In-vehicle monitoring systems: safety through best practice telematics
While the external environments facing light and heavy vehicle fleet operators differ, operational efficiency and organisational safety are two areas all operators can target to maintain a competitive edge and growth.The use of telematics, commonly known as in-vehicle monitoring systems (IVMS), continues to grow through the Australian transportation industry as operators take advantage of both operational and safety benefits such technologies provide.
Telematics technologies play a role in aiding operator compliance, with the National Transport Commission (NTC) encouraging all within the chain of responsibility to “adopt telematics to increase compliance, safety and productivity outcomes within audit-based schemes, safety management systems and industry schemes”.
To better understand the potential of IVMS, National Road Safety Partnership Program (NRSPP) consulted leading figures from the transport industry — including operators, drivers, insurers, technology providers and researchers — to promote collaboration and improve business and safety outcomes.
Operators have introduced telematics for various reasons ranging from managing specific issues such as driver speed and fatigue through to full integration with job dispatch and onboard displays.
A clear understanding of what an operator wants to achieve is the key in selecting what parameters to measure and therefore the technology suite that will meet current and future needs. To derive safety benefits, telematics should also be seen as one component of a broader ‘safety culture’ that had to be fostered by management with the active participation of all employees.
Benefits on the ground
NRSPP engaged with operators of both light and heavy vehicle fleets for a first-hand account of their experiences. There was significant crossover in the benefits reported despite difference in fleet types and challenges in quantifying benefits.
While there were differences in operator goals and implementations, the primary areas telematics systems were seen to target were improved driver behaviour and enhanced operational efficiency. Improved driver behaviour led to: increased fuel efficiency, reduced maintenance and a reduction in incidents resulting in lower insurance premiums and downtime costs.
Operators were also able to: improve productivity through real-time allocation of their resources, ensure driver compliance with vehicle use policies, manage infringements and public complaints, and improve company reputation and customer service through enhanced performance.
Operators emphasised that positive results can only be achieved through an understanding of which data needs to be collected. While relevant parameters will vary, speed, braking and fatigue were commonly recorded. An effective back office must also be created to manage and act on data collected.
From a safety perspective, there was great variation in technologies used and implementation among operators, ranging from telematics being an integral part of continued improvement in driver performance through individualised driver training to simply ensuring compliance with speed and fatigue regulation.
Implementation — five key considerations
There are some common factors required for the successful implementation of a telematics system. These can be grouped into the following five areas.
1. Clearly defined goals
- Understand risks to be managed and the leverage to operational efficiencies.
- Ensure the system chosen will provide the desired results.
- Process should be a collaborative decision between providers and operators.
- Ensure telematics is a component of a safety culture.
What are your expectations?
Successful IVMS implementation requires that both provider and operator have a clear understanding of expected outcomes.
Understanding which risks will be managed by the system and what is needed to leverage operational efficiency is critical. Telematics won’t provide results on their own. To contribute to improving safety, telematics is one component of a ‘safety culture’ and can help provide the right data and evidence to allow organisations to manage and reduce risk. Similarly, improvements in performance are unlikely to occur without an overarching drive towards continued productivity growth. Other systems or additional resources may need to be put in place to manage IVMS implementation.
Selection of technology
While operators should research telematics technologies that are available, choosing the technology should be in collaboration with providers.
Beyond improvements to safety and operational efficiency, telematics may have implications for an operator’s ability to claim fringe benefits taxes and fuel rebates — all systems installed must be compliant with relevant legislation, for example — and diligence is necessary to ensure installed systems are compatible with all vehicles across a potentially varied fleet.
2. Consider current and future trends
- Select suitable technology infrastructure for current and future needs.
- Understand the limitations of technologies to avoid a costly retrofit.
Selecting cost-effective infrastructure to meet current and future needs can present a challenge. It is vital operators consider the limitations of the technology they install to ensure that it is appropriate for the task to avoid a costly retrofit or an unworkable system.
For example, telematics systems generally relay data via the mobile telephone network, with the option to use satellite transmission when out of range. An incident alert system transmitting via satellite may be unable to acquire line of sight in a rollover, so if rollover is a key concern for a vehicle fleet operating outside mobile network coverage, then this is a key factor to be considered.
3. Gaining employee acceptance
Drivers interact with telematics technologies both in their vehicles and as a result of management actions taken based on the data collected. Driver acceptance of these technologies is therefore reliant both on what is installed in the vehicle and on management policy.
