Smart Trucks 2014 – Smart Trucks Enable Safe Drivers
With safety regulations marching forward, and insurance rates marching upward, safety is critical for the waste collections and hauling industry.
Operators need every tool available to stay on top of driver and vehicle safety, so it’s not surprising that vehicle tracking and video systems are rising in popularity. Then too, we have advances in active braking technology. Indeed, there’s a wide array of equipment and technology, plus an abundance of technological terms to muddy up the waters. Most everyone has heard of GPS (global positioning system), but what about SaaS, DDR, IR, radar, HD video, and RCS? Too much jargon? Don’t panic. We’ll simplify things and explain the basics.
No matter the technology, there’s no denying that a product category has gained mainstream acceptance when one of the world’s largest waste collections and haulers buys into its use. Such is the case with the decision in late 2012 by Waste Management (WM), Houston, TX, to deploy a driver risk management and fleet management solution for its entire fleet of collection vehicles over a five-year service contract. DriveCam Inc., San Diego, CA, won the WM contract after a 10-month pilot in just two of the company’s service areas, and according to Eric Cohen, senior marketing manager at DriveCam, gathering the data from a driver’s daily route can boost safe vehicle operations and also have an impact on vehicle costs.
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The DriveCam program has two parts; in the truck, there’s a DriveCam DC3 video event recorder. “The event recorder is placed behind the rear view mirror and it has two cameras, one facing inside the cab and one facing out,” Cohen explains. “It uses GPS and a cell phone modem and it’s always recording but it only saves an event when it’s activated by some type of risky driving.” The day’s events are saved to DriveCam Online, a web-based portal that’s more than just a storage system. DriveCam has a staff of risk analysts that review and score the vehicle’s events and post them to a secure website, so the driver’s supervisor or manager can look at the events and see the comments and scores. “They can sit down with the driver and coach them on their behavior,” Cohen says. “So, was the driver falling asleep or distracted because they were talking on a cell phone? Were they following too close without having enough distance between them and the other vehicle? Or, were they doing everything right and it wasn’t their fault?”
Backup warning systems have become essential.
Although the event recording is triggered by risk-related events such as hard braking, the DriveCam program is just as useful for exonerating a driver. The system saves the eight seconds before the event, and four seconds after, so, in addition to capturing the driver’s behavior, it catches the actions of other vehicles or situations that were responsible for triggering the recording. In addition to video, the recording includes an audio track, so evidence such as the sound of skidding tires or vehicle impact is available for analysis.
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The DriveCam program has a method for scoring events based upon risk and severity. If a driver does something very risky it may be scored much higher than a low-risk activity, and the scores accumulate. “It’s possible to rank and sort your drivers from the least risky to the most,” says Cohen. “We have found that it’s the 80/20 rule and 20% of the drivers account for 80% of your risk. So rather than sending an edict back to everybody, it’s possible to focus just on the 20% because they’re the ones who are probably going to cause the next accident. In Waste Management’s case, they found that this has reduced their risk by 70% and auto liability by $3.1 million in just two of its business units. It also reduces their fuel consumption because a safer driver is a more fuel-efficient driver as well.”
A more efficient driver can also be a more inspired driver, because the DriveCam data can be used for safety reward programs. For example, the city of Tyler, TX, has developed a positive feedback program and a good driving recognition program. “They award those drivers that haven’t had any type of events and somebody from the mayor’s office attends to congratulate the winners, and there’s an article in the paper or on the local television news,” says Cohen. “It’s a very big deal, and what’s interesting is that initially they had a small number of drivers that didn’t score any events. Yet six months later, the number skyrocketed because the drivers realized the rewards of driving safely.”
The opportunities for rewards programs aren’t limited to cities. The National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) runs a Driver of the Year Award program. It honors drivers who operate their vehicles in a safe and responsible manner while maintaining outstanding performance records. The association says it’s “…a great way to recognize your best and safest drivers.”
DriveCam has a staff of risk analysts that review and score the vehicle’s events and post them to a secure website, so the driver’s supervisor or manager can look at the events and see the comments and scores.
