Our Driving Concern: How Telematics Data Improve Driver Safety Performance and Reduced Collison Rates

Would you consider yourself a healthy person just because you’ve never had a heart attack? Would you consider yourself a safe driver just because you’ve never had an accident? Would you consider your morning commute to be a safe trip just because you didn’t have an accident along the way?

It IS safe to say that most of us believe we’re great drivers… or at least above average. As much as I wish it could be possible, we can’t all be above-average drivers. So, how do you know that you’re safe enough behind the wheel?

Prior to vehicle telematics, a driver’s risk level was determined by looking at their collision and violation history. Just because a driver has never been in an accident or received a ticket before, doesn’t mean that they’re a safe driver. If we want to see what risks lay ahead of us, we shouldn’t solely focus on what happened in the rear-view mirror.

Personal health devices, like Fitbits, can give users real time health data so they can monitor and improve their performance. In a similar fashion, vehicle telematics allows us to go beyond driver safety training and look at how a driver is actually operating the vehicle in real-time. If issues are identified, managers can take steps to change driving behavior before it leads to a serious collision on the road.

Holistic Approach to Driver Risk

USIC has 9,000+ field technicians who drive over 200 million miles every year all over North America. Every day, we receive tens of thousands of data points from our vehicles. In 2017, we implemented a risk-based driver behavior scoring system that evaluates each employee’s vehicle telematic data as well as their MVA & How’s My Driving history.

With the clear correlation between unsafe driving behaviors and collisions, the need to make this data actionable for management was our main priority. With GPS software, management can see first-hand what behavior is going on behind the wheel. Like watching the game film, managers can see where dangerous events occurred and work with the driver to understand the context of the situation.

Hard-Braking and Accelerations (Driver’s “Blood Pressure”)

Like the impact that high blood pressure has on heart attack risk, hard-braking and acceleration events are dangerous behaviors that strongly correlate to severe collisions. Within USIC’s driver risk score, we measure the average number of acceleration and braking Events Per Driving Hour (EPH).

A hard-braking event is registered when there is a sudden drop in speed (>8mph per second). If a driver slams on the brake frequently, that’s statistically linked to behaviors that are factors in collisions. Sometimes, hard braking is unavoidable. Rare hard braking could be due to reacting to things like a squirrel running into the street or being cut off by someone who isn’t paying attention. These rare events do not have much of a penalty on a driver’s risk score. In contrast, frequent hard braking, which is associated with things like tailgating or distracted driving, ends up counting more against a driver’s risk score.

A hard acceleration event (flooring it) is the opposite of hard braking; a sudden increase in speed (>8mph per second). Frequent occurrences suggest an ‘aggressive driver’. If it’s something that only happens on rare occasions, then it does not count against a driver’s risk score much at all.

Finding the Outliers

We don’t live in a black and white world where we only have good drivers and bad drivers. The defensive driving skills vary from driver to driver and we can’t afford to wait until they have a collision. By comparing drivers against their peers, our driver behavior scoring system helps us gauge the relative risk between drivers who drive similar vehicles and operate in the same area. Both management and drivers can see how their EPH rate compares against each other.

If you had to choose one driver to take your kids to school & pick them up, who would you pick? All these drivers operate the same vehicles in the same area. Based on these results, Driver #1 will likely have at least one hard braking or acceleration event while your children are in the vehicle. However, Driver #8 is likely to be a better defensive driver because their EPH rate is 5x lower than Driver #1.

Presented this way, the data allows our managers to objectively focus on the drivers who need the most attention. There is cause for concern when a driver has >2x as many EPH compared to peers. The underlying issues may be the result of distractions. Whether those distractions come from devices within the vehicle or from the outside, becoming aware of the problem is the first step in changing behavior. Management can also gauge the effectiveness of their coaching by reviewing the driver’s daily EPH trends.

Changing Driving Behavior through Gamification

Leadership creates the culture and that culture drives the behavior of all employees. We have seen a strong correlation between team performance and collision rates. USIC has conducted a series of Driver Safety Tournaments where teams compete against each other to see who can get the lowest EPH rate. We saw a 56% reduction in at-fault MVAs after our first tournament in 2017. The teams that made it to the playoffs had a 28% lower Collision Per Million Mile rate.

Driver Safety certainly isn’t a game. Driver Safety Tournaments are about more than winning; it’s about behavior change. Data shows that attentive drivers can help save lives. The goal was to reduce motor vehicle accidents by improving driver behavior through an educational and friendly competition. Each team coached their weakest drivers and improve their overall team score. In addition to bragging rights, participants won prizes based on their ability to drive safely and for improvement. The tournament is an engaging way to encourage drivers to use more caution and make our community streets safer for everyone.

Safety Culture Drives the Behavior

According to the 2015 Cost of Motor Vehicles Crashes to Employers Report, traffic crashes cost U.S. employers $47.4 billion in crash-related expenses. Telematics devices are designed to work with other rapidly advancing safety technologies. Components like lane departure and forward collision warnings give employers immediate insight into the driver’s actions. This insight means that the safety features of telematics and technology can work with every company’s fleet to improve the activities that affect both safety and the bottom line. It’s critical that you use a balanced approach between people and data, managers can provide more intune coaching efforts, which puts drivers in the best position to keep themselves – and others – safe on our roadways.

If you’re looking for ways to improve safety, reduce crashes and complement your driver safety training, telematics might be the right solution for you.

Nathan Bright is EHS Operations Director with USIC Locating Services. He can be reached at nathanbright@usicllc.com.

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