivers and punish them – in fact, fleet managers cannot view the records of individuals, only see the overall performance of the whole fleet.

Drive Diagnostics’ aim is to show drivers how they are doing, via a web-based interface, and create an incentive for them to drive better.

Andy Cozens, business development manager for Drive Diagnostics, says 120 manoeuvres can be measured.

‘The system is looking for anything above the safe parameters,’ he says. ‘The idea is that the drivers manage their own performance. It’s not meant to be used in a punitive fashion but to make people aware of their driving standards.’

The cost of installing the system varies depending on the clients’ wishes, but company founder Hod Fleischman says it is comparable to traditional telematics systems.

‘We have been able to show a 50% reduction in crash rates in the US, Israel and in the UK,’ he says. ‘We can also improve fuel efficiency by about 10%.’

One of the largest British clients is mobile phone giant T-Mobile, which installed Safety Centre in around 250 vehicles out of its 2,000-strong fleet in an effort to reduce driver risk, meet health and safety requirements and raise both driver and management awareness of what constitutes safe driving.

For the first four weeks, data was collected but the information not revealed to the drivers, as a way of identifying the risk of each individual person. This set a benchmark. Every manoeuvre was recorded and colour-coded by safety – green for low risk, yellow for medium and red for high.

After the analysis period, the system was explained to the drivers and company management. Six weeks later, T-Mobile measured the improvements, and found that unsafe manoeuvres fell from an average of around 80 every ten hours to around 40. Improvements were seen in acceleration and braking patterns, cornering, excessive manoeuvring and speed.

T-Mobile’s Jan Elfring, the field operations area manager overseeing the project, says: ‘We originally had some punitive measures in our policy but there was a lot of resentment and we had to review it.

‘Now it’s a carrot and not a stick policy and we’re having fun with it. People are sharing their results and being competitive about their safe driving. It’s a health and safety policy first and foremost, but we’re also trying to save money in fuel and bent metal. It’s too early to say whether it’s had that effect, but the early signs are promising.’

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