Management & Operations

Risk Management: Driving Under the Influence of Surveillance

Posted on December 6, 2006 by Alex Roman, Associate Editor

Oftentimes motorcoach companies become aware of their drivers’ negligent behaviors through customer feedback or when it’s time to duke it out with an insurance company after an accident occurs. The latter can often take several years, causing many headaches in the process, not to mention the fact that it still shows up on your company’s loss runs, making it difficult to renew your insurance policy for the coming year.

Finding new ways to manage risk can take many forms, from shoring up your preventative maintenance program to hiring the right people. But there are very few solutions that can help motorcoach companies know what’s happening when their fleets are out on the road.

Companies such as DriveCam Inc., in San Diego, have created a new risk management tool that can ensure motorcoach operators are following best driving practices when on the road and help protect companies from frivolous accident or injury claims, saving them money on insurance costs along the way.

How it works
DriveCam uses a palm-sized, exception-based video event recorder that is mounted to the windshield behind the rearview mirror and records video and audio from both the outside and inside of a vehicle. The system is always recording, however, when the device is triggered by G-forces, such as hard braking or impact with another vehicle, 20 seconds of the event (10 seconds before and 10 seconds after) is saved for further review. Drivers can also hit a button and begin recording if they feel it is necessary to capture a dangerous situation on, near or around the bus.

If a customer chooses DriveCam’s managed services option, the day’s incidents are sent directly to its staff of certified driving behavior analysts. The analysts review all of the videos, sifting through for incidents requiring attention, score them and then add appropriate notes. The information is then directed back to the client.

“With DriveCam, if somebody is pushing the limits, rolling through stop signs, running red lights or driving aggressively, you have the ability to see that and direct it back to the client so that they become aware of those behaviors,” says Del Lisk, vice president of DriveCam’s safety services.

The company guarantees its customers a reduction of at least 30% in severity and collision claims if clients use its managed services. An enterprise version is available as well for companies who wish to review the incidents themselves.

“We really feel that it’s a tool that we can use to improve our drivers,” says Dan Smith, vice president for Royal Coach Tours in San Jose, Calif., who has equipped his entire fleet with the technology. “Actually, our drivers will tell you that it makes them improve their driving, because they try to not make it go off.”

Smith adds that since his drivers now know they are being watched more closely, the number of recorded incidents his company gets has decreased by approximately 80%.

“This technology is based on something called the Hawthorne Effect, a study that showed when workers were watched, they performed better,” explains Graham Ledger, director of communications, marketing and public relations for the San Diego-based SmartDrive Systems Inc. “When you have a camera on board, suddenly the ‘it’s not my car’ kind of attitude goes away and professional drivers, or any kind of driver, tend to drive better and safer. That’s the net result more than anything.”

SmartDrive works similarly to DriveCam, but adds 10 seconds of incident recording and OBDII/J-Bus connectivity, which records diagnostic data that can be used to help fleets keep tabs on the status of their coaches as well as schedule maintenance.

Aside from impacting risk and assessing liability in collisions, both DriveCam and SmartDrive offer another potentially beneficial feature for motorcoach fleets.

“An important feature in the motorcoach industry is that you have the added benefit of being able to see what happened in the vehicle to the passengers,” Lisk says. “If there’s some type of internal claim from a passenger, you now have video material that will help clarify the situation and defend against false claims.”

Introduction and use
Telling your operating staff that you’ll be putting cameras on board your coaches that will provide documentation whenever they make a mistake doesn’t get a warm reception, but Lisk says the resistance usually diminishes pretty quickly.

“The driver reluctance is based on misconception, misinformation and a lack of experience,” Lisk says. “After a few weeks, for most drivers, it becomes a very comfortable thing. And then somewhere down the road when there’s a collision and the video shows it wasn’t the driver’s fault, all of a sudden everybody is on board.”

Most of the system’s end-users say they are not using the information they’re receiving to fire drivers, but simply to know what is going on when they are out on the road and to use that information to facilitate improvement.

“Depending on the severity of the situation, we bring them in, review the incident and talk to them,” says Royal Coach Tours’ Smith. “If we see too many of these type of items, we’ll go out and do a drive test, review them and then re-train.”

Autumn Dipert, COO of Dan Dipert Coaches in Arlington, Texas, says that her reasons for implementing DriveCam are not based on the fact that they had a high accident rate, but simply to improve her drivers’ skills and protect them in case of an accident.

“We rarely have to discipline anybody, it’s just making people more aware of what they are doing,” says Dipert.

Bill Schoolman, president of Classic Transportation in Bohemian, N.Y., says DriveCam is the “the single most important technical device” that his company uses in its safety program.

Based in Suffolk County, which has one of the highest auto fatality rates of any county in the U.S., Schoolman’s operation services the metropolitan New York area. These factors, along with what he calls a “drying up” of insurance in the area, caused him to implement the solution in 2003.

“It was done really as a form of protection, because it was clear that if we had DriveCam, we could have reduced our casualty losses by a substantial amount,” he says.

Schoolman adds that the solution has helped him reduce his casualty losses, which in turn has made him more marketable in terms of hanging on to insurance, an important factor since he retains the first $300,000 of any accident claim.

Pluses and minuses
According to end-users who choose not to use the managed services program, the biggest drawback to both DriveCam and SmartDrive is the time-consuming process of downloading and reviewing the footage. Along those lines, another common complaint is that the sensitivity of the devices sometimes causes too much to be recorded.

Implementing these solutions, though, seems to have more advantages than disadvantages, including a fleetwide reduction in risky driving incidents and its ability to be used as a training tool.

“Probably every professional driver out there thinks that he is an excellent driver and that he uses good following distance,” says Gladys Gillis, CEO for Starline Luxury Tours in Seattle. “The truth is that if you measure it, it is probably two or three seconds instead of four to six seconds, but you’ll never get anybody to say that’s true of them if you can’t show them some footage.”

The biggest advantage of these systems, though, is the impact the footage has when insurance companies are squabbling over who caused an accident.

“We had a clip that clearly showed that our driver was wrong and when our insurance company went to handle that case, we just said the DriveCam is against us so just do what you can and settle it as fast you can,” says Schoolman.

On the flip side of that coin, Schoolman says that one of his drivers was involved in a nasty accident and the DriveCam footage helped exonerate his driver of any wrongdoing.

Because of these benefits, insurance companies, such as Lancer Insurance, are now working with their clients to encourage the use of DriveCam solutions.

“We’re working on solidifying a program for the motorcoach industry,” explains Lancer’s executive vice president, Tim Delaney. “In some cases we’ll subsidize the purchase of the cameras, in other cases we’ll give the client a few of them to try out.”

As part of its push to make DriveCam a standard solution for its clients, Lancer recently purchased 1,000 units, an almost $250,000 investment.

“Our goal is to have those 1,000 units seed the sale of 5,000 units to our clients,” says Delaney.

As for the cost of these systems, SmartDrive’s Ledger explains that although it varies by volume, the average cost per unit is between $400 and $600 plus an additional $30 to $40 a month for its managed services.

Lisk says that the cost of DriveCam is $720 per vehicle per year for both the equipment and managed services.

“The cost is nothing compared to what you reap in driver training opportunities and savings on insurance costs, whether direct or indirect,” says Dipert. “Everything about it is cheap compared to the alternatives.”

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