Rewards programs offer great incentives for drivers, but camera systems can also reward refuse collection operations by corroborating billing and customer complaints regarding service issues, according to Matt Van Kirk, communications and design manager at Pro-Vision Video Systems, Byron Center, MI. “Our system starts recording 30 seconds after the vehicle turns on, so you never miss anything,” says Van Kirk. “We combine that with an event marker button so it won’t be written over or erased. Haulers can see a fast return on investment by marking the video if your customer has an overloaded bin or if the driver had to get out and spend extra time picking up stuff. Or if it’s a standard residential pickup and somebody complains, the video can show that the truck was there on time, but the trash bin wasn’t.”
Of course, safety is still an overriding factor, and having up to four cameras on a vehicle can provide a wide vista for capturing accident video. For example, the Pro-Vision Solid State Commercial Video Recording
System has the ability to record up to 4 cameras simultaneously at 120 frames per second at D1 720 x 480 resolution. For onboard viewing, there’s a laptop interface module, or a 5-inch or 7-inch LCD, or a 4.3-inch rearview mirror monitor. A wireless file transfer and remote viewing feature allows viewing and copying any video file remotely in real time. Integrated GPS mapping records a vehicle’s location and speed. Viewing software can display with an integrated GPS map. The GPS antenna will also enable the use of the systems max speed setting to trigger the event alarm video when a selected speed is reached.
Driver’s appreciate the convenience and added efficiency of multiple views. Says Van Kirk, “A customer may have a camera mounted on a hopper to check the level of trash, and frequently they place cameras near a side arm to provide a better angle. The forward facing camera can show proof of access or other problems. This is a positive motive for the driver’s behavior because it’s protection for the employee as well as fulfilling safety and performance requirements. We have used it to correct operator errors and for training purposes, and proof of liability in accidents.”
Distracted driving is another cause for accident liability. Moreover, cell phone use, especially texting, has been singled out as a distraction worthy of corrective legislation, most notably, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ban on cell phone use in commercial motor vehicles. To help the refuse industry keep its drivers safe from such distractions, NexTraq Inc., Atlanta, GA, a GPS fleet tracking and asset management provider, “recently launched its Driver Safety Solution, including NexTraq DriveGuard, its Online Driver Education Courses and a Driver Safety Scorecard Report, plus, NexTraq’s Fleet Safety Solution. The safety solution includes Speed Alerts and Posted Speed Alerts as well as the Driver Safety Scorecard Report. This report is built from data obtained from accelerometers built into the hardware devices to identify aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding, harsh braking, harsh acceleration, and sudden cornering.
The new products reflect a growing awareness of the cost and impact of accidents, and moreover, the impact of negative publicity, according to Ashley Jones, director of marketing for NexTraq. “If you think about it, a lot of the vehicles are moving billboard for their companies,” says Jones. “So there is a liability issue that can cost money and productivity if the vehicle doesn’t complete a job or get the work done. We have something called posted speed that warns about exceeding the actual speed on the road, and this goes back to reputation management because it brings new meaning to the “˜How’s my driving?’ sticker. Service and distribution is a competitive business and reckless driving is an image problem.”
Changes in routes on the fly can be another distraction, especially if the driver has to follow vague instructions to an unfamiliar location. To solve the problem, NexTraq has developed a dispatch feature to work with the vehicle systems and offers voice-guided, turn-by-turn direction with Garmin devices. “This helps with safety for the driver so they aren’t distracted and can keep their focus on the road, and it also provides accurate estimated time of arrival,” Jones adds. With GPS data, the system can supply reports confirming tasks and drop validation to prove that a vehicle was at a certain location at a certain time. “So the customer service level can be proven to be high,” says Jones, “and if there is a false complaint, claim, or lawsuit, this record can provide evidence and validation that allegations were false.”
The NexTraq solution is cloud-based (also referred to as SaaS, or software as a service) to provide fleet managers with a web accessible service, yet minimal equipment installation on the vehicle. “The installed hardware tracks the vehicle and management can see the vehicle’s activities in the web application,” Jones explains. “It can be hardwired into the vehicle depending on what the customer wants. We have a very robust offering of hardware solutions that starts with a plug-and-play device for the onboard computer port. It’s not hardwired into the vehicle but many owners just want the benefits of safety and performance. Most customers are using it for the well being of their drivers rather than as corporate covert surveillance.”
