Commercial vehicle operators are no strangers to telematics. The systems are extremely common in the truck and bus worlds, with van fleets embracing them in greater numbers.
An increasing number of van operators are buying into the technology to improve the safety of their fleets. Companies are now more aware that the positives of lower accident rates go beyond the most important factor of employee safety. According to Andy Walters, managing director of telematics specialist Quartix, there has been a marked shift in the motives for buying into the technology.
“Since the third quarter of last year, we seem to be doing a huge amount with large fleets about safety and risk – much, much more so than, say, two years ago. Obviously, there’s the concept of being a more responsible employer and checking that people aren’t driving for excessive periods of time and that they’re not driving at excessively high speeds, but from an economic point of view, many of these companies have the vans fitted out specifically for them – it’s got refrigeration or it’s got racking or any of these things – and it’s not possible just to go and hire a replacement vehicle when one of the company’s has been dented or in an accident. They have to have spare vehicles, which are fitted out in exactly the same way, so cutting accidents has a real economic benefit to them.”
The data from a telematics device also enables companies to address drivers’ training requirements. Targeted driver training is popular with large companies in particular, according to Walters.
“Some [businesses] have driver training departments. It depends on the size of the company you’re talking about but, by the time you get into close to 1,000 or over 1,000 vehicles, you start to have health and safety departments and driver training teams that are putting their drivers through a regular training programme, and they want to use telematics for that as well.”
Insurance costs, and the possibility of lowering them, are also big incentives for van fleets to go down the telematics route. Telematics-based policies are immensely popular for young drivers in the consumer market and, while there generally aren’t direct equivalents for businesses, some insurers will incorporate telematics data into their premium considerations or offer discounted rates.
“The cost of an insurance premium on a van is typically about the same as it is for a young driver,” says Walters, “a young driver’s insurance policy, even after discount for having telematics fitted, will be about £1,500 – and a typical van will also be about £1,400 or £1,500. Larger companies that have thousands of vehicles will often self-insure, but even if they do, their damage costs will be about £1,500 per vehicle, per year, anyway.
Although, as Walters explains, “It’s not obvious immediately that, just by having telematics, you are going to improve the risk profile; it’s much more about managing the processes.
“If a company has, say, 500 or 1,000 vehicles and they’re broken down into supervisors, who may have 10 or 20 guys reporting to them, it’s much more about how those supervisors are using the tracking system for reducing risk, how they are monitoring drivers and if they are giving their drivers feedback to make sure that behaviours change. Insurance companies want to see that – the process of managing the managers.”
In the past, telematics systems have not been popular, having historically been viewed as a spy in the cab. However, perceptions are changing and many van drivers now understand the benefits the technology can bring. Beverley Wise, sales director at TomTom Telematics, explains:
“In light commercial vehicles, which are more tools of the trade, telematics is seen as an enabler, rather than a spy in the cab. [Drivers] see the benefits of being able to get their orders sent directly to their vans, being able to communicate directly with customers, give them an ETA and generally use [the van] as a mobile workstation. So in that area, it’s much more accepted.”