Article | August 20, 2021

North American Fleet Driving Safety In The 21st Century: Challenges, Solutions, And New Technology

By William Sandoval, SVP of Product, PowerFleet


New fleet management software is combining with the Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution, along with other technological innovations, to drastically improve how service fleets handle fleet operations and improve safety measures.

Because accidents are the biggest safety concern for companies that own commercial vehicles, safe driving is the number one issue for every business that uses a fleet of vehicles to conduct everyday commercial tasks.. Field service companies, such as landscaping firms, pest control ventures, and HVAC concerns face the same driving difficulties as larger enterprises do.

Insurance costs are rising for companies across the U.S. Median insurance rates currently range from $1500 to over $3000 a year for a fleet in the U.S., and rates are rising steadily. Rates depend on the type and number of vehicles used, how often they are driven, and the employees’ driving records. Accidents can be very costly, and technology can mitigate costs associated with liability claims and lawsuits that might put a company out of business.

Across America, the annual accident rate for commercial fleets is around 20%. The reason for this is simply because commercial driver-techs -- that drive to and from assignments -- are balancing tasks, and can spend a good portion of their time behind the wheel, as well as pursuing their main jobs.

A growing challenge that companies face with driver-techs behind the wheel is distracted driving! There are 3 main forms of distracted driving:

  • Visual distractions like arresting billboards or a crash along the roadside can take your eyes off the road
  • Manual distractions like reaching for a cellphone or taking a sip of coffee can make you take your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive distractions, from daydreaming to arguing with the radio can take your mind off driving, and are maybe the most dangerous diversions of all

Any of these behaviors can be dangerous, even lethal, while driving. This is particularly true for driver-techs in a commercial setting.   

According to the NHTSA, 94% to 96% of all automobile accidents in the U.S. are the result of human error. The agency names distracted or aggressive driving, fatigue, alcohol, and third-party negligence as the main causes of the accidents.

With the latest cameras and software installed in the cabs of vehicles, commercial drivers and fleet management can greatly reduce these hazards and improve safety and security on the open road.

How technology can aid driver safety

How can companies engaged in commercial driving activities empower their driver-techs to get from point A to point B more safely and efficiently?

How can firms promote best practices for driving routes, use the least amount of fuel (or electrical energy), keep vehicles in optimal condition, and maintain driver morale at the highest possible levels?

Fleet management telematics technologies have made great advances in recent years, leveraging video, GPS, and IoT components to bring greater clarity, safety, and efficiency to commercial operations of all types. According to analysts Frost & Sullivan, the market for video telematics will grow by 22.2% from 2020, increasing to 3.2 million subscribers by 2025.

Video technologies, especially in-cab video cameras, are key tools in solving distracted driving problems, and can be incorporated into wider fleet management systems.

Blind spots -- areas of the road that cannot be seen by drivers using rear view or side mirrors -- can be treacherous. The NHTSA reports that over 800,000 accidents occur annually in the U.S. because of blindspots. Multiple in-vehicle video cameras can provide drivers with 360 degree views and remove the threat of blindspots, improving safety for everyone on the road.

In-vehicle video software helps combat the bad habits of driver-techs, alerting them if they are speeding, engaging in harsh acceleration/deceleration, sudden braking, or cornering, all of which increase the risk of an accident while on the road.

For harried driver-techs, onboard location software utilizing GPS and cellular data can aid with route optimization -- useful, whether the day’s work involves making multiple twists and turns through a crowded cityscape or pinpointing a remote location.

Driver virtual score cards, a pivotal feature of the latest fleet software suite, lets participants and management know how drivers are performing on the road. Driver’s scores may be contextualized, when combining the power of video along with driver feedback display for added visibility on what’s happening on the road. As a standalone event, harsh braking may be graded negatively, but with an integrated view of what is happening in front of the driver, such as a pedestrian crossing the street, it becomes the proper response.

