Opinion

‘Open your eyes to what in-cab surveillance means’: Truckie’s view

surveillance cameras

Surveillance cameras inside truck cabins are becoming increasingly common in the transport industry today. Electronic work diaries are hardly mentioned anymore, and the industry narrative is all about the Guardian Seeing Machine.

They are being touted as a panacea, the solution for all that ails the industry.

Most large and medium fleets have them now, and they are often installed without any consultative process with the drivers affected by their operation. This brings into play the matter of privacy and consent.

A number of states have Surveillance Devices Acts which deal explicitly with the matter of express and implied consent. Criminal penalties can be applied for breaches of this legislation, yet they are rarely ever prosecuted.

It can be argued that not even GPS, let alone these Seeing Machines can be installed in the workplace without the express consent of each and every individual affected by their operation.

The Australian Government, through the Australian Law Reform Commission, published a paper entitled, Serious Invasions of Privacy in the Digital Era in 2014.

In this extensive report, The Commission makes a number of recommendations that encourage lawmakers to strengthen the laws surrounding surveillance devices and the reach, or overreach that comes with their implementation.

It should be noted that Seeing Machines is potentially able to record private telephone conversations, in a workplace where a reasonable expectation of privacy could be presumed. Long distance truck drivers virtually live in their truck cabins when they are away working, and they are not only a workplace, but a home away from home.

Drivers also get changed inside truck cabins, and they become bedrooms when they sleep. In some states, there is an absolute prohibition on optical surveillance devices in the workplace when they could be described as such. Simply telling a driver to cover the camera when getting changed would be tantamount to having a camera fitted in their manager’s bedroom and saying they could cover it “only” when absolutely necessary.

Seeing Machines is widely regarded as the ultimate tool for detecting instances of fatigue and distraction by drivers today. The industry narrative is punctuated with constant references to this product, and they have almost become a proprietary term for in cab surveillance, much like Google is to search engines.

This is in no small part attributable to the massive publicity/marketing campaign, that is driven in part by the major insurance companies that have a vested interest in their uptake.

One might ask, how do they have a vested interest? Seeing Machines has partnered with NTI insurance for instance, which now offers substantial discounts on heavy vehicle insurance premiums to operators that install these devices.

To be fair, NTI insurance is also heavily invested in promoting a safety culture in the road transport sector.

However, once you strip away the marketing and promotion, what are you left with?

The Guardian Seeing Machine website, under the tax and insurance benefits tab, list some of the benefits to companies that install the technology.

These benefits include:

NTI Insurance Policy Benefits

•       No driver experience restrictions (All driver experience requirements are removed for vehicles with Guardian installed – applies to NTI Fleet policyholders only)

•       Excess reduction (Excess for any accidents reduced on vehicles fitted with Guardian by $2,500)

•        Market value plus (In the event of a total loss of a unit installed with Guardian, settlement can be Market Value plus 20% to a maximum of the sum insured)

•       Reinstatement of Guardian hardware (caused by damage in the event of a loss)

And this one:

Data feed fee waived for individual data feed from Seeing Machines to NTI

There appears to be a direct data feed to NTI insurance should operators take up this deal. This materialises to indicate that NTI insurance have access to the data/images and are able to store and use them for their own purposes.

This is not readily disclosed, and only acts to feed the suspicion that NTI Insurance is encouraging the installation of the Seeing Machine for reasons other than safety. The financial benefits to operators that are on offer are substantial, and a return on that investment would be expected by any insurer.

And as we all know, insurance companies do not give money away. Their business model is very simple in fact. Get more money in than you pay out.

These seeing eye machines employ facial recognition technology, very similar to the type that is rolled out across China. The Chinese model is used extensively in their social credits regime, and it is used to monitor behaviour and interactions with a view to grading citizens according to compliance.

It is no coincidence that this technology is being adapted to monitor truck drivers in much the same fashion. In a 2017 article on the Australia Unlimited website, author Christopher Niesche goes into some depth to explain the technology behind, and the practical uses of the Seeing Machine.

“The technological goal is to understand what is going on in the mind of a person,” says Timothy Edwards, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Seeing Machines. “So, a machine can derive a high-level understanding of somebody’s intent, emotional state, level of fatigue or distraction.”

Those words are chilling in their dystopian effect and go far beyond what most drivers would expect or believe of such a device. You can be sure that this was not explained at the inevitable toolbox meeting or memorandum that took place before their installation.

Seeing Eye Machines record audio visual clips, and these files are saved and stored in databases over which drivers have no control. The database is managed by Amazon, who have established their data operations HQ at Virginia, USA. The Australian equivalent of that would be siting it next to Pine Gap.

At the time of writing this article, The Seeing Machines website was proudly boasting that it had detected 7,047,080 distraction events and 170,394 fatigue interventions in the previous 12 months. These statistics speak volumes, and evidence would suggest that they are collated and matched for purposes not readily divulged.

