Driver Facing Cameras – A Safety tool, or an invasion of privacy?

More and more these days, technology is being used in the name of improving safety within the transport industry. While most of this equipment performs a task in the background, only coming into effect when absolutely needed, there are a few devices that have a direct impact on the driver all the time. One of these is the dashcam. A dashcam is a device that is either permanently or temporarily fitted to a vehicle to record footage of the area around the vehicle during operation. While many are limited to the area ahead of the vehicle, some cover the areas down either as well, allowing for a full picture view of any events that unfold. Along with the video footage, many units also capture other information, such as vehicle location and speed, while any harsh driving events (rapid acceleration, harsh braking and high G-force cornering) will be recorded through the use of an inbuilt G sensor.

The use of forward facing cameras has been widely accepted in the transport industry, and while some drivers do have concerns, the general consensus is that forward facing cameras provide a form of cheap insurance. While the figures tell us that 90% of accidents involving trucks and passenger vehicles are caused by the smaller of the two vehicles, it’s never a bad thing to have some evidence in your favour. However, they can also highlight bad driving habits, such as tailgating and speeding, hence the reluctance from some drivers to use them.

Looking Forward, Looking Back.

There is one variety of dashcam that causes some serious debate, however. Driver facing cameras are now being implemented by many fleets, in order to record a driver’s behaviour in the lead up to, and following, a serious incident. While the dashcam manufacturers and the fleets who are installing them will insist that this is safety measure, for those in the cab a driver facing camera also represents an invasion of privacy, with every move inside the cab recorded- at least while the key is on. The idea of a driver facing camera presents a conundrum for both the company and the driver, with both sides having a good argument for or against their use.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start- there will not be someone watching the footage every minute of every driver’s work day. The idea of a driver facing camera is to identify whether a driver was distracted, fatigued or otherwise impaired in the lead up to an incident. The footage leading up to, during, and immediately after an incident is all that should be used in investigating the incident. If there are no incidents the footage is simply over written in a continuous loop, with the length of the recording determined by the amount storage on the units SD card. Some units, however, can stream live footage back to base over the 3G or 4G mobile data networks, allowing for live, real time monitoring of drivers or external storage of weeks’ worth of footage, and this is where the questions arise.

How much information do we need?

Forward vision cameras, as mentioned earlier, can provide a wealth of information. Just by looking at the footage, and using the speed and location data, you can paint a fair picture of what is going on behind the wheel. Erratic swerving or speed changes are indicators that a driver is not concentrating on the job at hand, and should be enough to answer a lot of questions. So why then do we need to have a driver, in their workplace, under constant video surveillance?
The advocates for driver facing cameras will tell you it’s ensure a driver is actually operating in a professional manner- not using their phone, making a sandwich or hanging out the window to wave to all their adoring fans- while on the road. But if no-one is going to be watching the footage, then this makes no sense. If there is the potential for someone to watch the footage, even if there is no incident, then a driver does have cause for concern.

There are some things we don’t want to see.

There are many things a driver does during his or her day that they may not want anyone else to see. We all need to adjust our clothing every now and then, and everyone picks their nose occasionally (even if we won’t admit it). There are many other things, like getting dressed in the morning, that are daily, but still private, events. The knowledge that your every move is being recorded could add to a driver’s stress levels, and they could feel extra pressure to perform in terms of driving when they would prefer to stop for a break.
Along with the video footage, there is the prospect of having audio from within the cab recorded as well. This means that every hands- free phone conversation (or at least one side of the conversation), and every bad sing along version of “Living on a Prayer” will also be available to those watching. This would include those conversations where you have a crack at the boss, a work mate, or a customer. We all vent occasionally, but what if that information were fed back to the boss?
There are those who feel that driver facing cameras demonstrate a lack of trust in the driver, and that would be hard to argue against. There are many videos on the internet demonstrating the value of driver facing cameras, which goes some way to proving the argument against having them. How does a driver know he or she is not going to be put out there, for all the world to see, adjusting themselves after a few hours in the seat, or talking to their partner on the phone about family issues? Also, who controls who can see the footage within the company, and the way they use the information they gather from that footage?

The verdict.

The fact is that many companies are going to implement driver facing cameras in the coming months or years. The question is, will they find the drivers to point those cameras at? It’s hard to believe that the older and more experienced drivers would sign up for it and, considering the privacy issues, that’s fair enough. It’s one thing to have this technology that promises to improve safety, and there will be those that are willing to work with it for the right money, but at what stage do we think we have put enough pressure on a driver? Whether drivers accept it or not, driver facing cameras will have an impact on truck safety- either the drivers will drive more responsibly, or the trucks will sit in the yard without a driver. And let’s face it, there’s no safer truck than a truck that doesn’t move at all!

 

Authored by Dave Whyte

Dave Whyte grew up around the transport industry, spending most of his school holidays in various trucks with his dad. He began professionally driving at the age of 19, starting in small rigid trucks in Melbourne. He worked his way up to driving B-double combinations on interstate duties, working as a company driver. In 2007, Dave won the Scania Young Australian Truck Driver competition, which led to him winning a new Scania prime mover.This meant Dave was thrust into the role of being an owner-operator and had to quickly learn the business side of the industry. He sold his first truck in 2012 and within a month had bought a second which ran until late 2016. It was then that Dave decided to take a break and spend more time with his family.

daveSince 2010, Dave has also been working as a journalist for a number of transport industry publications, initially combining the role of a full time driver with that of a part time journalist. His insider knowledge of the transport industry, including experience in various types of trucks, trailers and freight, provides a different perspective to many other transport industry journalists. The hard learned lessons from running his own business also give him an insight to the dollars and cents side of transport.
While Dave now focuses on his role as a contributor to Trucksales.com.au, he also spends a bit of time on the road as a casual driver- a job he still loves to do. Dave sees this as important, as it keeps him up to date with what’s going on in the “real world” of transport and allows him to maintain his skills in various roles. Whether it’s carting cars or delivering dairy product in fridge vans, he enjoys spending time out on the road amongst the people of the transport industry. Dave is proud to be part of such a diverse and dynamic industry, and is passionate about the industry and its people.