Everyone has seen clips of dashcam footage from trucks either online or on the news.
The videos often show nail-biting close calls, reckless driving and even collisions — sometimes involving the vehicle with the dashcam.
Acts of nature, distracted driving and erratic behavior by other drivers are common occurrences that put everyone on the road at risk, and these scenarios caught on film bear witness to the hazards that truck drivers encounter all too often.
Before the advent of dashcams, eyewitness testimony — which is frequently more unreliable or biased in intense situations — played a key role in determining the sequence of events and ascertaining fault in crashes.
Even today, with dashcams more prevalent than ever, if a motor carrier doesn’t believe an accident was the fault of the carrier’s driver, the company can still be found liable if there’s not solid evidence in its favor.
This can result in costly settlements that lead to bankruptcy at worst or jeopardize the carrier’s reputation among customers at best.
Benefits of dashcams
As litigation remains an issue for trucking companies, dashcams have changed the game.
They are now considered by many to be essential equipment in trucks as they offer a window into what drivers see on the road, providing clear evidence and the ability to prove driver innocence in accidents.
“You can outfit all your trucks with dashcams and train your drivers for a lot less money than what you’re paying because of a nuclear verdict,” said Brian Runnels, vice president of safety at Reliance Partners, a Tennessee-based trucking insurance agency and safety consultancy. “The return on investment, by and large, is the best you can get out of just about any safety technologies.”
It’s not only the massive verdicts, either. What was a $10,000 claim 10 years ago can now be around $50,000, Runnels noted, so exoneration in smaller claims is critical, too.
Companies often tell him they experience a decrease in incidents and near-misses after dashcams are installed.
“I think it’s a self-preservation mindset,” Runnels added. “The thinking is, ‘If I get too close to this car, or if I do this action or demonstrate this behavior, the camera is going to catch it all.’ I believe that has a tendency to deter folks from doing something they previously might have.”
Dashcams can also be used for training purposes. In lieu of being in the cab with a driver, fleet managers and safety professionals can use dashcam footage to positively reinforce safe driving practices on the road or to explain what could have been done better in a certain situation.
Getting drivers on board
These days, dashcams do more than just capture front-facing road views. There are options to install cameras in the rear of a truck and in-cabin, allowing fleets visibility into backside accidents involving their truck as well as what their driver was doing at the time of the crash.
Because of how common outward-facing cameras are these days, there isn’t likely to be much feedback from drivers when a company decides to install them, Runnels said. However, companies may expect more pushback when it comes to inward-facing recording devices due to privacy concerns.
Runnels recommends companies tread carefully when implementing driver-facing cameras in particular.
“You’ve got to start early, you’ve got to educate and you’ve got to get the buy-in before you do anything,” he advises. “There have been companies that have introduced them with great success and haven’t lost any drivers at all, and then there are other companies that have lost quite a few drivers because of it.”
Clear communication with drivers about when, where and why cameras are recording is essential to get them on the same page as fleet managers.
“Drivers need to know things like if there is a shutter that can be closed or if the camera only records for so many seconds before or after an incident. However it’s set up, drivers need to know how it works,” Runnels said.
What to do with dashcam data
AI-enabled dashcams take things one step further with the ability to alert drivers to collision risks and lane drift as well as collect data on driving behavior, to name just a few of the features available on cameras on the market today.
Similar to how some auto insurance companies offer better rates for good driving habits, some trucking insurance companies provide dashcams and good premiums in exchange for more visibility about driving behavior.
“The carrier will usually get pretty fair rates on coverage, but the insurance company also receives data and footage from the camera,” Runnels explained. “They’ll offer recommendations, express what drivers need to be talked to and they’re basing their rates on what they see.”
Whether or not a carrier decides to go this route, it’s important that company safety departments review footage of any incidents and other metrics received from dashcams and address issues with drivers through training, coaching or corrective action. It’s not a good idea to wait until something comes out in court to find out about any unsafe patterns of driving behavior.
“Many companies offer packages of different safety tech like ELDs and dashcams,” Runnels said. “You’re getting a ton of data that’s coming in, which can be overwhelming for people trying to review it all. It’s very important to manage the data that you can make actionable. If you’re not doing anything with that data, it’s almost worse than not having it all.”
Fleets can also choose how long to keep the footage. Runnels advises that companies keep videos of accidents, but with other footage, they should determine regular intervals at which to purge the system.
“Whatever time frame your company decides, you should stick to that and keep it for as long as you’re supposed to,” Runnels said.