Transport companies that use this technology appear to have been lulled in a false sense of fatigue management and responsible scheduling. Often these Seeing Machines are installed yet scheduling and the like remain unchanged.

Most drivers will confirm that operations still expect drivers on BFM to complete runs that are described in terms such as “tight but achievable” or “it can be done, if you watch your breaks”

There are many examples of this type of scheduling that occur every day, by companies that have this Seeing Machines’ technology monitoring drivers. Responsible scheduling, within the protocols of fatigue management, is more encompassing task than simply installing a camera can mitigate.

Often by the time the Seeing Machine detects instances of fatigue, the driver is at a point where legally he/she should not be driving. How often is the decision made to tell the driver to pull over immediately and rest for at least seven hours?

In the days before extensive workplace surveillance was the norm, when there was a single vehicle accident, the insurance company would have to pay out on a claim, and there would be no other party that they could pursue for their loss. These are known as a no-fault accident. Insurance companies, for obvious reasons, are not fans of these type of claims.

Fast forward to the present day, and there is a vastly different scenario at play. Some might even call it an agenda of sorts.

There has been much discussion of late around the industry, of enforcement only being interested in the low hanging fruit, that is the driver rather than the owner/operator. The Chain of Responsibility does not appear to be achieving its intended purpose, and drivers increasingly feel the brunt of the long arm of enforcement.

What if these cameras were just another way to shift another liability back on to the driver, and were disguising that fact with an overwhelming publicity and marketing campaign designed to deflect that assertion?

As an employed driver, you are not generally liable for damages or claims that occur as a result of an accident.

For example, you are driving a truck and accidentally clip a car in another lane, or you back into someone etc. The employer generally has what is known as vicarious responsibility for the reasonable actions of employees.

Unfortunately, there have been many examples of insurance companies pursuing drivers when employers deny liability in the first instance.

When this occurs, the insurer routinely pursues the driver which often results in a default judgement. This should not occur and is a glaring example of the unethical behaviour that insurance companies often display in their pursuance of claims.

However, with these surveillance cameras now installed, they are watching you all the time and building up a dossier of files that show yawning, or blinking your eyes excessively, or even taking your eyes off the road momentarily. A virtual conscience sitting on your shoulder as you drive along.

The current position in the civil jurisdiction presents some problems for drivers today, because the position on liability does have some exceptions. These exceptions include but are not limited to gross or wilful misconduct, and/or unlawful conduct

These surveillance cameras could build a portfolio of blame, and under the civil burden of the balance of probabilities, it will be a relatively easy task for an experienced legal practitioner representing an insurer to persuade a court to find in their favour. After all, the law says it is illegal to drive if you are fatigued.

So, bearing all this mind, the previous no fault accident may look completely different from an insurance liability perspective, and drivers may lose their houses and assets as a result.

These claims could range into the millions, and bankruptcy proceedings are very aggressive in their pursuance of assets.

Drivers that are subject to this technology are often in a position of disadvantage, with low union membership and a general lack of advocacy in all areas.

There is also widespread ignorance, in both meanings of the word, throughout this sector and companies regularly impose surveillance technology upon employees, despite consultative provisions contained within relative industrial instruments such as EBA’s and modern awards.

These factors combined with the legislative requirements in some states make for a powerful argument.

We gave Seeing Machines and NTI are chance to respond

Seeing Machines:

Powered by AI, Guardian (by Seeing Machines) monitors a driver’s face and eyes to determine alertness, drowsiness and attentiveness and serves to enhance the safety of the driver. Guardian does not employ facial recognition technology. It responds to eyelid closure and head position and intervenes in real-time when set thresholds around these factors are exceeded, helping drivers recognize their own potentially risky or dangerous behaviours as they happen.

Guardian is not installed for the purpose of remote monitoring or surveillance. It cannot be accessed remotely under any circumstances. While the vehicle is running, the sensor is powered up to enable the capture of footage of unsafe driving behaviour which is available for review by the Fleet Operator online if an event such as drowsiness or distraction is detected.

Seeing Machines takes the privacy of its customers and their employees very seriously. Outlined on the company’s website is our Policy which stipulates a range of measures designed to protect the personal information of anyone using its technology. For more information – click here.

Instantaneous detection of driver state, in the form of driver monitoring technology, will soon become mandatory technology in Europe and North America. In fact, the European Commission, focused on saving lives and reducing the global road toll from a shocking 1.35 million per year, has already passed legislation and from 2024, all new cars, vans, trucks and buses, will be required to have some form of driver monitoring system (DMS) technology. Seeing Machines is a pioneer of DMS technology, developed over 20 years in Australia underpinned by deep R&D, facilitated by partnerships with universities and governments around the world.

