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CCTV keeps hauliers eyes fixed on the road

23 April 2014 #Features & Interviews #News #Policy #Truck

The requirement for analogue and digital tachographs was driven by legislation, and telematics has satisfied the need for hugely intensive and detailed fleet management. Now, an increasingly litigious culture, spiralling insurance costs are driving the exponential growth of in-cab cameras for moving image capture. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then moving images must be worth a million.

Specialist hauliers have used cameras for some time, but they have now moved into the mainstream and are bringing big benefits, Transport News Brief explores why.

Risk assessment

Insurers are famous for being late to the party when technical innovations bring real reductions in accident risk and repairs, but in-cab CCTV has marked a real shift in attitude.

Fleet managers who invest in safety technology should be rewarded, and Nick Plowman, Chief Technical Officer for Intelligent Telematics, confirms that insurance companies have finally got the message.

He says, “Some insurers will now cut premiums with only the need for camera equipment to be fitted. Others will reduce the cost of insurance after systems have proved their worth, which they invariably do.”

A rough guide from operators we’ve spoken to suggests that a 15% cut in insurance premiums is the minimum that can be expected, with bigger savings as damage claims drop. After cameras are installed, a 40% drop in claims is common, we’re told. And it’s not the long-haul 44 tonne trucks that are at highest risk either.

One of the industry’s leading camera manufacturers, SmartWitness, is run by Managing Director Simon Marsh who has developed the business since 2009. He says that the urban delivery driver is at much greater risk.

He says, “In a city environment average speeds might be lower, but the risks are substantially higher.”

Insurers and fleet managers also benefit from a massive drop in disputed claims. Against an industry norm for disputes of 40%, claims supported by camera evidence attract only a 2% dispute rate, saving costs. It might not just be about accidents either. Brian Yeardley Continental from Wakefield reports a cessation of illegal immigrants trying to break into their trailers since the installation of cameras, and the clear display of CCTV stickers. The problem has gone away.

Telematic integration

Blending the data stream from cameras, and the capture of significant events, into a telematics system is now easy. If you take MAN’s Microlise-based telematics, and specify cameras, they will be SmartWitness. As their popularity grows, equipment costs are falling. But with kit available from £20, Plowman warns that consumers will need to look at spec more closely if they are to avoid the buy-cheap-buy-twice trap. The options range from a simple forward-facing camera that uses a 32GB SD memory card, which will be sufficient for between 24 and 75 hours of data.

However, simple systems have shortcomings and they cannot provide a continuous recording that is constantly overwritten. This can leave crucial gaps in imagery. The more powerful option is a hard drive that can cope with multiple cameras. A further notch above that, is a 3G camera with GPS capabilities, which will give impact speeds and include shock sensor data that can accurately convey the severity – or otherwise – of an accident.

Technological development is moving at a spritely pace with the latest equipment providing instant notifications to a traffic office, sending videos of incidents in less than 60 seconds. The latest system from SmartWitness features two cameras, accurate vehicle speeds direct from the vehicle, and the ability to compress a 10 second video clip to only 150kb of data.

Marsh adds: “It delivers crystal clear footage of any incidents within seconds via e-mail, in the most cost effective way.”

Most cameras are easy to connect with any truck’s telematics system via a simple output/input cable. But check with your installer if you are going for an in-cab screen, that will monitor vehicle sides for example. TV screens in the wrong place will earn you an MOT fail. DVSA guidance has been recently clarified on this issue and windscreen top right and left, adjacent to mirrors, but not obscuring them, is acceptable. After some initial confusion, a central location also appears to be ok, providing it is above the driver’s eye level.

Behaviour modification

Drivers know that they are under the microscope with cameras on board, so driving standards tend to improve. Telematics can give the interpretation of driver behaviour, but a camera tells the rest of the story. It’s true that initial driver reaction has been anti-camera, seeing them as yet further monitoring and control. But things are changing, and drivers are now coming to understand that a camera can also stand up for them against a false accusation.

FM Conway, the highway construction and civil engineering specialists based in Dartford, Kent, already had cameras installed by 2011. Delivering road planers and pavers into the City of London, with cyclists buzzing around like wasps, was a high-risk environment that needed more than standard mirrors. Cameras certainly transform the ‘I-Said-He-Said’ scenario, where blame is not immediately apparent from bent bumpers, shattered lenses and skid marks alone. The 50/50 incident, or the good old knock-for-knock, where outraged denials and simple lying conspire to keep insurance premiums high, could be consigned to history.

Where now?

An increasingly litigious society may just be checked a little by the kind of evidence that on-vehicle cameras can provide. There are currently 50,000 units believed to be in operation and all predictions see that figure growing vigorously.

It is expected that truck manufacturers will increasingly integrate them into their own telematics offering before long, as the demand is clearly there. The relationship between transport and the general public can only be helped by the clarity of evidence that cameras will provide. Maybe it will spread a little understanding too.

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