Telematics: It is 10 AM, do you know who is driving your vehicle?

SafetyFirst has been helping fleets with telematics (tracking specific data about vehicle location and performance) since 2002.  At that time, we initiated a relationship with a local firm that handles hardware design and manufacturing of advanced telematics units.  Over the past ten years, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry, and we have worked hard to stay current on the latest trends.

Recently, I was talking with a colleague about telematics he was surprised to learn that one of the “hidden” challenges of systems is connecting data back to the driver from the vehicle.

I pointed out that most telematics devices are tied to the vehicle, not the driver.  This is a management reporting obstacle for fleets that don’t assign particular drivers to specific vehicles.  In our Safety Is My Goal hotline program, very few of our clients make such assignments:  most drivers swap vehicles from day to day.

In fleets whose drivers do operate the same vehicle day in and day out, it is straightforward to link the vehicle data to the driver since they operate as an integrated pairing.

Unfortunately, those fleets whose drivers exchange vehicles periodically must find a way to connect performance data to the appropriate driver.  A failure in this area could lead to mistakenly crediting John’s risky driving to Sally’s record.

Once management negatively impacts a driver by using someone else’s data to coach/counsel them (or discipline them for breaking rules), the system’s credibility is going to be suspect in many of the driver’s eyes.  After all, if we make the mistake once, could we make it again?

Tying data from the vehicle to the driver takes an additional logistical step (or two or three).

There are a number of approaches to linking drivers to data from the simple/mundane (maintaining a database of who was dispatched on each vehicle each day, etc.) to something more “automatic” and self-administrating such as electronic interfaces.

Naturally, as we add complexity to the process, there are additional “failure” points possible.  Drivers may forget to punch in their ID code, swipe a card, insert a key device, or whatever method is needed to “link” the driver to the vehicle electronically.  It would be possible for a driver to “code in” on Monday and forget to “code out” and so on.  Algorithims can cap off some of this forgetfulness, but it is likely that these processes will require the cooperation of the individuals to monitor and correct data errors on a daily/weekly basis.  Unfortunately, this administration takes productivity time away from supervisory staff, but is needed in order to assure data quality and reporting value.

Ultimately, I would speculate that there may be a shift (in the next several months or years) away from simply hardwiring the vehicle to acquire data towards using “apps” downloaded to smart devices such as tablets or phones that stay with the driver and link him/her to the vehicle via some “over the airwaves”.  Perhaps a link via “WIFI” or a “Bluetooth-type” interface could be used to create a hybrid situation between on-board hardware and floating devices which stay with the driver.

It is especially vital to tie safety performance to the driver since personal habits and behaviors generate the exceptional data.  Traditionally, data about speed, sway, harsh braking and heavy acceleration are monitored.  These indicators represent only a fraction of the total driver safety picture which is a mosaic of many tiles or data points (i.e. telematics doesn’t tell us about running red lights, load securement issues, failure to use or improper use of turn signals, and so on).

A balanced program includes layers of programming such as MVR profiling, “Safety Is My Goal” Hotlines, driver risk profiling and so on.  Such a layered approach to driver safety programming can fill in gaps and provide a greater, clearer “big picture” of needs and results.

While telematics data can be a very valuable tile in the mosaic picture, it would be easy to overwhelm a constituent with raw telematics data.  This flood of data, if unfiltered, could make it difficult to differentiate the “urgently actionable” from the “background noise” without hiring additional data analysts.  To the greatest extent possible, information should be self-selecting and self-prioritizing through appropriately tested filters to float the cream to the top of the bucket.  This is one of the areas that SafetyFirst has been helping clients transform their data pile into scoring and results tied to particular operators.

Finally, telematics (or any other data pile) is only going to be useful if it is translated into management action — if actual behavior isn’t changed, then the data’s intrinsic value diminishes.  Ultimately, a translation of engineering derived data to soft skills communication such as practical coaching and education must happen for the various system goals to be met.  Otherwise, we may be banking on an expectation that drivers would self-correct merely for fear of sanction, and such a system would be hard pressed to provide long term or sustainable results.

So use your telematics system wisely:

  • Make certain that you can tie your data back to specific drivers with certainty.
  • Be prepared to filter your data from a “pile” into a workable set of key performance indicators. 
  • Create a game plan to translate “engineering data” into a “person friendly” coaching experience so that individual drivers may receive a compassionate intervention. 

