A pregnant woman was driving along a crowded Interstate 70 in the middle of a Missouri snowstorm when her car was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer. The woman told police that she stopped because the other trucks and cars
on the highway hit their brakes. An eyewitness backed up her account, which typically would yield a large insurance payout and could have cost the truck driver his job. But it didn’t, thanks to video cameras that recorded what was happening inside and outside the truck.
While eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, “video footage doesn’t lie,” Brandon Leininger, director of risk management at American Central Transport (ACT), said, recalling that winter accident. “Our driver had a good following distance. He did everything he could but still made contact with her at a low speed.”
Before driver cameras, Leininger said, an accident involving a truck colliding with a pregnant woman’s car in a snowstorm would result in a six-figure insurance settlement. “She said all the other trucks stopped and our guy hit her,” he recalled. “But when you look at the footage, there are no brake lights but hers. There were a bunch of semis around her on a big stretch of I-70, and she just stopped.”
Once the woman’s insurance company saw the video footage, they quickly settled for minimal damage, Leininger said.
“It could have ruined this driver,” Phil Wilt, president of ACT, said. “He would have been gone from us. That could have prevented him from going to another good carrier. Good carriers pay drivers a lot of money.”
ACT started using DriveCam by Lytx in its cabs in late 2014. The Kansas City-based dry-van trucking company, founded in 1926, hauls freight from the Midwest to the East Coast and employs 320 drivers.
“We want our drivers to return home,” Wilt said. “We want them to go back to their families. We want to make sure we are a good trucking company. That we are safe. That we are above board. Those are key things that are paramount here. We have used the driver-facing cameras from day one.”
Wilt said that his drivers are often accused of things they haven’t done on the road. “We found this settled the matter really quickly,” he said. “What happens is we will have a motorist complaint and then we will hear: ‘Oh, you have a camera on board? Never mind.’ This has been a huge deal.”
The driver-facing cameras are not just about halting litigation. They can help keep even the most seasoned truckers from falling into bad habits, thanks to coaching. ACT has a full-time coach who works for Leininger. “That coach is all about improving behavior,” Wilt said. “We have had drivers who worked for us for a long time who have thanked us for having this.”
ACT isn’t alone in winning over veteran drivers on the benefits of in-cab video technology. Knight Transportation, based in Phoenix, started using SmartDrive Systems’ video-based safety programs in its more than 4,000 tractors in 2016.
It was an eye-opening move for Roger Call, a Knight driver with more than 15 years of experience, who didn’t think he was an aggressive driver. But after using the SmartDrive system, he realized he was aggressive on the roads. “As an aggressive driver, you are putting yourself and your surroundings more at risk,” he said. “But I didn’t feel like I was an aggressive driver because I’ve been on the road for 16 years.”
Call says he’s now a better driver thanks to SmartDrive and coaching. “For the company liability, my own safety and the public safety, SmartDrive has made a big difference.”
Of course, many drivers have balked at the idea of having a camera recording their every move inside the cab.
“A lot of drivers like the outward-facing cameras,” said Norita Taylor, media spokesperson for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). “But inward cameras have a lot of concerns.”
While Taylor says she hasn’t surveyed OOIDA members about in-cab cameras, she has heard a lot of concerns about privacy, noting that owner-operators can do as they wish. “How about just regular old-fashioned training? Technology can be a great thing, but when is it too much?”
While independent drivers can make the call for themselves, more drivers of large fleets are being told they don’t have a choice.
Wilt said that ACT did all it could to help drivers get more comfortable with the in-cab cameras. “But we also didn’t apologize for it,” he said. “If you want to work for us, this is part of the deal. We all have to be better, and that is just what we are about. We get it. We want to talk about it, but we are believers in it.”
Wilt looks at it as an opportunity for drivers to be better—and safer. “We’ve had accidents in the past few months where if the driver did not have his seat belt on, there would be fatalities.”
Instead of turning all this new data into something negative, ACT tries to make it positive by rewarding drivers for each month without a clickable event. Five of the company’s drivers have not had a single clickable event with DriveCam. So ACT brought them in and held a recognition ceremony, rewarding each with a custom jacket — something Leininger said their spouses loved.
“I think for a program that wants to be successful, you have to have a positive recognition. Otherwise, I see how drivers can think you are always pointing out things they are doing wrong,” Leininger said.
Kroger, which oversees 1,300 deliveries in 31 states per day, is one of the nation’s largest retailers. Within four months of adding Lytx’s DriveCam to its fleet, it has seen 50% fewer collisions, a 71% reduction in handheld cell phone use, and 82% reduction in drivers not wearing their seat belts.
After a two-city DriveCam pilot program, Kroger learned that about 15% of its drivers were responsible for 80% of its risk. By using experienced coaches who were also truck drivers, they’ve been able to connect with and help their current drivers be safer.
