Fleet News

Telematics: legal issues

Surveillance technology can be vital in running an efficient fleet – but what are the implications?

As residents of the most watched state in Europe, British people are used to surveillance.

Talk of mass databases and monitoring has become commonplace.

Though many feel uncomfortable at the thought of an official watching our every move, we resign ourselves to the fact that in today’s digital age personal information can be just a mouse click away.

Observing shopping trends is one thing, but what about when it comes to your mobility?

How would you feel if your boss knew about every journey you made, every address you visited and every time you crept over the speed limit?

Fleet telematics – the whole notion being to monitor a person’s motoring habits – is a growing force in the industry.

Short of what you had for breakfast, little black boxes can
transmit reams of information – real-time tracking, vehicle diagnostics, changes in speed, harsh manoeuvres – the list goes on.

Previously, Fleet News has put forward the business case for using telematics in some detail – knowing what your drivers are up to can lead to better journey planning and safety initiatives, generating significant reductions in both cost and occupational road risk.

But fleet managers often face resistance when implementing these systems and perhaps it is worth sparing a thought for your drivers.

One concerned driver – himself working in a fleet department – recently appealed to Fleet News on discovering that his company planned to install a tracking system in his work vehicle.

“This is not like when my company monitors my internet use,” he says, aghast at what he sees as an invasion of privacy.

“The internet is free, whereas my company car is something that I’m getting heavily taxed on.

“It worries me that I don’t get a say on the black box and it has the feel that Big Brother is watching you. I feel like I’m not being trusted to get on with my job.”

A number of fleet operators have also been in contact, unsure of the legal connotations of installing a tracker or more sophisticated telematics equipment.

Undoubtedly it is good practice to inform drivers that they are being watched.

However, it appears the fleet industry is still unsure of its obligations regarding driver monitoring.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) demands that employers notify their drivers of in-car monitoring if telematics are being used for anything more than asset tracking.

“Managers don’t have to ask for permission but you do have to tell your drivers that you are planning to monitor them,” says an ICO spokesman.

“Not to tell them would be a breach of the Data Protection Act and potentially there could be punitive action.

If a member of staff complains an employer would then find themselves under investigation by the ICO.”

Telematics packages can monitor hundreds of variables and fleet managers should be clued up on what information they need to collate in order to streamline their business.

Unnecessary monitoring could land a fleet manager on the wrong side of the Data Protection Act.

“Employers must act on the information that they are collecting in the way that they have set out to their employees.
“Businesses should not be collecting information that they don’t need and as soon as they have finished with the data they should get rid of it,” the ICO spokesman says.

Fleet legal expert David Faithful advises fleet managers to be honest with drivers about the information that is being collected by the “spy-in-the-cab”, not only as an exercise in best practice and data protection, but also to avoid falling foul of employment and privacy laws.

“Telematics is a very grey area legally and the issue of monitoring of employees is linked to employment legislation as well as the issue of privacy.

“The question that must be asked is whether the purpose of the telematics is to monitor the vehicle, for example asset protection or location, or to monitor the driver, such as speed, driver behaviour or working hours”, Mr Faithful says.

“There is a grey area between the two purposes as telematics systems can collect wide-ranging data. If there is some private usage of the vehicle then it’s a good idea to consult with staff.”

If there is any question over what information is needed and how it will ultimately be used then Mr Faithful reminds fleet operators that other solutions are available, particularly if telematics is proving problematic with staff.

“There are other management processes that you can put in place that are much less costly.

“You can manage issues such as mileage and journey times without using telematics, simply by trusting your employees.” 

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