The goal should be sustainable, enhanced performance, not contrived short term gains.

SafetyFirst specializes in driver safety results.  We are the preferred “in-network” choice of commercial insurers and fleet operators throughout North America.  Let us help you overcome your driver safety challenges.

Our programs include: telematics solutions; training/education; consultancy; FMCSR/DQF solutions; MVR ordering and profiling; Driver and Asset Risk Management Information Systems and much more.

Signaling: Simple Traffic Courtesy or Indispensable Safety Practice?

Whether changing lanes, merging, turning at an intersection, exiting a roundabout, or entering traffic from an acceleration lane, turn signals have a lot of utility for a safety minded, courteous driver.

Unfortunately, it often seems as though many drivers don’t know when to use their signals, or worse, don’t know how to use them.

One of the most common complaints received by SafetyFirst on our Hotline program is “failure to use signals” at roughly 13% of all reported behavior types. 

When you consider that: Improper Lane Change; Failure to Use Signals; Dishonor Right of Way; Weaving in Traffic; Failure to Stay in Lane; and Improper Passing are all somewhat related issues, then the total of these issues jumps to 47.74% of all behaviors reported during 2011.

Commercial drivers seem to have a problem with merging and changing lanes.  I strongly suspect that it’s a combination of issues:

  1. Drivers seemingly get ticketed only very rarely for failing to use their signals; therefore, any given driver’s attitudes about signals are reinforced (if the police don’t care, why should I?)
  2. Managers rarely, if ever, have a pain threshold over the non-use of signals to warrant training meetings, etc. (see #1, above)
  3. Signal non-use just isn’t seen as a pressing priority by society.  (It fails to get the marketing weight of othermore pressing issues such as drinking and driving or aggressive driving, etc.)
  4. Drivers who are in a hurry may see slower moving vehicles as obstacles in their path.  The need to get there in a hurry can lead to swerving from lane to lane, and despite the obvious risk of failing to signal while driving aggressively operators seem to forget that the signals are there for a reason.
  5. Failure to clear the blind area next to the vehicle (each vehicle’s mirrors can only see select areas based on how they’re positioned – resulting in an area where the driver is effectively “blind” to other vehicles) increases the need to use signals as an additional indicator of an impending lane change, but drivers assume that the other driver will react to their vehicle moving laterally into the lane without the bother of signaling.
  6. Turn signals don’t impart the gravitas of a horn – you can’t release your stress through aggressive signal use the way you can with leaning on your horn (OK, so I’m being sarcastic here, but you’ve got to admit I may be on to something).

Consider the opening sentence of the abstract of a recent (4/16/2012) study by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) – “The turn signal is a vital safety feature that is not only required to be built in as standard equipment on all vehicles, but their use by the driver in everyday driving is required by law.”  This makes signals sound pretty important, huh?

Now, take a look at the remainder of the abstract; “Since not all drivers are diligent at properly actuating turn signals in every situation, the use of the turn signal is less than 100%. However, despite the fact that turn signals are a crash prevention feature, no known study relating to turn signal usage rates is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nor from the Department of Transportation, nor from any University, nor from other private safety organizations.”  Wow, none of the key data gathering organizations have quantitatively studied the role of turn signals on crashes?  Yikes – that’s like driving blindfolded (well, maybe not, but it’s a significant oversight, isn’t it?)

As a counterpoint, American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) may have been overlooked by SAE while doing their background research.  You see, in 2005, ATRI published a study (and subsequent update in 2011) titled “Predicting Truck Crash Involvement”.  In this study, they specifically looked at violations received by drivers and projected the increased likelihood of becoming involved in a crash following the ticket.  Their number one issue from the 2011 data? 

A driver convicted of “a failure to use or improper use of signal” had a96% increased likelihood of a crash.

The SAE study also mentions that they made direct observations of both drivers using signals correctly and failing to use signals when warranted.  They found that drivers who were executing a turn were using signals correctly 75% of the time and failed to use them 25% of the time.  Lane changing presented very different use rates – used 52% of the time and neglected 48% of the time.

The SAE study also asserts that there are roughly two million crashes annually due to this failure to use signals.

