Using dash cams to deter distracted driving: Is it the best way to improve fleet safety?

Thousands are hurt or killed annually in distracted driving accidents. How can you ensure your fleet drivers stay focused on the road? Are dash cams the right answer? A fleet expert shares her advice based on what she's seen and heard in the industry.

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In-cab driver camera with fleet driver

Distracted driving has become a deadly epidemic in the last several years; indeed, thousands of people are injured or killed each year in accidents involving distracted drivers. And with safety remaining a top priority for fleet owners around the country, it makes sense that they are increasingly focused on keeping their drivers focused on the road ahead with comprehensive fleet safety policies, tools, and technologies.

We sat down with one of our resident fleet experts, Heather Chambers, technical sales specialist, to talk about the dangers of distracted driving and some tangible ways you can combat it and improve safety.

Aside from posing a very real danger to drivers and others on the road, what are some of the other ways that distracted driving can impact fleets?

Obviously, accidents are the primary concern—but fleet owners may also see significantly higher insurance rates as a result of distracted driving.

There is also the issue of liability and lawsuits. If a fatality occurs because one of your drivers was looking at their mobile phone while driving, that could potentially be a corporation-ending lawsuit. We call these “nuclear verdicts.” Oftentimes, they exceed millions of dollars, which can put a company out of business.

Obviously, companies are going to want to avoid that at all costs. So, we’ve seen a big safety education push because these vehicles aren't owned or insured by the end user—they're insured and paid for by the corporation.

Ensuring drivers are as safe as possible—and having the data that supports them being so—is at the forefront of a lot of our conversations today.

So how are you seeing fleet owners address the issue of distracted driving?

It’s important to note that in terms of trying to discourage distracted driving—which can involve using mobile phones, smoking, eating, drinking, etc.—there's only so much evidence that fleet operators have that it’s happening. Unfortunately, in too many cases, the primary evidence is the accidents themselves; fleet owners often don’t know that their drivers are operating vehicles while distracted until it’s too late.

And let’s face it: distracted driving has almost become part of the “norm”—often, drivers will intuitively pick up their phone or use their navigation system while driving without really even thinking about it.

What we’ve seen recently is fleet managers wanting to have as much control as possible as to what's happening inside the driver's cab. Along with telematics and tracking, cabin cameras are a good way for managers to gain that level of visibility, and to alert drivers when distracted driving behaviors are happening.

We often hear drivers complain about cabin cameras being too “Big Brother.” What conversations are you having with fleet owners about those concerns?

A lot of the feedback that we get from fleet managers who are considering, or in the process of, implementing cameras is about retention—because we all know how hard it is to find and keep good drivers these days. Our clients are facing labor shortages just like every other sector, so they don't want to embrace tactics that are going to hurt their chances of keeping good people.

But what we've found is that oftentimes the drivers forget that the cameras are there. And if they are exonerated or found to be not liable for an accident because of what the cameras capture, it tends to win the drivers over.

I also like to let fleet owners and drivers know that if their vehicles are wrapped or branded, that often makes them a target for staged accidents and insurance fraud. Cameras offer a valuable layer of protection for drivers who do everything right but are unfortunately targeted by unscrupulous people looking for an insurance payout.

Besides cabin cameras, are there other ways fleet owners can prioritize fleet safety these days?

Ideally, using cabin cameras should be just one part of a larger driver safety program. Fleet managers should have comprehensive fleet safety policies in place. They should also be monitoring driver behavior on an ongoing basis with telematics, so they can detect things like speeding, harsh braking, and harsh cornering.

Having camera footage can help put everything else into perspective, and makes conversations with drivers more productive because you have improved situational awareness and context for driver behavior. In short, cameras are a way to fill in the gaps in your existing safety program.

Also, when you get down to it, a thorough, proactive approach to fleet safety should start when ordering your vehicles. In addition to cameras and telematics that can be added to vehicles after they're acquired, there are certain built-in safety features available on many models that you should consider getting.

For instance, things like hands-free navigation or systems that connect with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto can give drivers the ability to make calls and stay connected with managers and clients without having to look down at their phones.

There are also great technologies like lane-assist and heads-up displays that can help keep drivers focused and have become standard on many newer vehicles.

What tips do you have for fleet owners who are interested in boosting fleet safety with cabin cameras?

When it comes to getting buy-in from your drivers, it’s important to talk to them about the cameras and how they work before implementing the technology. Also, make it clear that the cameras are for their safety and protection as well as for others on the road.

If you want help introducing the cameras to your drivers, consider asking your camera vendor or fleet management partner for assistance. At Mike Albert, for example, we have an onboarding manager and team that walks your drivers through all the details, answering their questions, and striving to make the implementation as easy as possible.

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