As you pull into a free space, ready for some rest from the day’s long ride, millions of data points about your drive are being uploaded and saved. Your speed when you thought nobody was looking, captured. The sudden brake you applied when a vehicle cut you off out of nowhere, also captured.
You cannot operate a truck without being fully immersed in telematics and data management (also known as fleet tracking), tools that are easily viewed as only making work more productive. Using your onboard computer, you can review your speed, fuel use, G-forces at stops, and location. Carriers have been using telematics to track trip distances and time, idling, and driving habits in a way that has led to improving delivery and fuel efficiency. Additional information, such as vehicle faults and error codes allow trucks to be better maintained, preventing costly repair costs down the road. The most popular platforms employ open telematics, allowing drivers to integrate other types of hardware and software, including dispatch communications, cameras, electronic logging (ELDs), routing tools, and any other item the carrier may require to meet their needs. The benefits of telematics are obvious, and have shown real-world practicality in business development using the intelligence gained from every ride.
So, what is the problem?
One of the most pervasive negatives of telematics is distracted driving. Some distractions are obvious, like using the entertainment features of a system or texting while driving. Some distractions are the driver feeling the need to be engaged with the system while driving, from route planning to dispatch communications, to weather alerts. Telematic instruments will likely record the actions of the driver and may document to the carrier’s detriment the driver using the device just prior to or during a collision. Several nuclear verdicts against the trucking industry have resulted because of a distracted driver, usually on a cell phone, causing serious injury as a result of inattention.
Employers should be careful that their policies and practices do not create a situation where the driver feels pressured to use these distracting electronics. Proactive steps must be taken to direct drivers to abstain from using the system while operating their trucks in motion. A driver’s training on how to operate the telematic tools should also include training on when not to operate them.
The information gained by telematics has allowed responsible businesses to address safety issues before they result in accidents, from retraining drivers who show problems, to terminating drivers with serious safety risks. Such steps save the public from danger and reduce the company’s exposure to catastrophic litigation. Counterintuitively, therein lays part of the problem.
Telematics provides the carrier information about a driver, regardless of whether the carrier reviews the information or acts on it. If a company employs an unsafe driver who is involved in an accident, and there is a record of that driver operating his or her truck erratically and dangerously, that information will be used by a plaintiff to show the employer created a dangerous situation by ignoring this obvious danger and should be held accountable.
A good defense
Although telematics is an area that can have negative repercussions, the technology can also help drivers involved in an accident. A truck’s computer is objective, capturing information that is subject to mistake by a witness, even the driver himself. Dash cameras have captured reckless drivers causing accidents, even while they claim a truck crashed into them. Onboard computers have assisted in showing a truck was not speeding as witnesses had claimed. The objective recording by telematics has allowed carriers to cut-off some claims before they start, saving significant legal expenses. For these reasons, carriers should ensure they have a retention policy in place, to preserve the information gathered in an accident that may be used by the legal defense team.
In summary, carriers need to be aware that telematic technology, while providing them great advantages, also puts them in a position of greater responsibility where, because of the information available to them, they will be held responsible for acting on that information. Employers must ensure they have a well-versed and clear operating policy, limiting what will be tolerated as acceptable driving, and making clear and effective penalties for violating these safeguards. Drivers need to be aware that someone is always watching, and employers need to know they must act on violations of a policy or else they subject the company to potentially catastrophic litigation.
If you have any questions regarding best practices for telematic data retention policies, employee guidelines, or operating policies in general, please contact Michael Jacquez (firstname.lastname@example.org) at 804-377-1262 or Steve Setliff (email@example.com) at 804-377-1261.