Surveillance, covert or otherwise, is one of those hot-button words that can lead to all sorts of unpleasant conversations. Nonetheless, real time information and recording of vehicle data makes for a much safer vehicle, according to Don Diego Padilla, vice president, Fleetmind, Montreal, QC. “In our system anything that happens in the vehicle is recorded and reported,” says Padilla. “And it’s not just by means of a GPS signal. We also connect to the electronic control module and that module is recording the truck’s speed, its engine’s RPMs, the health of the engine and all kinds of information. So we’re capturing that rather than just relying on a GPS signal to tell you where it is and how fast it’s going.”
The Fleetmind system turns the average refuse vehicle into “smart truck” by providing a wealth of information and insight into its operations. The company’s GD4010 Smart Display is a lightweight yet rugged touch screen that provides an onboard computing platform with real-time information for drivers and dispatchers about a truck’s load-weight, route status, service completion, vehicular telemetry, and driver activities. Additionally, the system integrates with all the cameras on the truck, the scales, and radio frequency identification readers. So when bins are lifted the computer is reporting back to the server at the company’s office in real time. That server is integrated with the company’s billing and routing system automatically, providing the data to the customer support department, billing department, and dispatch, within a minute of it happening on the street.
“Driver behavior changes immediately,” Padilla notes. “The role of this product is not to be big brother, but rather to provide a path to better productivity and safety measures. When the driver realizes that there is a computer on the truck that’s going to help them and also report to managers and supervisors exactly how the route is being run and exactly how the truck is being driven, the driver pays better attention and wants to do a better job. We have alarms for hard braking and other situations so those safety issues are given to the driver and the driver has buy-in because every time he speeds or has excessive idling, an alarm goes off so he knows he can’t do those things anymore.”
Data collection is also a benefit to route audits. “Refuse haulers typically do audits every three years to make sure that pricing reflects the work done and is sufficient,” Padilla explains. “Some routes might be heavier than others or not have enough density, and this allows managers to look at those factors not just one time for one week, but over a longer period of time to see how the route is done over six, eight, or 10 weeks. This provides a much less expensive method because there’s no labor needed.”
With so much emphasis placed on video recording, the need for dependable rugged equipment is growing. And that applies to the cameras on the truck and the video screens in the cab, notes Nick Mitidiero, president, Optimo Electronics, Chicago, IL. “The waste industry needs the most rugged camera solutions on the market. If they aren’t designed to withstand heavy vibration, inclement weather, and extreme conditions, it can lead to vehicle downtime and costly replacements” says Mitidiero.
“In this market, our customers have many desired configurations, depending on their safety initiatives and the style of truck they run. Driver blind spot assistance cameras help operators run their routes safer and more efficiently, while adding video recording ability allows fleet managers to effectively reduce risk and coach better driving behavior.”
“We recently launched an innovative smart solution with the City of El Paso Garbage Collection Department, using both types of camera solutions to help improve efficiency and driver performance. The city’s new trucks from Bridgeport Manufacturing come equipped with five color cameras that are all recorded with our onboard digital video recorder (DVR).”
El Paso’s system uses three Sony heated exterior cameras, viewable to the driver through a 7-inch color monitor, and two additional windshield mounted cameras view the road ahead and passengers in the cab. The DVR recorder is an intelligent mobile video surveillance solution that records up to 8 A/V channels. It includes both 2.5-inch SATA & SD Card storage, a vandal-proof and shock resistant housing, vehicle speed and location via Google maps, built in Wi-Fi, driver behavior analysis software, wireless system health checks, and more.
“If there is an incident or event that warrants further review, fleet managers can search the time-stamped video and data to create a report, file insurance claim, or coach driving activity,” Mitidiero adds. “These trucks are expensive and there’s a lot of liability out on the road. This is a relatively inexpensive solution that can considerably increase long-term fleet savings.”
Additional layers of security are possible by combining video with proximity sensor technology. For example, Preco Electronics, Inc. Boise, ID, recently introduced its PreView Plus camera/monitor/radar system, an all-in-one vision and active object detection system. A PreView Plus system supports up to four cameras and 24 pulsed radar sensors, providing extensive vehicle coverage, while the in-cab monitoring provides a visual and audible warning for the driver along with controls to allow for simple pairing of multiple sensors and cameras.
