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The importance of IoT in advancing fleet driver safety

Technology is now a valuable tool for protecting fleets, their cargo, and the lives of drivers

writes Gill Jones, General Manager: Business Segment Sales at Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron.

The importance of the logistics sector to our economy has become even more clear during the pandemic and the lockdowns, as we become more reliant on retail, e-commerce and the supply chains that keep our essential retailers stocked.

The heroes of the logistics sector are the drivers who transport goods between ports, distribution centres, wholesalers, and retail outlets. They are a vital link in the supply chain, and their safety is critical to the effective functioning of our transport sector.

While long-haul trucking is often the preserve of larger logistics companies, it’s important to understand how the risks to large haulers also have knock-on effects for small businesses. Where a large load does not get through to a remote town, the small enterprises that handle last-mile logistics are severely impacted.

Improving driver safety on long-haul routes therefore protects the livelihoods of all the small businesses further down the supply chain – all of whom move the goods that keep our economy alive.

Protection through data

Netstar’s data confirms that we are living through desperate times, and cargo of all types is now under threat – along with the drivers who transport it. We saw a rise of 13,5% in vehicle crime incidents during February alone.

Fortunately, technology offers us a number of tools for protecting drivers, their cargo and other road users.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is also the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), which enables a wide range of sensors, cameras, and other monitoring technology. This has accelerated in recent years, but the industry of telematics – sending, receiving and storing information using telecommunications – is already several decades old.

Telematics and IoT generates vast amounts of data about vehicle movement and driver behaviour, all of which is now key to making long-distance driving safer. Artificial intelligence (AI) enhances our ability to process this data and apply it in productive, human-centric ways – such as to enhance driver safety.

Research conducted by Arrive Alive has found that driver tiredness causes more than 20% of long-distance accidents​. Helping to combat this are technologies like in-cab and road-facing live monitoring camera systems, using both AI and data interpretations, as well as alert and alarm management to help fleet owners check for driver fatigue, distracted driving, speeding or off-route driving.

Data analytics and fleet intelligence can also be used to design work schedules that keep drivers fresh and performing at their best.

Connected fleets

Vehicle connectivity is another factor in managing driver wellness. Long-distance driving is a solitary, sometimes lonely profession. Fortunately, connected vehicle technology now allows for numerous services that make the driver feel more part of society.

While this technology is still in its early days, it offers great potential.

Free, centralised, high-speed connectivity in the vehicle can allow the employer to push content to the vehicle – training modules, webinars, email or online meetings. Drivers parked overnight at a truck stop can video-chat with their families, or complete an e-learning course. Data, food or coffee vouchers can even be offered as rewards incentives.

The connected driver feels they belong to something, they’re more engaged with their loved ones and their business family.

Scheduled maintenance

With the precision monitoring of connected fleets, precision maintenance can also be used to improve safety. Pre-trip checklists can be digitally entered using a device, with data communicated to headquarters in real time, to make this essential aspect of every journey as efficient as possible.

A vehicle operating in an area with high dust content, for instance, can provide data on oil viscosity that can be used to help other vehicles to operate better in those conditions. Servicing schedules can be adjusted to ensure a longer life for vehicles – and greater safety for drivers.

Risk assessment

Insurers also benefit from the greater amount of data provided by technology, as it provides a more accurate understanding of risk. Data can be used to incentivise safer behaviour and to bring down premiums when there is measurable improvement.

New safety technologies include sensors that provide lane-departure warnings, pedestrian and vehicle collision warnings, as well as eye- and face-sensor technology to detect fatigue.

Safety technology

Already, driver monitoring has shown significant measurable results. A recent partnership between Netstar and Putco was able to improve passenger and driver safety by reducing accidents and also enhancing COVID-19 compliance through a network of onboard cameras.

These technology-driven safety protocols saw Putco reduce accidents by 70%, and damage claims by 36%. In the 2016/17 financial year, Putco reported 61 accidents, but by the end of December 2019, this number had dropped to 18.

Another recent threat to driver safety has been the rise in crime, hijackings and vehicle theft, during the desperate times of the lockdown.

Vehicle tracking technology, combined with data analysis and crime reports can help to respond to driver alerts almost immediately, to plan the safest possible routes and even to reroute drivers in real time in response to incoming reports.

In these challenging times, the industry cannot afford to ignore the benefits of technology. The risks on the road mean that every fleet and logistics company should look to employ the best technology available to protect their drivers.

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