On-board safety cameras can be a hard sell for truckers — until they need them

Adam Kahn likes to talk to truck drivers who use his company’s on-board camera safety system, SmartDrive. Stopping at a McDonald’s for lunch recently, the senior director of marketing noticed a truck from Golden State Foods making a delivery.

“I saw the driver unloading some boxes,” Kahn said. “I asked him how he liked our system, and he didn’t. He said, ‘I’m a good driver, and I don’t need it.’ I told him about a video that exonerated a truck driver when someone committed suicide by jumping in front of his truck. He thought that was cool, but still didn’t like the idea of being filmed.

“Then I told him, ‘You’re the one who controls when that video goes off.’ He looked at me and said, ‘You know what, you’re right.’”

Truck-mounted cameras, especially those that capture video of the truck driver during an incident, may be a hard sell to some truckers, but as they realize the amount of control they have over the system — and see benefits — drivers will come around, Kahn said.

Drivers ultimately are responsible for their own behavior — which can trigger the system if they slam on the brakes or swerve out of lane. But they also may purposely trigger the system to record a video, a feature that has helped drivers document incidents on the highway and at docks, Kahn said.

“You see a lot of cases where drivers are hitting a manual trigger button to capture events that would be hard to explain to the front office.” As an example, he cited an incident where one tractor-trailer passed another and clipped the front of the truck.

“The driver hit the manual capture button and then got on the CB and said, ‘Hey, you’d better pull over. You hit my rig, and I’ve got you on video.’ Without the video, his company may have told him he hit something and he would have to pay for it.”

Can on-board cameras improve truck safety? SmartDrive believes so, but trucking operators that want to use them will have to explain how the technology works thoroughly to avoid alienating truck drivers they are struggling to hire, train and keep.

Three out of four truck drivers who called in to discuss onboard cameras during a recent Sirius XM Road Dog Trucking News program hosted by journalist Mark Willis were opposed to cameras monitoring the driver — though they weren’t as concerned about exterior cameras.

“A key message is that a driver controls when a video is recorded,” Kahn said. “When GPS came out, that was big brother. Electronic logs – it’s the same complaint. With on-board cameras, this is another area where the truth of the solution is really in how you execute it.”

Trucking companies need to carefully plan how they will introduce the cameras and prepare a training and coaching program that helps drivers improve and rewards good performance.

“It’s definitely a program, not a product. If you have a couple of driver coaches who point out every mistake a driver makes, you’re going to lose that driver,” Kahn said. “But if you use video to support drivers and as a collaborative tool, that could lead to improved driver retention.”

Drivers interviewed on the radio show worried cameras could be misused and drivers abused by their companies. One driver repeated an anecdotal story about a company that used a camera to spy on a female driver off-duty. Others expressed fears cameras could be hacked to invade their privacy. That’s not how SmartDrive works, however, Kahn said.

Although the camera is on while the vehicle is in operation, only small snippets of video — about 20 seconds — are stored when an incident occurs: a few seconds before and after the event. Those snippets are not transmitted directly to the trucking operator, but to SmartDrive, which acts as a third-party clearinghouse. Only videos that meet a certain threshold or certain criteria defined by the customer are sent on to the trucking company for management review.

“Our value is in our ability to capture risk,” Kahn said. “We’re very conscious about being statistically relevant in the amount of events we capture and send on to the customer.”

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc.

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