Signals are meant to convey a forewarning to other motorists of an intended lane departure or entrance (i.e. turn at intersection, merge, change of lane, etc.).  When signals are not used other drivers have less time to react, and this delay can affect various types of collisions ranging from merging/sideswipe to rear end collisions to head on collisions at intersections.

In a National Transportation Safety Board report, it states; “…if passenger car drivers have a 0.5 second additional warning time, about 60 percent of rear end collisions can be prevented.  An extra second of warning time can prevent about 90 percent of rear-end collisions.”  Using signals in advance of turns or merges gives following vehicles time to react and slow down.  By increasing their following distance, they have time to brake or avoid the vehicle in front. 

SAE’s paper makes the following conclusion:  if we assume that becoming involved in a collision due to the driver’s failure to use a signal is as rare as being struck by lightning, and we use the study’s neglect rates applied to the miles driven in the USA each year, then we could determine that up to 1 Million crashes would be averted if signals were universally used by all drivers.

There is no cost to use signals – they’re standard equipment.  There is a cost of not using signals – moving violations and crashes.   Would you commit to step up your use of turn signals the next time you get behind the wheel?

Making Tough Choices

As a traffic safety professional, I usually try not to “talk shop” at social events. 

On one hand, I easily get preachy about how people should gear up their driving skills: I don’t want to go to more funerals for people I care about because they were killed in a crash.  While I’ve always had a passion for helping drivers be safer, I’ve also seen the consequences of traffic tragedy:

  • I have worked for a man who lost his child in a crash
  • I’ve had colleagues who’ve lost sons and daughters in crashes
  • My own mother died, on the day after Christmas in 2008, when a pickup truck crushed her sedan in half at an intersection.  I also feel bad for the driver of that pickup because he’ll have to live with the images of driving her car off the road, into a drainage ditch beyond the intersection.

On the other hand, most people only know what they hear about on the TV news or read in the papers.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the media covered ALL aspects of traffic safety evenly or comprehensively, but they don’t.  Media outlets are paid to make a profit through high ratings which sell advertising space.  The very best way to “make the news” is to start with the truth and then sensationalize how it’s delivered.  I’m not suggesting that newsmakers misinform, but I believe that they do put a spin on how they tell their stories to make them engaging and enthralling.  This leads to the public becoming hyper-focused about a tiny slice of what’s really going on in the world of traffic safety.  Again, the media reported stories are accurate, but don’t show the “whole picture” – they’re often out of context. 

Take a look at this link —  What’s the most common issue in traffic fatalities?  “Failure to keep in proper lane” resulted in 7,696 funeral services in one year.  That’s terrible, and yet, you’ll not hear about that in the news.

How about this link –  In this document, it states:

“Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. It reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels while a driver reacts to a dangerous situation. Higher crash speeds also reduce the ability of vehicle, restraint system, and roadway hardware such as guardrails, barriers, and impact attenuators to protect vehicle occupants.”

How many lives would be saved if everyone obeyed the nationwide ban on speeding (i.e. “speed limits” posted in your hometown and on the interstate)?  Similarly, how about if speed limits were enforced as strictly as the IRS audits tax returns?  Do you think road deaths would go down measurably?

On the topic of speeding, have you heard much about the use of “Speed Limiters” (SLs) on heavy trucks?  A study was released in March of this year (; the stated purpose was:

“…to identify the impacts of implementing speed limiters (SL) in commercial vehicle fleet operations. These impacts may be related to safety through a reduction in the number and/or severity of crashes, and/or address operational issues…”

The study included data from “20 truck fleets, approximately 138,000 trucks, and analyzed more than 15,000 crashes.”

The findings showed strong positive benefits for SLs:

“First, in terms of safety benefits, results indicated that trucks equipped with SLs had a significantly lower SL-relevant crash rate (approximately 50 percent) compared to trucks without SLs. Second, the cost of the technology is negligible and would not be expected to be cost-prohibitive for fleets/owners.”

Amazingly, using equipment that’s been largely “standard issue” (i.e. included in all newly manufactured heavy trucks and consequently no added cost) many commercial fleets could substantially reduce their crash rate (by 50% if the study’s methodology is accurate).  However, many safety managers lament that their fleet will not use the devices.  Many express that it’s critical to their productivity that drivers must be able to speed to “make up lost time” in urban areas where they sit in congestion and lose eligible work hours.