Finally, we are proud of our association with NTI, one of Australia’s leading truck insurers. Together, we are contributing to a safer driving environment for heavy vehicle operators, as well as the people in the cities and towns through which they drive. NTI’s endorsement of Guardian demonstrates their leadership in changing culture and contributing to improved conditions for all road users.

This partnership has enabled more companies to implement Guardian across their fleets by providing insurance policy benefits and financial incentives. The data that is shared between Guardian customers and their insurer is done so willingly and under strict data sharing arrangements with controls in place to ensure compliance with privacy and data protection laws.

Seeing Machines is proud to be protecting over 23,000 commercial vehicles around the world with our Guardian technology and we look forward to further expanding our footprint in Australia, in partnership with NTI.

NTI:

NTI remains committed to a safer and more sustainable trucking and logistics industry.  We have been supporting industry safety for decades and our runs are on the board.

NTI is fully compliant with privacy legislation.  The data we receive from driver monitoring technology does not identify drivers.

It is disappointing that non-factual misinformation is being used to create fear and mistrust in lifesaving technology, and to diminish the work NTI is doing to invest in, and promote, safety initiatives.

About the author: Robert Bell, is a 35-year industry veteran who has now turned his attention to full-time advocacy for the transport industry. He is now working with Fine Defender, which provides online legal services in Victoria and NSW. They are currently in the process of branching out nationally and creating a low-cost model for defending Heavy Vehicle drivers who are impacted by the enforcement regimes in place today.

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7 Comments

  1. How interesting this article was.
    I worked for a company in Adelaide that recorded all my conversations in the truck I was driveing.And when they found something they didn’t like terminated me. At the termination meeting the owner had printed text of my conversations.
    So this guardian technology is used in the most inappropriate ways and none of it is good from a drivers point of view.
    As for being against the law company’s like the one I worked for do what ever they like when they like. And the law is never going to protect a employee let alone SEVERELY prosecute a company for these breaches.
    Never again will I work for a company with this technology again.

    1. Dear Brad,
      Guardian does not have a microphone. It does not record conversations. I think you should check your facts, as should the author of this article, before posting. I’d be very happy to take you through the features of Guardian, if you like, as the misinformation printed in the op-ed above, is extreme.
      Regards,
      Sophie Nicoll (Seeing Machines)

    2. Brad,

      Given that the Guardian technology (1) has no microphone and (2) cannot recognize individuals (3) does not record anything beyond what it considers to be “extreme safety events” (4) literally prevents thousands of accidents on our roads every year, you don’t think that it is of any benefit to the driver?

      I cannot speak for the company that recorded your conversations. That certainly seems sinister to me and I don’t why certain words might be considered a problem. However don’t confuse the issue here. If you are driving a 40 tonne truck at speed and you are texting on a phone, or passing out from weariness, you should not be driving.

      That is all the Guardian device is intending to prevent and nothing more.

  2. If it’s all fluffy kittens and unicorn farts why don’t the company cars given to transport company executives come equipped with the same cameras?

    1. Dear Michael,
      Guardian has been designed for commercial vehicles. As you may know, Seeing Machines works with some of the world’s largest automotive brands to incorporate this technology into cars at the point of manufacture. Safety is the primary goal of this technology and is becoming widely accepted. In fact, in Europe, all new cars, vans, trucks and buses will be required to have some kind of driver monitoring technology installed, for safety reasons. This is not some fluffy kitten. I’d be happy to discuss this further, if you are interested in learning more.
      Regards,
      Sophie Nicoll (Seeing Machines)

  3. The easiest way to get rid of this big brother scenario is for all drivers with this installed to look directly at the camera and say “I’m feeling fatigued so I’m pulling over for a rest break”. If all drivers do this and trucks start missing their timeslots with “it’s doable if you watch your breaks” allocations they will soon be removed from the trucks.

  4. Robert, this article is very poorly researched and I have to say deeply offends me.

    I have spent my career trying to prevent road accidents. The Guardian device from Seeing Machines has saved many people’s lives. Yet here you whip up paranoia, comparing it to the Chinese surveillance state without having done your homework. Not one bit.

    Of course, we are all afraid of technology and what it might be silently doing. Technology is a sharp sword, and you can use it for good, or you can use it for evil. If you looked into this you would discover that this technology is made by a deeply proud Australian company intent on reducing road accidents. This device is not a sinister thing to fear. It is wholly designed to prevent accidents and has shown to be incredibly successful at doing that. This is why truck companies and insurers love it. Accidents cost everyone involved. Most of all, it means that the suffering of people that are injured, the friends and families of those that are killed on our roads due to distraction by phones or by passing out due to low blood sugar or simple lack of sleep, can be prevented.

    So how dare you publish such a poorly researched article that not only demonstrates an extreme ignorance of the way the device works, but slanders my name personally in the article. I am proud of this achievement.

    You have as much to be concerned about from this device, as wearing a seatbelt.

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