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New Trucker Technology Increases Safety, Decreases Privacy

In California, each year, accidents involving large trucks often end with the death of a motorist. In an effort to reduce the number of motorists killed in accidents, trucking companies are using new technology to closely monitor truck drivers.  While many drivers feel that their privacy is being invaded, highway safety, overall, is improving.

The latest devices, involving satellite-based tracking and cellphone technology, are a quantum leap forward in information available to trucking companies. Managers can learn about a driver’s speed, braking, cornering techniques and unauthorized stops. Additionally, the technology allows them to watch the drivers behind the wheel.

Less Truck Accidents, Less Privacy

Improved safety is a major goal for on-the-road surveillance (though improved productivity is the main idea).  Studies have shown that while the truck accident rates of medium-size trucks are going up, rates for the largest trucks are going down; increased use of the technology is believed to be one reason.  Some popular technology used includes, but is not limited to:

  • Operator Monitoring Systems: The systems are controversial among drivers who are constantly watched by cameras transmitting live video to the truck companies.  A driver, who is an employee,  has little legal basis to try to prevent the surveillance, as courts have ruled employees have minimal privacy rights on the job.
  • RydeSmart: Ryder System Inc.’s iPhone and iPad app constantly tracks a vehicle. The app has been marketed as a tool to boost vehicle efficiency, gathering data for fuel-tax, and hours-of-service reporting.  By federal law, tractor-trailer drivers are supposed to work no more than 70 hours in eight days and then get 34 hours off.  Drivers may drive more safely knowing they’re being tracked.
  • GreenRoad: This Web-based tool uses an in-cab visual display in red, yellow and green to represent driving habits.  Its maker claims it leads to a 60% reduction in accident costs.
  • SmartDrive Systems: The video-based product is designed to improve safety and fuel management. With this tool, managers can detect when drivers are following too closely, hitting the brakes too hard or engaging in other unsafe practices such as aggressive driving.

Truck Industry Split

In 2012, a proposal to make such devices mandatory in tractor-trailers failed to get passed into a law. At the time, the proposal divided trucking groups, with some in favor and some against. The 150,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association opposed the measure, claiming the devices invade the privacy of drivers, don’t improve record-keeping, and add costs to small business owners who drive trucks.

On the other hand, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations said recorders reduce hours-of-service violations, make it less burdensome to do paperwork, and improve compliance with federal rules. Dan Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security at Schneider National, a Wisconsin- based transportation and logistics company, says his firm saw a significant reduction in crashes after on-board recorders were used in its 13,000-truck fleet in 2010.

Striving For Safety

This technology is spreading, and more electronic data gathering may be inevitable for truck drivers. If there’s a competitive advantage for truck companies that use the devices, it may be a matter of time before more trucks have them on board. An additional advantage? When there are accidents, there will be far more evidence available to determine what happened and who is at fault. Do you believe in the safety of everyone on the road or the privacy of one driver?


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