There are, arguably, hundreds of additional traffic safety issues that deserve our attention (i.e. roundabouts, automated enforcement, advanced telematics to monitor more safety issues than speed alone, congestion management, 511 service utilization, etc.); however, it all comes down to tough choices.

These are tough choices about what to prioritize.  What’s most important?  What are the top ten issues that we should focus on addressing first?

If you ask the media, there is apparently only one answer – cell phones and texting.  Improper cell phone use while driving is certainly an important cause, but it’s far from the only cause of death and injury. 

During 2011, SafetyFirst processed tens of thousands of motorist observation reports for our 3800+ active clients.  3.81% of all reports mentioned improper cell phone use.  At first glance, that may look like a low number, but what’s more significant is that it represents a 20% INCREASE in complaints for cells/texting over CY2010.  Despite the increase in complaints about improper use of electronics, it remains a relatively minor contributor to the total number of road deaths when split out from the much broader category of “distracted driving”.  

Does that make the need to curb the use of cells for texting unimportant?  NOT AT ALL.  However, I think it calls for some perspective adjusting to properly fit together the mosaic of various driver safety issues.

For example, a colleague recently challenged me on the cell/texting statistics arguing that I was callous about the relatively low number of cell/texting deaths and stated that “if we could save even one life we had an obligation to put all our resources into it”.  I asked if she’d be willing to have a speed limiter installed on her personal car to save a life since speeding contributed to four times the number of deaths than cells/texting alone.  She declined the suggestion preferring to be able to pass slower drivers (who are, I suppose, actually driving the posted maximum speed limit).  [Author’s note:  I appreciate her honesty. Many people would have gone for some contrived response to duck the real issue – we take risks and have gotten used to it]

Despite the emotional spin offered by the media about the urgency of these issues, most people won’t actually commit to improve road safety unless it is to advocate what other drivers need to do to change.  If it means that they have to commit to making a tough choice to change their own driving, they’re less likely to do so1,2.

How will we make a lasting change in issues like cell phones and texting?  I believe that looking at the history of seatbelt usage programs may provide guidance on how we can tackle the cell phone dilemma.

It took a lot of people deciding to wear their seatbelts consistently to make a change over the course of the past thirty years.  In 1983 seatbelt use in the USA was at 14% and it has grown to 85% as of 20103.  The steady change in personal commitment to use seatbelts took:  massive educational programs, special traffic enforcement programs (STEPs), and the cooperation of car manufacturers, local communities and various enforcement agencies.  It didn’t change overnight, and it didn’t happen solely because we banned driving unbelted — it took a commitment from more than one generation of drivers to make a difference.

Similarly, it will take a concerted effort people making tough choices to:  slow down; use turn signals correctly; yield the right of way courteously; hang up the phone; and drive in a focused, self-disciplined manner to further reduce collisions and their associated costs.


Whether you characterize yourself as a Parent, Teen Driver, Senior Citizen, Professional Driver or a daily Commuter, we each have to make tough choices if we’re going to actually improve road safety results.  We can’t sit back and expect things to change because it’s someone else’s job to drive better than they did yesterday.

Additionally, as safety professionals, my peers will need to continue to guide their constituents based on constructive prioritization – making them aware of all the road risks, not just the sensationalized ones.  So when you see articles about roundabouts, red light cameras, Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, and such, we’re not ignoring or trivializing cell phones and texting.  We are trying to do our best to deal with many critical issues that lead to real pain and suffering.

Because many people can be manipulated by fear and anger, there’s a great responsibility to raise the bar and really make a difference in the greater community.  This larger community is depending on our leadership to execute a complex, but effective, strategy of reducing road deaths – not “regardless of cause” but because we’ve carefully studied “all of the causes” and made tough choices to prioritize appropriately to save as many lives as possible.

1 – AAAFTS Traffic Safety Culture Index, January 2012 – “…the current traffic safety culture that might be characterized most appropriately as a “do as I say, not as I do”… For example, substantial numbers of drivers say that it is completely unacceptable to drive 10 mph over the speed limit on residential streets yet admit having done that in the past month. (

2 – Press Release by AAAFTS, March 8th, 2012 – “Speeding remains a significant safety threat on U.S. roadways—contributing to nearly one-third of all traffic deaths each year – and while motorists frequently list aggressive driving as a top safety concern, many still admit to driving well over posted speed limits.” (

3 –