What do you get if you put a self-important driver in charge of a nice new Honda Accord that happens to contain some highly sophisticated diagnostic equipment?
The kind of language that is too colourful for print, I’m afraid.
When I heard that Bauer, owner and publisher of Fleet News, was trialling a new kind of in-car monitoring system, courtesy of GreenRoad Technologies, I was keen to give it a go.
The GreenRoad system uses a variety of sensors to measure a driver’s speed and manoeuvres.
Harsh braking, bad handling and sharp acceleration are all flagged up and displayed to the driver via a small “traffic light” unit on the dash.
Good driving is rewarded with a constant green light.
Do anything abrupt enough to trigger the system and a yellow LED starts to flash. Unsafe manoeuvres get you a red.
It’s a good job I was in the car on my own.
Initially, everything was good. All green.
Then I got my first red light and lost my temper.
Everybody hates backseat drivers.
When you get emotional at an inanimate object it’s a bit harder to feel superior.
But you still want to prove it wrong.
I got back to my desk to discover that my drive had been classified as high risk.
Food for thought: if a quick trip around the block could make me reassess my driving, what would a month with the system do for me?
Seven Bauer drivers have had GreenRoad in their cars for the past four months.
The trial has been a casual one, with no incentives to drive well, and, likewise, no reprimands for poor driving.
Despite having no consequences, they’ve all noticed a change in their behaviour behind the wheel.
Along with the in-car display, drivers can check their performance in more detail online.
GreenRoad’s little black boxes transmit the sensory information to an online safety centre where drivers can find out exactly why they got that red light earlier.
Information is correlated on a trip-by-trip basis and drivers can monitor their progress over an extended period of time.
And so can their managers.
Debbie Floyd, Bauer’s fleet manager, has been impressed by the reporting suite and how it allows her to pin-point risky behaviour.
“All our drivers have become safer and I definitely think the system would work well for our high mileage drivers,” she says.
“The reporting suite is fabulous and there is so much information that you can view about a driver’s manoeuvres.
"For instance, there is one driver with particularly bad handling and I can now see that he could do with some training.”
As well as helping to identify risk, the self-regulating nature of the system has meant that the drivers have all made an effort to drive more considerately, and therefore, more efficiently.
“They’ve all increased their fuel economy by around 10mpg,” she explains.
However, Debbie also admits that not all of the drivers have warmed to the system, which could be a problem for managers of executive fleets looking to juggle a non-business driver’s freedom with their safety; “Once the novelty wore off our drivers weren’t keen on being monitored.
“It would probably work better with sales fleets where there are lots of drivers all doing the same high mileage.”
When it comes to implementation Mark Hampson, UK accounts manager at Green- Road, believes communication is key.
“No-one wants something in their car that tells them about how they’re driving.
"There’s always a negative reaction to start with,“ he explains.
“However, much of the solution is about communicating with drivers, helping them understand and improve their safety scores.
“This is a system where drivers improve themselves.”
The system has certainly provoked a strong response in Bauer drivers.
They’ve criticised the sensor settings –“To be a green driver all of the time you have to drive like an old person”; the unit – “You become dependant on the unit, it’s a distraction”; and the lack of motivation – “Giving us a performance incentive would’ve seen better results.”
But whether they like it or not, the drivers have become safer.
And they’ve got the diagnostic data to prove it.
And one Bauer driver, previously GreenRoad’s biggest critic, now attributes keeping her licence to the system.
“The system made me really angry at first,” she says. “If it was showing what I thought of as the ‘wrong’ colour I would just ignore it.
“But I’ve got used to it now and I’m much happier with it – I can actually see that I’m driving more safely.
“I’m a high-risk driver doing a lot of miles, with a lot of penalty points. I was going the right way to losing my licence.
"It’s made me think about my behaviour and how unsafe I was before I started using it.”