The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged a variety of enhanced safety practices — such as washing hands more frequently and social distancing. Safer driving, however, was not necessarily one of these practices. With traffic congestion down 73% in 2020, according to data from Inrix’s 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard. Therefore, both personal and commercial vehicle drivers had more opportunities to push the limits of safety.
In an analysis specifically of commercial driving behavior during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Teletrac Navman found a 17% increase in speeding, a 10% increase in failures to stop at stop signs and a 15% increase in harsh-cornering events.
“These insights tell a story of how drivers who are used to navigating congested roadways responded to there being fewer vehicles on the road,” said Ben Williams, director of marketing, digital and analytics for the Garden Grove, Calif.-based global software-as-a-service provider, in a statement. “We hope these findings serve as a reminder that we should all follow safe driving practices whether the highway is full or empty.”
On the flipside of this trend, Lytx Inc. reported an uptick in interest in its telematics solutions during the pandemic. These tools can help remind drivers to practice safe driving behaviors.
Kristin Costas, director of product management at the San Diego-based company, cites two main reasons for this growth. First, changing distribution demands have spurred an increase in the number of vehicles needed for food and beverage distribution. “We saw a 167% growth in the number of vehicles we have in the food and beverage distribution category since 2019,” she says.
Second, fleets that experienced slowdowns used the extra time to more closely evaluate and implement video telematics solutions, Costas adds.
Video telematics solutions can combine machine vision and artificial intelligence (AI) to keep drivers safe. Unlike traditional telematics solutions that only capture when and where an incident happened and perhaps some of the mechanical reasons behind the incident, such as hard braking or swerving, video telematics solutions capture the whole picture inside and outside the truck cab to really show why an incident happened.
Taking this a step further, these systems can identify risky situations and encourage safer practices.
“We’re working to help ensure that delivery drivers can return home safely at the end of the day,” Costas says.
She notes Lytx clients have been particularly interested in the company’s real-time in-cab alerts, which can remind drivers to wear seat belts, put down their handheld devices while driving and stay alert. “These alerts help drivers self-correct in the moment to reduce risk and don’t require face-to-face coaching sessions, which can be hard to coordinate around the pandemic restrictions,” Costas explains. The solutions’ livestream capabilities also have helped Lytx clients conduct virtual ride-alongs as part of socially distant driver-training programs, she adds.
Teletrac Navman released its own vision-based fleet safety platform earlier this year. The company’s
AI Dual Dashboard Camera combines AI, edge computing, and forward- and driver-facing cameras to capture and analyze data in real time, create alerts to help drivers avoid risky situations and provide causality of events. To further encourage safety, the system gives drivers positive driving notifications along with performance coaching. A driver score encourages healthy competition among drivers and sets up a structure for safety-based rewards, the company notes.
Advanced safety solutions like these will be useful to help commercial trucking companies comply with the Drive-Safe Act, if passed. The legislation currently in Congress aims to allow commercial drivers under the age of 21 to conduct interstate deliveries in an effort to help offset the current truck driver shortage. According to American Trucking Associations, Washington, D.C., the trucking industry needs an additional 60,800 drivers immediately. This number will grow to approximately 1.1 million new drivers throughout the next decade, or nearly 110,000 new drivers a year, when factoring in expected capacity growth and anticipated driver retirement numbers.
To ensure that younger drivers are equipped to do this safely, apprentice drivers would need to complete at least 400 hours of additional training with an experienced driver in the cab. In addition, they only would be allowed to drive trucks outfitted with the latest safety technology, including forward-facing event recording cameras, based on the bill.
Another safety tactic is avoiding risky situations as much as possible. The Lytx Lab dashboard gives users the ability to view risk maps and plot vehicle trips around those points. In addition, its network of more than 350,000 cameras collects and shares real-time weather and traffic information to help drivers prepare for what’s ahead.
But the video telematics provider isn’t stopping there. “We are also exploring ways we can help fleets and drivers better plan their routes by using our database of commercial-driving information to surface patterns such as intersections along their delivery routes with above-average collisions or areas that tend to see traffic surges during certain times of the day,” Costas explains. This could be especially critical as communities reopen and traffic increases as the pandemic subsides. “We’re hoping these insights … can help fleets optimize their routes for both safety and efficiency.”
The latest telematics solutions offer benefits beyond safety, too. “Some benefits can include reduction in insurance premiums, reduced vehicle downtime due to unplanned maintenance, … improved driver retention and tenure as a result of being able to keep equipment in better shape, improved fuel consumption, [more] on-time deliveries, and reduced operational costs from fewer parts and vehicle replacements,” explains Oswaldo Flores, product manager for Teletrac Navman. Furthermore, the return on investment (ROI) for installing a new telematics system can be pretty immediate in some cases. Flores notes a typical ROI is about three months when ensuring proper onboarding and team training.
Telematics solutions also can help drivers manage their distribution equipment as well. Greenville, N.C.-based Yale Materials Handling Corp. offers telematics solutions for monitoring lift trucks. Kevin Paramore, emerging technology commercialization manager, points out that the Yale Battery Vision monitor can be especially useful for making sure delivery equipment is ready to go when drivers arrive at a delivery location.
“When delivery personnel are out managing longer routes associated with direct-store-delivery, a dead battery on their lift truck or inconsistent performance can cause untimely delays or the inability to complete their delivery route,” he explains. “Telemetry systems that help monitor and maximize battery performance and life can keep operators informed, helping them avoid being stranded mid-delivery or charging at the retail location.”
Yale Battery Vision monitors battery usage; provides information about a battery’s state of charge, voltage current and battery temperatures; and alerts users of potential battery issues, he says. It also stores data for the life of the battery to compile a complete profile of battery performance, he adds.
Knowing the full performance picture of both equipment and drivers can put the brakes on inefficiencies and help ensure that delivery personnel are prepared — ensuring a safe delivery each and every time.