Commercial insurance rates are rising across the United States. Fleet management data collected and used appropriately can power operational efficiencies across a business by optimizing routes, reducing accidents, providing targeted support to drivers, ultimately lowering operational costs . With video cameras and telematics software installed in their vehicles, companies may find that this lowers insurance premiums, since the technology promotes better driving behavior from driver-techs.

How software can revitalize the road for employees & management

Workforce retention is a leading concern for service based companies, and an issue that has been heightened as more businesses are able to open up more, now that COVID-19 vaccines have become more prevalent.

Technology brings clarity by monitoring the amount of time vehicles spend on the road. Fleet software accurately calculates and tabulates all the hours a driver has worked. The software can help reduce the amount of paperwork a driver-tech has to deal with, leading to better time management and a happier employee. Beyond that, fleet data benefits individuals and teams alike - promoting bonuses for driver-techs, encouraging a culture of safety, and leading to a team of happy drivers. 

The leading edge of automobile technology

Arriving on the scene now are more environmentally friendly electric cars and vans. Suitable for fleet applications of all kinds, these new rides represent a sea change in the automobile landscape that has been dominated, since the dawn of the car over 120 years ago, by the fossil fuel-powered internal combustion engine.

Electric vehicles (EV) are already an important piece of the transportation picture in North America. The environmental move away from dirty combustion engines and towards clean EVs is going to increase dramatically over the next 5 years.

Ford, General Motors, as well as other companies, are introducing electric cars, vans, and light trucks now and over the next few years. As well as automobile companies, the government is working on replacing petrol cars and vans with EVs. In 2020, 15 states and the District of Columbia signed an agreement aimed at ensuring that by 2050 100% of truck sales in the U.S. will be of zero-emission vehicles.

EV vehicles dictate a different approach to the mechanics of driving than their older petrol brethren. Driver scoring software will need to take into account that heavy acceleration reduces battery life in EVs. This is a crucial concern when all-day jobs push EVs to the limits of their range. It will be a priority for driver-techs to ensure that they have a fully charged battery in their car each day when they start work.

In a smaller way, the global dominance of 4G/LTE cellular connectivity and coming 5G services will improve data speed and latency offered by video calls, allowing more real-time communication between fleet drivers and managers. 4G/LTE connections already support video calls,  and 4G is the first cellular standard that can support in-cab video connections. 4G/LTE connectivity will be the standard for fleet connectivity for at least a decade, if not more, until 5G becomes the norm. Widespread deployment of 5G will mean less buffering, lag, and jitter on video data transmissions.

The reduced latency of 5G will have even more impact as new vehicles that incorporate self-parking features are introduced to the fleet. The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) notes that a car with a 4G/LTE-powered driver assistance system (DAS) would cover around 4.6 feet as the vehicle applied its brakes. A 5G vehicle would cover just an inch while the automobile brakes, thanks to the near real-time latency of the new technology -- which is good news for companies looking to reduce accidents overall.

Aside from DAS updates, fully-autonomous self-driving vehicles won’t be crashing the fleet management party in the near future. Despite the aspirations of Elon Musk and other autonomous evangelists, self-driving commercial vehicles will lag well behind the introduction of partially autonomous vehicles in the 2021-22 timeframe.

A true fully-autonomous vehicle is still years from fruition. At present, Level 2 autonomous vehicles are not ready for use. Fully self-driving vehicles (Levels 4 & 5) are still far from taking to the road. MIT researchers believe it will be at least a decade before automated vehicles become a reality. Even then, self-driving cars could be limited to urban and suburban areas with warmer climates. Cold, winter climates and rural areas will experience longer transition periods, according to the study.

Safe driving by humans, rather than machines, will be crucial for driver-techs for many years to come. In-cab video telematics is a growth opportunity for all companies that operate fleets as part of their daily business. Video telematics that combat distracted driving keep insurance rates down. This satisfies management’s need for operational efficiency, and ensures that driver-techs are happy and healthy while on the road.


About The Author

William Sandoval is SVP of Product for PowerFleet.