There is a driver shortage. Driver pay is increasing rapidly after years of stagnation. Drivers have choices. So, it came as a great surprise to me when Dale Willis, the Vice President of Data Services at Netradyne, said that his company’s camera and AI-based analytics system, used to improve driver safety, is appreciated by truck drivers! In my experience, drivers don’t like Big Brother. I was skeptical.
Media contacts for Netradyne did arrange a call with me with a driver, fleet safety executive, and safety training manager at Ward Transport and Logistics Corporation to attempt to confirm the outlandish allegation that drivers appreciated this technology. Ward Transport, a fourth-generation family owned company, primarily engages in less-than-truckload shipments. They are based in the middle Atlantic states. They have a fleet of 600 vehicles.
I first discussed the implementation of Netradyne’s Driveri platform with Steve Dunn who is the Director of Safety at the fleet. Ward Transport started looking at truck cameras several years ago. They had pilots with two different suppliers that did not work out. One solution’s cameras did not work well enough. In the other pilot, the supplier was able to show them after an event, for example a hard-braking incident, what they thought was an event. Ward Transport wanted a more proactive way to look at events. They wanted more control of what video they viewed and also wanted greater focus on positive behavior.
Enter Netradyne. When Mr. Dunn first saw the technology at a truck association conference, he was very impressed. But Netradyne was still a young company and he was not sure they could scale up and handle a fleet of their size. But after the second pilot failed, they went back to Netradyne and agreed to a 45-day pilot that began in January. That went well. In May they began installing the systems in 220 trucks across their three largest sites. By June that was completed. They now have three months of data, like what they have seen, and have preliminary plans to implement Driveri with the rest of their fleet next year.
The reason Ward Transport wants to expand to the rest of the fleet is that the system works well, it is the best video quality Mr. Dunn has seen. The camera, attached to the truck’s windshield, has cameras that face to the left and right, face forward, and face the driver. The cameras have a high enough resolution that in the event of an incident, reflected images picked up from the mirrors attached to the side of the truck can in many instances be viewed to determine what happened beside the vehicle.
Driver Safety Improves
It is increasing safe driving behaviors. Within two months after implementing the system stop sign events had decreased 60 percent. A moderate stop sign event is when a truck rolls through a stop sign without stopping at less than seven miles per hour. It is recorded as a major event if the driver goes through the intersection without stopping at seven miles per hour or more. The improvement in documentable safety has the executive staff interested. The next time they renegotiate their insurance they intend to use this data to see if they can get lower rates.
Finally, Ward Transport likes the fact that the feedback is not all negative, that positive events are reported, and drivers can be praised. For example, if a driver slows to let a car safely merge on the Interstate, this gets counted as a positive driving behavior. They believe having a system that includes positive reinforcement is key to driver acceptance.
Drivers, Surprisingly, Accept the Technology
But do drivers accept it? Dean White, who is a driver with Ward Transport, says they do now. “Initially many drivers looked at this negatively. They feared that the company was spying on us.” Joe Drugo, the Manager of Safety Training, added “At first it was Big Brother watching. We were the Monsters on the Midway. I don’t hear that anymore. That is all gone now.”
One factor that led to increased acceptance was that the inward facing camera that could view the driver was disengaged. A cap was even put on this camera so that drivers knew that it could not secretly record them.
I asked, “on a five-point scale, with five being great, how would you rate it?” Mr. White said 4 out of 5. Mr. White has a positive view of the technology. “I’ve only been doing this for two years. There are many things I need to learn. I never turn down coaching. It makes me better. Having a camera in there, if I roll through a stop sign, I get reminded.” That helps to keep his focus on safety “every minute” he is on the road.
How did Mr. White think his fellow drivers would rate it? “For the fleet as a whole, the majority would rate it between a 2.5 and a 5. I was amazed that within a week of the staff recognizing positive performance on an internal TV in the break room, guys started taking pride in their scores.” The top scoring drivers are listed every week. “We began to have positive competition.”
Drivers can also see their scores and the events they are having on a driver app. When that app rolled out about two months ago, Mr. White said drivers were showing each other their scores and reviewing events from the day before. “This is real-time feedback. I like that.”
But a real change in driver acceptance occurred after an accident that occurred in Philadelphia. A car spun out in front of one of their trucks. The truck was able to stop, but there was still some contact. It was real good driving on the truck drivers’ part. But the car’s insurance company still tried to blame this on the driver and get the trucking firm to pay for the damage. When the insurance company was sent the video, that claim went away. That video was played on the television in the break room for the other drivers to view.
Dale Willis of Netradyne, by the way, took me on a test drive. To demonstrate the audio warnings the system generates, the ability to view video surrounding events for analysis afterwards, and the cool analytics, he engaged in some unsafe driving. This included zooming up to trucks on the interstate and closely tailgating them. Dale is very pleasant fellow, much more outgoing than I am, but I’m quite certain he enjoyed this outing far more than I did.
My impression from my drive along, and the technical conversation I had with Mr. Willis, is that what Netradyne has accomplished from a technological perspective is not easily replicable. A driver’s job is hard enough. The ability to incorporate more positive reinforcement into a safety program is a great idea.