Technology providers emphasised the importance of ‘bridging the gap’ that may exist between systems in place and users on the ground. They saw that ‘drivers being on board’ was critical to successful IVMS operation.
Specific strategies may be required to clearly communicate to drivers a consistent message as to where telematics fits into a company’s safety and operational goals. Telematics also offers opportunities for recognition of drivers for excellent performance. Operators may see additional employee acceptance by setting targets for teams rather than individuals, resulting in ‘peer pressure’ towards improved driving behaviour.
4. Real-time monitoring and feedback
Drivers can receive warnings in real time from the telematics system when certain parameters are breached. Real-time rating of driving performance and detailed reports delivered to the driver via a tablet or screen are also possible.
Tracking the location of all vehicles via telematics drives productivity benefits as operators can allocate resources most effectively and provide an immediate response in an incident. Drivers can be re-routed or reallocated as required.
Systems were put in place to give real-time feedback to relevant managers when preset parameters were breached. These were either actioned immediately or logged for further follow-up, with over-speed and fatigue events common parameters resulting in immediate notification. Tracking can enhance safety in remote areas, with emergency management protocols activated based on parameters such as time spent in a single location or failure to report in.
Both heavy and light vehicle operators took advantage of ‘geofencing’, with immediate notification when a vehicle entered or exited a specified zone. ‘Waypointing’ to ensure drivers stay to a predetermined route to optimise safety was also a common operator-side implementation.
5. Management feedback
Operators must introduce effective policies and procedures to take action on the large amount of data that telematics systems can collect. Feedback should take into account in-vehicle feedback drivers have already received. Technology does not reduce incidents alone; it requires appropriate and effective actions by management.
Effective data management is critical for telematics to be useful and effective. Data collected can only be actionable and meaningful if an effective back-office structure is present. Whether data management is outsourced or completed in-house, it is important that appropriate knowledge and resources are available for data to be useful. Operators should consider where IVMS and its associated data management fit into its core business.
Operators must also ensure data collection and management complies with relevant state, territory and federal legislation and that driver privacy concerns are taken seriously.
To achieve accountability, supporting systems should be built around the safety and operational goals of the telematics system. Effective accountability systems ensure that all drivers and vehicles are always monitored and breaches are acted on. Drivers must be held accountable for all breaches that occur and their supervisors must be accountable for acting on telematics data collected. This can be managed either through audit or compliance-based approaches, depending on operator size and structure.
Systems must be in place to prevent driver and management complacency. Without regular feedback, drivers may feel that they have no reason to pay attention to their driving habits, while management may end up having a narrow focus on ‘trouble’ drivers. Even if it falls within acceptable limits, change in a driver’s performance may be an early indication that they need help. Recognising and acting on this increased risk gives management an additional opportunity to improve workplace safety and employee welfare.
Taking corrective action
Operators experienced with telematics take various approaches in how they use collected data and policies on driver behaviour; however, all emphasised the importance of consistency, taking immediate action and the possibility of ‘false positives’. It is common to test vehicles and telematics systems to ensure their accuracy before engaging with drivers regarding a breach. Readings indicating poor driver behaviour, such as harsh braking or acceleration, may be functions of routes taken and this information can be used to improve safety by optimising routes.
Tailored driver training
Beyond using telematics to enforce standards of driver behaviour, operators can use them to improve driver behaviour through data-based, individualised counselling and driver training. A common coaching strategy centres on creating driver performance reports, which score drivers against predetermined indicators. These reports can be integrated with training and coaching strategies or become the impetus for their creation. Use of video recorded in-vehicle can also be used as a basis for training.
For either approach to be successful, operators must be able to recognise at-risk behaviour, demonstrate to drivers the required improvements and implement an action plan that includes further follow-up. Drivers can also be given direct access to collected data to encourage sharing of experiences and the creation of a ‘safety culture’. Sharing in-vehicle video footage among drivers can personalise the safety issue, enhancing driver ‘buy-in’ to an organisational culture that prioritises safety.
Evolution over time
Operators should consistently re-evaluate the parameters they measure and the thresholds they deem acceptable. Overlaying data to create heat maps of crashes versus such factors as time of day or presence of ‘black spots’ may help identify relevant variables and set breach parameters. These ‘black spots’ may also indicate infrastructure risk, so operators can then work with asset managers such as road agencies to improve safety outcomes and the safety of the road network as a whole.
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