Whether operating dump trucks or pickup trucks, most companies with a fleet of more than 25 vehicles have at least entertained the idea of installing telematics devices to help reduce operational costs and improve safety. However, many companies are not realizing the potential risk-reduction benefit because they are not focused on the appropriate measures to improve driver behaviors, especially hard braking.

Telematics devices vary significantly. Most have built-in GPS so they can tell where the vehicle is located. Many are tied into the vehicle engine so they report on “discretionary idling,” when the vehicle engine is running but the vehicle is not being driven. It’s not unusual for companies to find significant fuel savings from this feature alone. When it comes to driving safely, systems can track speed over a certain threshold, speed over the posted speed limit, hard braking, hard acceleration, and hard turning, plus a variety of other metrics.

All of these measures create a dizzying amount of data for companies to evaluate. While many telematics systems provide sophisticated dashboards, reports and data export options, it can be difficult to know where to spend the limited time available to help optimize ROI. After all, the analysis work needs to result in coaching that improves driving to support better safety results.

Virtually all of the measures can bring some type of useful insights. For example, knowing that a company vehicle was being driven well in excess of the speed limit or that it was being used after hours in violation of policies can be helpful. However, these events should be addressed more on an “exception” basis rather than the place to focus the majority of the effort.

Research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute indicates that G-force events (e.g., hard braking and hard turning) are better predictive indicators of crash probability than speed. In the study, “Unsafe drivers turned their vehicles at greater than 0.30 g, decelerated greater than 0.30 g and swerved greater than 3 feet per second, significantly more frequently than either the moderately safe or safe drivers.”

Additionally, the accuracy of the information on hard maneuver events is often better than the speed data. The last thing companies want to do is hound employees over speed report information that may or may not be correct for the vehicle or roadway limits.

A number of risky driving behaviors tend to result in higher rates of hard braking events:
  • following too closely;
  • failing to look ahead in traffic; and
  • distraction from cell phones and other sources.
In this way, hard braking frequency becomes a good proxy for addressing a variety of issues.Following is a formula to help make a significant impact to improve driving behaviors.

Calculate the rate of hard braking events. Consider including other hard maneuvers if they are available, but hard braking is likely to be the most frequent. Compare total time driving against the number of hard braking events; both are available from most systems. Be sure to exclude “minor” braking events under 0.30 g because there is not a strong indication that these events are correlated to crash frequency. Some systems will have lower thresholds for hard brake triggering than others.
  • Focus on the right drivers. Consider setting aside any employees without significant driving time in the period being evaluated. Focusing on an employee who happens to have one hard braking event, but only one hour of driving time, may not be the best use of resources.
  • Compare apples to apples. Compare the rate of hard braking per hour of driving for employees generally operating in similar areas. Hard braking rates tend to increase slightly in highly congested inner-city areas, but defensive driving techniques may minimize this.
  • Coach drivers for improvement.  Giving employees tools to become some of the safest drivers on the road is an investment in their safety and their future, not a punishment. Share the best rates achieved and challenge employees to take steps to improve their own results.
  • Create a feedback loop. Develop a process to continually measure and provide feedback and coaching. In particular, watch for shifting trends such as an employee who previously had a low hard braking frequency that significantly increases. There may be a stressor or other factor that is causing less safe driving behaviors that needs to be addressed.
  • Celebrate success. Using tools such as telematics to improve driver safety on the road can help reduce the risk of crashes and injuries for employees, their families and others on the road. This potential far-reaching impact can be shared with employees and future customers who will be happy to have safer drivers on their jobsites.
  • Building a telematics program doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Focusing on hard braking, the most valuable data point that is correlated with collisions, can help make fleets safer for company drivers and other vehicles around them. 

Scott Rasor is the head of construction for Zurich North America. For more information, visit zurichna.com.