Knowing what your vehicles and drivers are doing when they have left base is an ever more powerful tool. It can help operations and benefit customers, says one recent convert to the idea of monitoring
Driver monitoring has taken on a life of its own in recent years. Many fleets now utilise it. It provides oversight of a driver’s actions when away from base, but also delivers a valuable defence against many false claims of damage and poor driving standards.
Luton-based minicoach operator 7 Plus Travel is among those to have adopted driver monitoring, using a system provided by American company Samsara. It delivers both of the above benefits, but with the Samsara product there are several others beside, says Director Aqeel Ahmed.
7 Plus does not use the system to spy on drivers. It trusts its staff, and bolt-ons such as fuel monitoring to prevent theft, while available, are of no interest at Aqeel.
“What is important to me is the tracking and dash camera elements of the Samsara package,” he says.
They work in tandem; if a harsh driving event is recorded, an email alert is generated. At the same time, 60sec of footage surrounding the incident is archived. Once viewed, the manager with access can decide to delete it, or to hold on to it.
40 hours of footage is held in cloud storage for each camera, after which it is overwritten. Triggers for a driving event include excessive speed, a collision, harsh braking or acceleration or over-exuberant cornering.
7 Plus undertakes a significant amount of corporate work for some high-profile clients. That was one consideration for it not specifying driver-facing cameras; as passengers could also be recorded, the equipment is undesirable.
Where the tracking and monitoring software comes into its own with customers is the ability to give an accurate vehicle location. “It’s often the case that corporate customers want to know where the minicoach is. Calling the driver to ask is not safe, so the tracking facility is beneficial,” says Aqeel. Additionally, a time-limited URL can be generated to allow them to track the vehicle themselves.
The system also stores historic data, meaning that the exact location of a vehicle can be double-checked. That, along with the dashcam aspect, is useful; accidents involving 7 Plus’s vehicles are very rare, but what can become the bane of any operator’s life is false claims by third parties.
“Those, and non-settled accidents, can be problematic when it comes to insurance renewal. We were too late to see any benefit on this year’s premium but our insurers promise that we will in 2019,” he adds.
Selling the product
For dashcam and tracking functionality, the monthly charge paid by 7 Plus per vehicle is very reasonable, says Aqeel. The operator does not see that as a cost; instead, he says, it is an investment.
“The product has been adapted to suit our needs. Samsara has three packages, but it still customised one to suit us,” he explains.
Monitoring is something that is appreciated by operators and by customers, but what about drivers, whose actions come under a lot more scrutiny?
The answer to that is a simple. The data generated must be used correctly by the operator, says Aqeel. “Our drivers are experienced. They know when they have driven quickly and perhaps been a little harsher than they should have been. They don’t need me to tell them.
“Instead, them just knowing that the devices are there has made a difference. It’s also important that the operator explains that vehicles are tracked for business purposes; a key part of doing that is to major on the potential to exonerate drivers in the case of an incident.”
A minor part of the education process is that the tracking could show that the driver did not take the most direct route to a pick-up or drop-off point. In that case, more training may be required.
The system also generates an alert when the engine idles for more than five minutes. While idling cannot be cut entirely, particularly in the summer when the air-conditioning needs to be active before passengers board, drivers have been educated on how to use auxiliary heaters.
Sound business case
7 Plus Travel opted for a more basic package than some that are available, but it delivered operational benefits rapidly.
Technology is destined to form an ever-increasing part of its business; the tracking device is also a wi-fi hotspot, and so when drivers carry out first user checks via an app, the completed form and defect report is uploaded immediately.
Connectivity can be used in other ways if the operator takes up more options. As an example, Samsara’s device is able to undertake remote tachograph downloading and send data to the operator’s back-office systems; the file is compatible with analysis software and it can be imported directly.
“The key to me is that the tracking and dashcam allow my business to work smarter, hand-in-hand with technology,” says Aqeel. “It benefits us, it benefits customers and it benefits drivers, and the user experience is also good.”
Would he recommend using such a product to other operators? Yes. “We all have the same problems and the same pains. They go with the territory. But this helps to mitigate at least some of them.”