Opinion

What’s the best way to annoy a truck driver? Change something

change something

Robert Bell’s op-ed in our September 18 issue about in-cab safety tech and its link with insurance companies sparked plenty of heated debate. In this column we give high-profile driver Mike Williams a chance to share an opposing view on technology and its place in the industry.

What’s the best way to annoy a truck driver?

I can tell you the answer: It’s change something. That’s the best way. Roll out some new technology before doing some education on it. That will kick it all off properly.

Back in the day when I was an owner-driver I had full control over what happened with my truck or at least I thought I did.

Then they started with speed limiters. It’s grown since then. Now it’s safety cam, point to point cameras, dash cameras, mirror mounted cameras facing to the back, cameras looking at drivers, speed cameras, red light cameras, traffic cameras, telephone cameras, cameras, cameras, cameras, everywhere cameras!

So now we have something on the market called Guardian, from a company called Seeing Machines.

This is cutting-edge fatigue warning technology. It’s designed to capture that little area right before you have a micro-sleep that runs you off the road and takes your life or someone else’s.

It’s also designed to catch those moments when you’re distracted and warn you that you’re distracted. They’re being installed all over the place. Many fleets now have them in trial, some have taken it even further and had them installed permanently.

Full disclosure. I recently started a new industry podcast called On The Road.

For the time being, Guardian by Seeing Machines sponsors that show. It’s also important to know that when these things were rolled out in my workplace I damn near chucked the best job I’ve ever had or heard about because of it. I was not happy!

There were plenty of emails flying backwards and forwards, more than a few four-letter words and a general feeling of discontent, believe me that’s an understatement.

So now you’ve got to be asking why didn’t I quit, why did I stay even after these things started? Why did I do a U-turn and end up doing what I’m now doing?

How did I end up in a relationship with Seeing Machines? I’ll tell you. I decided that before I chucked in the best job ever, I better get educated. I better find out exactly what this thing does, how it works and get some answers and some actual truth rather than emotion. This is the journey I went on.

There are plenty of half-truths, spin and outright untruths being circulated. So it’s time for some truth.

There are legitimate questions to be asked about any new technology. Asking questions isn’t the problem.

Remember that game we used to play as kids where one would start a story and tell it to the next kid who would pass it on etc, etc. The story pretty soon became distorted. It’s the same here.

My concerns were the same as those expressed by many drivers. Like a lot of you I spend the majority of my week in the cab.

I work there, I often eat there, I get changed and sleep there. If this camera is looking at me, it must be looking at the whole cab interior.

I felt that this must be an invasion of my privacy. Then what happens to the data? Where does it go and who can see it? The boss might as well be in the cab with me, watching every move I make! I’ve already got a logbook and GPS tracking, why do we now need this! Now the big one, what of the insurance companies? They just want to blame me if it goes wrong! They will get the data and use that to come after me.

The area of the cab that the camera sees is quite small, from about mid-chest to just above your head and either side of your shoulders.

Have I missed any? Let’s deal with all these.

The area of the cab camera sees is quite small, from about mid-chest to just above your head and either side of your shoulders.

It can’t see into the back of the cab or into the passenger seat. It focuses on your face. It’s looking at your eyes and your mouth and how your head is moving. It has an algorithm that compares your eyes, mouth and facial position to known fatigue positions or distracted positions and gives you an audible warning.

If you don’t respond to that the Guardian vibrates the driver’s seat, records the event and transmits the data to the monitoring centre. I’ve seen the video and the reports of my own in cab experiences because that’s right folks I’ve set it off! I’ve seen what it sees and the report my boss gets to see.

It’s not active all the time. When I turn the key off, the Guardian is off. It’s not seeing me get changed or sitting at the wheel eating my sandwich. It’s also not an audio-visual recorder either. It does not record audio. As far as I’m aware there is no microphone or even provision for one in the unit.

It’s also not recording and continuously transmitting the data. It rolls the data over. Recordings are event-driven with only a few seconds of the data being stored on board to be sent when an event occurs.

I’ve already got a logbook, according to the boffins my fatigue is sorted. We all know that’s just not true. Hands up if you’ve ever been in the situation where the logbook says go and the body says no.

Who can say, honestly, they’ve never sat up in the seat and it’s dawned on them they can’t remember the last 20 kilometres? Anyone? I know it’s happened to me.

What happens to the data? It gets sent via the telephone network to the monitoring centres. There’s one in Canberra and another in the US.

The data is reviewed and classified by the monitoring centre and appropriate messages sent to your fleet operations. If it’s a fatigue event an immediate phone call is made to alert your company so they can take action.

There is always an email report detailing the classification with the snippet of the video. Your company does not have direct access to the data, neither does anyone else. They can’t sit in the office and gaze lovingly into your eyes as you work.

So now the insurance company furphy. With the advent of dash cameras, all sorts of other traffic monitoring cameras and GPS systems there is no end of information getting about.

I’ve even been reliably informed that some drivers have admitted in their claim report that they caused or were responsible for an accident. Insurance investigators don’t seem to have too much trouble working out how a lot of accidents happen. Where is the evidence of an insurance company deciding to “go after” a driver personally for a loss?

The only time insurance companies will “go after” someone is in the event of a wilful or criminal act. As an agent of an employer they are vicariously liable for your actions and you are indemnified unless the act was wilful or criminal in nature. It’s as simple as that. We are humans. We make mistakes. Mistakes sometimes result in accidents. That’s what automotive insurance is for.

So what it comes to is this. Right now we are losing 34 truck occupants (drivers and passengers) per year on a 10-year average.

Last year there was a spike to 53. There are on average 205 car occupants and others losing their lives around us each year. Right now fatigue contributes to around 10% of overall heavy vehicle accidents, while distracted driving accounts for around 14%. But here’s the big one.

When we look at fatal accidents involving heavy vehicles fatigue is the single largest killer of truck drivers and that’s a fact. Why would we not look at technology that captures 90% of fatigue related incidents and provides an opportunity to prevent an accident?

Is it possible that a driver could lose their job as a result of something that gets captured on a camera? Of course it is.

If you’re a serial distracted driver and that’s exposed by technology then you, as a professional have two choices: You can modify your behaviour or risk losing your job.

Your employer has a right and a responsibility to ensure their operation is as safe as possible. The general public has a right to know that our industry is doing all it can to be as safe we can. When we’re sitting behind the wheel we’re at work. We all know that many people have cameras on them at work. The shop assistant at the takeaway, the bank teller, the list goes on.

We’re not being singled out. It’s not an invasion of privacy to be monitored at work.

The technology isn’t perfect. The information that gets generated isn’t perfect. The application and outcomes won’t be perfect either. So is it worth doing? On balance I say unreservedly that it is. I also say this. If you’re concerned about this or any issue do some research. Get some answers from credible sources and make you own mind up.

I would invite anyone to contact me via my social media @theoztrucker on twitter, On The Road Podcast on Facebook or go to www.ontheroadpodcast.com.au and leave a comment, or email me directly mike@ontheroadpodcast.com.au.

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