Options for In-Vehicle Monitoring

By Jim Love

In-vehicle monitoring can play a major role in improving the safety of firefighter and EMS responses to emergencies — just take a look at the continuing and growing number of preventable collisions involving fire trucks and ambulances.

After looking at the benefits last month such systems can offer fire departments, we can now focus on some of the options available.

The list and range of clients that use such products is impressive. It is doubtful they would pay for such programs if they did not produce results. Driver modification or behavioral change, the desired outcome of any such program, occurs in part simply because vehicle operators know of the program and know that the company is interested and is watching.

Driver's Alert offers the 800-How's My Driving style program seen on many commercial vehicles. At the heart of this program is a bumper sticker that encourages the motoring public to call. Callers are not limited to only complaints; they may also call with compliments and to report equipment failure such as broken brake lights.

The other half of the program is the backend. Calls go into a common call center, are entered into a database and secure Web site. Near real-time notification is made to the department or company using the system so that near real-time intervention may be taken. Wave (.wav) files of the actual call are available for review and monthly reports are provided to the organization so they may track trends and improvement. On-line targeted training is available for drivers following a complaint.

Devices from three other companies — Road Safety, DriveCam and GreenRoad — are electronic and use accelerometers. Simply stated, accelerometers sense motion and change in motion such as vehicle acceleration, braking and turning. Beyond the accelerometers,the three companies'products function differently.

With DriveCam, events such as sudden or panic braking cause a looped video/audio track to be captured onto a drive for later review. Other events such as a driver activated (panic) button or a collision also cause a capture to occur.

When an event causes capture to occur, a light on the device blinks to alert the driver in real time so that he or she may understand what caused the capture and more importantly to learn from the event to prevent recurrence.

DriveCam also offers a managed program where their "risk analysts" review the video clips, assign a risk score, upload video to a secure Web site and provide executive reports for management. It also offers post-event training.

Road Safety uses accelerometers to measure G-forces and to alert the driver via audible signals when pre-defined force levels are approached and or exceeded. This real-time notification to the operator allows them to take corrective action.

This real-time alert also allows the drivers to potentially learn from any mistakes and avoid similar actions in the future. Excessive forces are captured into the onboard Road Safety computer.

In addition, to force measurements and real-time feedback, Road Safety ties into and monitors other peripheral vehicle electronics. Peripherals they can monitor include emergency lights and siren, seat belt use, parking brake, speed and turn signals.

This data is captured and may be recalled and printed in a second-by-second format. In addition, exceptions (failure to meet predefined parameters) are captured and compared to a formula to produce a score that allows individuals and management to recognize performance over time. Road Safety also allows separate definitions and reporting for emergency and non-emergency operations as defined by management.

GreenRoad also uses an accelerometer to determine forces. Where Road Safety creates an audible alert when a driver approaches or exceeds a danger threshold, Green Road provides a green, yellow or red visual alert that tells the driver how they performed against predefined limits. As a result, the driver gets visual feedback on every turn, acceleration or braking maneuver.

Green Road also uses a GPS and cellular modem to communicate near real-time location and performance information to management. As data comes in, it is uploaded to a secure server for review by management.

All these systems — and those designed by other companies — are designed to improve driver performance and safety which in turn:

  • Reduce collisions
  • Reduce vehicle wear, increasing useful life
  • Reduce collision-related injury and
  • Improve fuel efficiency

If there is no management commitment or commitment fluctuates, it is doubtful that there will be a benefit over the long term. While many of these companies seek to do a lot of the legwork, they cannot eliminate all management involvement. You still need to communicate with your crews and provide necessary feedback.

To truly succeed, and even before you put the first device on a truck, you must decide how you plan respond to the information it will be gathering. Are you going right for blood or can you integrate positive recognition? How the information is used should not solely be a management decision.

Get your crews involved and where possible, gain support. Most providers suggest you gather baseline information prior to implementation and so change/improvement may be documented.

Baseline data might include:

  • MPG
  • Collision frequency (collisions per 100,000 fleet miles driven)
  • Miles between front brake pads

Proper commitment of resources and advanced planning will help assure a smooth integration and program success.

Jim Love began his EMS career in 1974. Since that time he has worked providing direct patient care, and has been an FTO. He transitioned to management and has held many positions over the years including operations and later focusing on training, safety and risk management. His most recent position was National Director of Safety and Risk for AMR. Prior to that, he was the Regional Director of Safety and Risk, CES and Fleet Services, also for AMR. He worked extensively on the development of all three Safety Concept Vehicles co-built by AMR and AEV. He maintains an EMS Safety site and blog, EMSafety.net, and can be contacted at drjlove007@gmail.com.

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