Tennessee-based Averitt Express uses SmartDrive Shield, which is a road-facing-only camera technology that has the option to upgrade to an in-cab camera down the road. The company said that its 4,800-truck fleet has reduced DOT-recordable accidents (a crash where a vehicle was totaled or someone was killed or taken from the scene by ambulance) and has seen its subrogation collections increase by 15%—while saving millions of dollars in liability costs. SmartDrive said that Averitt’s savings offset the cost of equipping its fleet for five years.
“One thing that is unique about our platform is the cameras are independent,” explained Jason Palmer, COO of SmartDrive. “You don’t have to have outward- and inward-facing cameras. Because the cameras are separated, you can install the driver-facing camera so it doesn’t face into the sleeper berth.”
Drivers with SmartDrive in-cab cameras also have the option to turn the camera off when they stop. “Once the truck moves more than 50 feet, it will turn the inward-facing camera on,” Palmer said. “So if you are stopped or on a break, you can turn it off for privacy.”
Palmer said the inward-facing cameras really leave no doubt about what the driver was doing during an accident. “The plaintiff’s attorney is going to try all they can to prove the driver was at fault,” he said, noting that an outward-facing camera’s timestamp might not line up with a cell phone company’s time records. The in-cab cameras, he said, are continuously exonerating drivers.
“I was one of the first Arnold drivers to have SmartDrive installed,” said Dennis Hasse, who has been driving tractor-trailers for 25 years—the past 15 years with Arnold Transportation Services, based in Grand Prairie, TX. “Some of my peers thought I was crazy.”
Just a few months into using SmartDrive, Hasse’s truck hit a gate at a shipping facility, which said he was at fault. “The video showed that the guard let the gate down before I cleared it,” he said. “That video kept the company from paying for a gate, and it kept me from being at fault. Now I would not drive without it in my truck.”
SmartDrive Systems, like its competitor Lytx, is based in San Diego. Both companies boast of how much safer America’s highways—and truck drive —are, thanks to video technology.
On the average, SmartDrive fleets with in-cab video have seen driver texting reduced by 64% and have seen unfastened seat belts decreased by 72% in the first year. Trucks using outward-facing cameras report speeding reduced by 66% and unsafe following reduced by 52% in the first year.
One of the most important statistics to drivers and trucking companies is proof. “We focus on exonerating the driver,” said SmartDrive’s Palmer. “We are able to clearly prove that 80% of the time, the truck driver is not responsible. Eyewitness accounts are not reliable. The video usually contradicts what is in the police reports based on eyewitness reports.”
Trucks often get the blame because they are the largest vehicles on the road, and it takes a lot more roadway for a tractor-trailer to come to a stop than a car. But that doesn’t mean a collision is the truck driver’s fault.
“During the course of a collision, a lot of times what happens is a driver cuts a truck off and [the truck driver] swerves to avoid the vehicle in front of him,” Palmer said. “The driver evades hitting [the car], and the trailer hits another vehicle that was behind him.”
In a situation like that, Palmer said, the eyewitness testimony usually blames the truck driver. But the video recordings show it wasn’t the truck driver’s fault.
While many drivers worry about having hours of recorded footage of them in the cab and, of course, about privacy, it is usually only the accidents that get recorded and uploaded.
“It is purely an event recorder,” ACT’s Leininger said. “The accelerometer has to be set off. We’re not watching them all day long. We are only getting 12-second clips.”
Hard braking and a sudden lane change are the type of truck movements that turn the recorder on and automatically upload the video for the fleet manager’s access. Or a driver can manually activate the recorder. “So every event we get is only going to show us eight seconds before the event and four seconds after,” Leininger said. “We do not have the ability, interest or time to watch our drivers 24/7. We let them cover the camera up when they are on their break time. That helps some of them not feel like we are intruding on them.”
As ACT’s Wilt put it: “We know that the cab is their home on the road and they deserve privacy. No kidding, we can’t see anything nor do we want to.”
On a typical week, ACT gets 180 to 200 events uploaded from its fleet. “On average, only about 25 to 30 are clickable,” Wilt said. “So only those coachable events are getting any kind of phone conversation-coaching. The other events could have been a bump in the road.”
If the uploaded event is not clickable, the video is not saved.
According to Leininger, since ACT started using in-cab cameras, it had fewer DOT-reportable accidents in 2015 and 2016 combined than all of 2014. The company started using the cameras in late 2014. That year its fleet was involved in 30 reportable accidents. In 2015 it was nine, and in 2016 it was 18.
ACT has also seen decreases in its average monthly Unsafe Driving and Crash Driving CSA Scores, which in the past two and a half years have dropped from the 30s into the teens.
“The best thing that we have ever done for our drivers and our future was putting cameras in the cabs,” Wilt said. “Yeah, there are some hard conversations— yes there are. But we have a responsibility to get everyone home safely.”