As with most things in trucking, even how we coach drivers has been transformed by technology. Computer-generated driver scorecards allow fleets to identify drivers who are at the greatest risk of being involved in a wreck, and to coach them on fixing risky behaviors before it’s too late.
Taking it a step further, some telematics and camera providers use artificial intelligence (AI) to immediately recognize a dangerous maneuver – such as distraction, fast cornering or hard braking – and warn the driver in real-time to pay attention, back off the throttle or increase following distance. A report is also fed to management for follow-up later, but the driver’s attention is brought to the risky behavior as it occurs so it can be rectified immediately.
Then there’s the next level. Emerging technologies, integrated with the truck’s existing hardware, will actually take control of the truck and slow it down, for instance, when the truck is exceeding the posted speed limit.
But do any of these systems really create a better driver?
Deryk Gillespie, vice-president, IT and innovation at Trimac, is a believer in the technology. His fleet used the implementation of an electronic logging device (ELD) as a springboard into more advanced driver behavior monitoring.
“We wanted more than an ELD. We wanted a platform that could do a number of things for us,” he says. “We wanted feedback to the operator at the time and place they could do something about it, not a week after the fact when someone tells him he could’ve done better last week.”
Using the Isaac Coach from Isaac Instruments, Gillespie claims the fleet has seen tangible benefits from the real-time in-cab coaching. But first, the coach was slid into the cab without fanfare.
“We [initially] let the coach be silent,” he explains. “We didn’t push it in the early days. We accumulated a baseline of what our performance would be so we had something to compare to when we pushed the coach.”
Results didn’t come overnight. Trimac deployed a pilot of 150-200 trucks and collected data for nearly a year. Once it had established a baseline, Gillespie says fuel economy began to improve thanks to the real-time coaching and smoother driving. Some trucks were suddenly getting 7-11% better fuel economy. The fleet average, attributed to the in-cab coaching, was about 2-3%, he adds.
Cody McClain is director of safety and human resources for U.S.-based Tucker Freight Lines. He also treaded softly when introducing the Isaac Coach to drivers. The fleet first went to drivers and asked them what they felt made an efficient driver, before pushing the technology. New hires are given a couple weeks to work with the coach simply to become comfortable with it, before scores are scrutinized.
“Miles per gallon actually improved close to 1 mpg overall,” McClain reports. “That comes out to almost $200 a week, and on a lease-purchase that’s $10,000 a year.”
There have been safety benefits, as well. Derek Gaston, supervisor of trucking operations with CN, says his fleet has achieved its best carrier safety profile ever after adding in-cab coaching. “It has really changed the lifestyle here at CNTL over the past year,” he says.
And Gillespie says Trimac has seen its DOT-reportable accidents decline “pretty significantly,” which helped it secure the honor of the safest tank truck carrier in North America last year, as awarded by the National Tank Truck Carriers.
Ward Warkentin is a proponent of in-cab coaching technologies, even though his company, Markham, Ont.-based Fleetmetrica, has taken a different approach to improving driver behavior.
“I picture it like a map, where left-to-right is hardware to software, and up-to-down is active to passive,” he says of the array of driver behavior monitoring technologies available today. “We are in artificial intelligence and predictive analytics, not necessarily real-time information. Not, am I speeding right now? More, has my behavior really changed?”
The Fleetmetrica platform is device agnostic, meaning it works across any fleet’s existing telematics system to produce scorecards that identify risky driving behaviors and trends. Human follow-up is then required to coach and correct those behaviors. Warkentin says fleets taking this approach have seen similarly impressive safety improvements, and names John Deere’s private fleet as a prime example. It went from an already impressive CVOR violation rate of 3.5%, down to less than 1% when implementing driver scorecards, he says.
Fleetmetrica recently participated in a study that concluded consistent drivers are safer drivers. While the conclusion is hardly surprising, Warkentin says “It’s never been studied.”
He says fleets need to be mindful that their safest drivers will be those capable of driving in a consistent manner, including controlling their emotions in frustrating circumstances. A sudden spike in harsh braking or speeding should be treated as a major red flag and potential precursor to an incident.
Taking the driver scorecard approach to improving driver behavior does require resources. Someone needs to analyze those scorecards and follow up with drivers who need coaching. Some systems require more analysis than others.
“This is where we come in,” says Warkentin. “We automate the process of not just setting up the scorecard, but analyzing the data so there isn’t a need for additional resources, which is one of the biggest drawbacks to a lot of these systems. Fleets don’t have to invest in additional technologies or resources to get results – they’ve already invested in the telematics or the in-cab video. We are just helping making sense of the data.”
Some fleets, he adds, are seeing savings of $2,000 to $4,000 per truck each year, split evenly between safety and fuel consumption benefits.