Vehicle security has always represented a challenge for the transport industry, with thieves targeting vans and trucks for their cargo as much as for the vehicle themselves.
The responsibility of carrying a wide variety of valuable loads inevitably meant that criminals would target vulnerable drivers and trailers, and this is a battle that continues today. Technology has played a part in reducing the threat, with better vehicle security and systems making theft more difficult and recovery swifter.
Andrew Brown-Allan is Managing Director for Trak Global Group, the world’s seventh largest telematics company, which gathers and interprets data from connected devices to help organisations manage driver and vehicle risk. To date, the company has processed data on more than 500 million journeys and received the Prince Michael International Road Safety Award in 2015 for its work in reducing young driver accident frequency by 42%.
With a proven success rate in reducing accidents through the use of telematics, Brown-Allan is convinced the same processes of monitoring and interpreting data, then acting upon it, could be used to shut down a vehicle taken without the owner’s authority. “Trak Global is already researching a unique driver ID mechanism that creates an alert if the authorised driver becomes involuntarily separated from their vehicle. If people are comfortable with telematics solving crime and preventing crime, there is no reason why it cannot be used.”
Brown-Allan has called on the government to set up a working group with a brief to explore how a UTAR system can be set up; who would operate it; how it would be paid for; and what it could actually do. “For example, it is now possible to immobilise a vehicle remotely, using the technology that goes into a telematics black box.”
The factors that make the telematics systems a viable tool in the fight against such acts are equally useful against lower-level, if equally serious, crimes.
Brown-Allan explains that the police are becoming increasingly aware of telematics. There are several examples of data being used in prosecutions, and he has already appeared in court as an expert witness for the prosecution on several occasions. The Cheshire-based business is providing this service for police forces all over the country, and it has become a key tool in investigations for many different types of crime involving a vehicle. Brown-Allan says that he has been asked to supply expert witness statements for 120 cases so far in 2017, including police forces all over the UK.
“Some people worry that black boxes are an invasion of privacy, but we have shown that it can be a valuable weapon in the fight against serious crime. 750,000 drivers use telematics in the UK, mostly youngsters who use black boxes to bring down the cost of their insurance and drive safer. Many high value car owners use black boxes to track their vehicle’s whereabouts and curtail theft. In some instances we are even being asked to fit a second tracking device in a location where a educated thief wouldn’t expect to find a tracker. In some cases we’ve fitted two additional trackers in places where they would be hard to locate and therefore removed, as a failsafe.”
The technology also allows business or fleet operators to enable geofencing – creating a digital fence around an area that can trigger an alert to a specified device that the particular vehicle has entered – or left – a particular area, as Brown-Allan explains, “In the world of daily rentals for example, if one of their vehicles enters Dover and that vehicle hasn’t been flagged on the system as permitted for overseas use for leaving the country, that means they can then take appropriate measures by contacting the port authority to prevent that vehicle leaving the country.”
Another area where telematics has provided a robust defence of criminality is in the realm of ‘cash for crash’ incidents, where criminals deliberately cause an accident in order to make fraudulent insurance claims for injuries and associated costs. In many instances the vehicle rental market has been an unwitting victim, as criminals have used single-day rentals and collision damage waivers in order to provide a safe and relatively inexpensive vehicle to use in a deliberate collision.
Where telematics has played a part in this instance is in the application of collected vehicle data, says Brown-Allan, “The use of accelerometers and gyroscopes means that you are able to, with a high degree of fidelity, depict the circumstances of an accident; what happened, was there a high speed collision, were there circumstances leading up to the accident and claim that make it look suspicious? Therefore, with an expert witness in a court of law, repudiate some of those claims.”
Where there is the potential for financial gain through illegal means, a criminal element will always seek new ways to exploit vulnerabilities, and it is an ongoing challenge for law enforcement, business and their employees to seek out and counter these elements. It is the fast-paced nature of technology that can give those on the right side of the law the upper hand however, and telematics has a huge role to play now and in the future in protecting the interests of the commercial vehicle world.