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Dash-Cams; Fleet Efficiency Tool or More?

Written by Peter Friberg.

Commercial Carrier Journal’s Aaron Huff posted a great article Monday about SmartDrive. SmartDrive produces a video-recording, data-capturing, device which video-records what is happening in front of the vehicle and also the driver. In addition, their system can be coupled (as the images in Huff’s article show) to GPS and vehicle diagnostics data. Obviously this has the potential to be a powerful tool.

In Russia, where traffic laws are only occasionally followed and accidents are common, many drivers have outward facing dashboard video-recorders to protect themselves in the case of accidents. Reportedly insurance companies there are reluctant to pay out claims and fraud is rampant as well. The dash-cams prove crucial in establishing fault and determining innocence.

In a similar manner, in many truck-related accidents the truck driver is blamed by the public at large and drivers’ reputations are damaged whether the evidence supports that conclusion or not. Dash-cams are becoming more and more common for this reason in U.S. trucking. But SmartDrive’s system goes well beyond this.

As Huff’s article explains,

All of the data visualization tools, key performance indicators, drill-down reporting and workflow in the suite is customized by user roles in the organization for improving the [drivers’ driving] scores and thus improving driver performance.

 

Some managers, for example, play the role of driver coaches and use “game time” film to give context and training to drivers for how to modify their risky behaviors and improve performance in a myriad of areas. Statistics show that driver performance improves by 43 percent, on average, after coaching, says Jason Palmer, president of SmartDrive.

Additionally, Huff and his sources talked about how these tools can be used to recruit more efficient drivers, cutting down on tire wear, showing hard data to pick up/delivery locations that waste drivers’ time, etc. All these things are fantastic for making a fleet more efficient.

But what’s not talked about in this article is that these same type of systems are the predecessors to autonomously driven trucks. I believe trucks will be autonomously-driven in the very near future but as reports such as this one in the New York Times show, we may not be as close as the general media and/or autonomous driving car leaders are suggesting. And the systems are still rife with complications that will require human involvement. And even if we let computers “drive” the trucks, we may want to keep a human behind the wheel to intervene when necessary.

Cars are beginning to drive on their own in certain situations, and in the coming years, they will do increasingly more under computer control. They will follow curving roads, change lanes, pass through intersections, and stop and start.

 

But they will require human supervision. Significantly, on many occasions, the cars will in effect still tell their human drivers, “Here, you take the wheel,” when they encounter complex driving situations or emergencies.

 

In the automotive industry, this is referred to as the handoff problem, and automotive engineers acknowledge that there is no easy solution. Automotive designers have not yet found a way to make a driver who may be distracted by texting, reading email or watching a movie perk up and retake control of the car in the fraction of a second that is required in an emergency.

 

The danger is that by inducing human drivers to pay even less attention to driving, the safety technology may be creating new hazards.

For now, SmartDrive is creating/has created an interesting and potentially hugely useful tool. We’ll see how it is used and where SmartDrive takes it.

Thanks for reading.

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