Truck drivers who once shunned in-dash cameras as a form of electronic big brother are having second thoughts.
“I remember in the early days when drivers would put their hats over them,” said Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency.
Attitudes are changing because video from the cameras protects drivers from wrongful blame in lawsuits.
“The finger always points at the big, heavy truck being at fault even when they are not,” said Jim Angel, vice president of video intelligence at software developer Trimble Inc.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires that trucks carry $750,000 to $5 million insurance depending on the type of freight. Settlements exceeded the minimums in 42 percent of truck crashes, according to the Lawsuit Info Center. The center matches attorneys with people who sue truckers after crashes.
Some insurers require trucks to have cameras before quoting coverage, said Larry McLean, vice president of the Insurance Office of America.
“Having those tools in place sometimes is the only reason they will get a quote,” he said.
Independent drivers see the cameras as protection for themselves and others.
Sandy Goche said the dash cam in her truck recorded what appeared to be an attempted insurance scam at a truck stop. A trucker backing into a parking space hit a car. The car’s driver had positioned it in the truck’s blind spot. The driver claimed to have been injured when the truck hit the car.
The incident did not involve Goche. But the dash-cam in her 2016 Freightliner Cascadia captured it, she realized. She sent for the video and used it to clear her fellow trucker.
“He was basically fired until we sent for the film,” she said.
Increases in distracted driving make having a dash cam prudent, said Alec Costerus, a trucker from Colorado.
“Time and time again, video evidence has been used to exonerate drivers, ensuring driver records rightfully remain clean,” said Jason Palmer, chief operating officer of SmartDrive Systems Inc., which sells video-based safety systems.
Even in traffic incidents, dash-cam video can clear a driver of a traffic citation. Or it can prove guilt.
“Without the indisputable content that video provides, contentions on the road become a matter of he said/she said. That typically doesn’t end well for a commercial vehicle driver,” Palmer said.
The number of in-dash cameras in heavy-duty trucks nearly doubled in the last four years, from about 8 percent to nearly 15 percent, Angel said.
“We have almost 400,000 units out there. We’re constantly measuring the take rate among our customers,” he said.
Dash cam video is useful for reporting reckless drivers, according to American Truck Business Services, a tax and accounting firm for owner-operators. Running the camera when the driver is away from the truck provides security similar to a doorbell camera at a residence.
Drivers initially shunned in-dash cameras because they didn’t understand them, Palmer said. Many thought the camera was constantly running and tattling on them.
SmartDrive’s recording system triggers on risky driving, such as hard braking, swerving or following too closely, he said.
Truckers are OK with outward-facing cameras. But they complain that driver-facing models invade their privacy. Only five of Trimble’s 200 customers use them because drivers quit. Driver-facing cameras also make it harder to recruit new truckers to a company.
One exception favoring driver-focused dash cams is for training new drivers, said John Kearney, chief executive of Advanced Training Systems LLC.
“Students’ movements, reactions and body signs let a trainer know whether the student is learning or not,” Kearney said. That includes seeing if the student is looking where he should be or taking risks.
The dash camera is part of technology integration making fleets safer and more efficient, according to Palmer. As trucking migrates from 3G cellular networks to 4G connectivity, fleets are consolidating on-board technology.
“The industry has reached a tipping point,” he said. Massive amounts of data collected from a truck translates to real-time information that help fleets boost business results.
SmartDrive combines video safety, telematics, the electronic logging device and analytics applications in a single box. It eliminates hardware and reduces data glitches and redundancy.
Trimble’s camera system connects to the ELD, which is wired into the engine controller. Video transmitted matches the time of an incident to how much time remains on the 14-hour driving day allowed by federal hours-of-service rules.
Fleet operations centers analyze the video and use it to help train new hires and coach veteran drivers, Angel said.