Drivers can choose automatic full-screen mode from the corresponding camera view when the radar detects a person or object in the vehicle’s blind spot. A manual override silences the alert after determining that the object in the vehicle’s blind spot is not a risk. Putting the vehicle into reverse brings a full-screen image of the rear camera’s view, giving the driver instant access to a view of the most dangerous blind spot.
Side object detection is a growing concern for the operation of refuse vehicles, according to Peter Evans, vice president of sales and marketing for Preco. “It’s an important point especially when you have the right hand drive trucks and you’re making a left turn. Now the driver gets an active alert when something is there and can react accordingly.”
Proximity sensor systems are also available with IFR (infrared) technology and automatic braking. For example, Global Sensor Systems Inc., Mississauga, ON, makes the Global Search-Eye Sensor System. (incorporating infrared technology) for vehicles, to prevent backing accidents. “Drivers can be legitimately distracted and miss an opportunity to prevent a backing accident,” says Ray Glenn, president, Global Sensor Systems. “But this is an active system with automatic braking, so no driver participation is needed to stop the vehicle.” Global’s infrared sensor technology is not heat sensitive or activated by motion. It uses active modulation and reacts to any object, hot or cold, moving or stationary, at a predetermined protected area behind the vehicle.
Automated braking isn’t limited to backup systems. It’s also available for forward collision prevention, and rollover control. For example, Meritor WABCO, based in Troy, MI, offers a line of active safety systems that are activated automatically by an electronic control unit to provide improved performance and handling, and to assist the driver in maintaining control of the vehicle and avoiding accidents. According to Mark Melletat, Meritor WABCO Vehicle Control Systems, roll stability control (RSC), and electronic stability control (ESC) are powerful solutions for augmenting driver performance, and improving refuse vehicle safety. “With commercial vehicles the dynamic of the vehicle is always changing,” says Melletat. “For refuse haulers, the rollover potential is much lower at the start of a collection route because there’s no load and the center of gravity is very low. As the day progresses, that changes and the center of gravity gets much higher as the vehicle’s load grows. So it’s often difficult to recognize a safe speed on a curve. But whether the truck is loaded or not, the systems are designed to measure the lateral force and make a determination if you’re reaching a critical point that requires slowing the vehicle automatically.”
The roll stability control is designed to address rollovers related to speed on higher friction surfaces. So if a truck enters an exit ramp at a high rate of speed and it’s too close to the rollover threshold the system monitors the lateral acceleration and reduces the speed of the vehicle through a sequential activation of reducing the engine throttle, activating the engine brakes, and applying foundation brakes.
Electronic stability control has the same technology as RSC, plus additional sensors that monitor directional instability that can occur on lower friction surfaces such as rain, snow, or ice. In those cases you don’t roll over, but you do lose control,” says Melletat. “In this case we mount a yaw rate sensor on the frame that measures the yaw of the vehicle on its axis, and then we mount a sensor on the steering wheel to monitor the driver’s movements and how they’re directing the vehicle. During a loss of control the system slows the vehicle and will selectively apply the brakes on different wheels to influence the direction of the truck and bring it back or correct it.”
Meritor WABCO also offers OnGuard and OnLane. OnGuard is an automated front collision protection system that uses forward-looking radar to monitor surrounding vehicles. It can slow a vehicle through the ABS controller to reduce speed and apply brakes based on the detection of a potential impending collision. The OnLane Lane Departure Warning system with SafeTrak technology monitors the road ahead and audibly warns drivers of unintentional departures from a lane or the road. The system combines a small video camera and machine vision software to watch the road ahead and warn drivers if they unintentionally leave their lane, or if their driving pattern becomes erratic.
All told, refuse haulers have many choices for safety equipment to prevent accidents and to monitor vehicle status. It’s possible to stay simple, with products such as a passive backup warning system or video camera system. However, there are options to combine automatic braking controls with video cameras and vehicle tracking. No matter the technology, the result is a safer vehicle, and accident prevention, rather than accident litigation.