It was an interesting time at a recent Northland Road Safety Forum. The question was raised about the installation of in-vehicle driver monitoring technology in fleet vehicles and what was trying to be achieved.
There was a lively though short-lived debate at the event at the Northland Regional Council on May 24. Some saw such monitoring as a driving distraction and invasion of privacy, with the boss potentially raising questions about where the driver was and what was being done in corporate time.
Others saw the gathering of in-vehicle driving data, monitoring, analysing, bench-marking and reporting back as a huge step forward in improving the efficiency and behaviour of fleet drivers.
The question about how to change driver behaviour continues to be a vexed one. Plenty of commentators make sweeping statements about the need for education and how bad other drivers are. Trying to get workable solutions, though, is something we continue to wring our hands about.
The obvious place to start is to capture bad habits before they begin, and that is in the secondary school system.
We have examples of committed teachers and schools doing good work in driver safety attitudes and driver training. These programmes are slowly infiltrating government policy and we have made some good progress with young drivers.
It is the adults, though, whose behaviour is most challenging to change and an obvious place to start here is with fleet drivers. These are professional drivers. They drive someone else's vehicle for a living and where the owner/manager of the fleet has a pecuniary and health and safety interest in the accident-free status of their vehicles.
The research is varied and fascinating.
One British study in a fleet in 2007 showed the best way to predict which drivers will have the most accidents was personality types. Drivers with aggressive, impulsive and impatient personalities (measured by self-scoring tests) were consistently involved in the most accidents. The fleet manager focused interventions on those drivers and promptly saw a 30 per cent reduction in accidents.
A highly regarded study in Sweden in the 90s subjected four different groups to different methods of trying to improve driver behaviour. The separate groups were subjected respectively to intensive driver training, ongoing group discussions, a lively campaign of safety messages and financial incentives for incident-free trips.
Over the next two years each driver's accidents and incidents were recorded as well as their per kilometre fuel use. No improvement was recorded for the group subjected to safety messages. The best improvement was with the group participating in regular group discussions.
This group of drivers regularly came together to share experiences and discuss road safety and driving issues. It appears to be a culture thing, where drivers are prepared to be candid and share how things are going - without threat or intimidation from the boss.
Telematics or in-vehicle kilometre monitoring technology is currently driving changes in safe driving behaviour. Once a little black box is fitted to a fleet vehicle, a huge amount of data is able to be collected.
Fleet managers can track fuel economy, speed, braking, acceleration, cornering and erratic movements.
As well, some technology can identify when a driver is not focused or in a micro-sleep and an alert created. All this can be specifically reported back to drivers on how they "score" as a safe and efficient driver.
This data could also potentially be aggregated and reported to roading authorities as to where hard braking, for instance, is more common on their roads.
Inevitably, collected data can be misused and privacy issues can arise, but if used as a coaching tool rather than as a disciplinary measure, in-vehicle telematics has huge potential to improve driver behaviour.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and a former Whangārei District Council member.