Driver-facing cameras: There’s a downside for carriers

February 1, 2017

John Bendel


The entire trucking industry is stampeding to driver-facing cameras, right?

Maybe not.

Last fall, Jim Angel, an executive from PeopleNet, which sells camera systems as well as mobile communications and other tech stuff, told a technology conference in Nashville that not every carrier wants driver-facing cameras. Angel recently confirmed and explained his comments with Land Line.

Angel said that of the 69 video systems sold by PeopleNet in 2016, not one included driver-facing cameras. PeopleNet video systems are normally configured with forward-facing cameras and side- and rear-view cameras. PeopleNet does not recommend it, but fleets can have a camera trained on the driver if they choose. None of the 69 fleets did.

Even more surprising, perhaps, is a carrier Angel said replaced an earlier video system with the PeopleNet system. The old system included driver-facing cameras, yet the carrier specifically excluded those cameras from its new system.

Why aren’t PeopleNet customers fans of driver-facing cameras?

Angel said the fleet that gave up driver-facing cameras with its new system reasoned that with all the other technology in the truck they already had all the information they needed. That other technology includes sensors that measure foot pressure on the brakes, accelerator and clutch, not to mention GPS location and speed – virtually every move you make behind the wheel. Driver-facing cameras simply weren’t necessary.

The sensors and other tech data collectors haven’t deterred all fleets from deploying the cameras, but Angel suggested something that might. Driver-facing cameras, he told his audience, are a potential liability in court.

Say there’s a crash and an injured party sues the carrier – even if the crash wasn’t the truck driver’s fault. An attorney could subpoena the video to build a case. And it could be lots more than just video from the incident. It could be all the video for that particular driver.

What if some of that video shows the driver not wearing a seat belt, talking on a cellphone, or committing some other infraction?

A slick lawyer would use that against the carrier, claiming it showed a lack of responsibility. He might make the case that the carrier knew, the video was proof, and the driver should have been fired. At the time of the crash, he should not have been behind the wheel of the truck at all. Angel said PeopleNet has seen cases against carriers that were structured much like this.

It remains to be seen if any of the carriers at Angel’s talk were swayed. Overall, driver-facing cameras are on the march. A company called Lytx, one of the largest truck video suppliers, has grown exponentially since it launched in 1998 as DriveCam Inc. Last year the San Diego company brought Swift Transportation onboard as a customer. Other Lytx customers include U.S. Foods, the sixth-largest private fleet in North America. Lytx claims its systems are in 500,000 trucks – though not all include driver-facing cameras.

There are other providers, like SmartDrive and GreenRoad, as well as more comprehensive technology outfits like Omnitracs, in addition to PeopleNet.

In any case, the list of fleets with driver-facing cameras is growing, and so are the claims of great success in preventing crashes. On provider websites, fleets are reported to have reduced crashes by up to 54 percent with camera systems.

How accurate are such claims? Hard to say. We know vendors put their products in the best light and at the very least tend to round numbers upward. We also know their customers are more than happy to help. The most enthusiastic fan of any particular technology is the guy who made the decision to buy it and needs to demonstrate to management that he or she made the right decision.

We do not know the actual figures these percentages represent or the driver composition of the fleets. Does a fleet have a stable driver force with few rookies, or does it have high turnover and few veteran drivers? Are the figures based on camera systems alone or on systems that also point at the road ahead?

In any case, what appears a benefit in one area may be costly in another.

PeopleNet’s Jim Angel addressed perhaps the most important and most obvious factor.

“There’s no percentage in antagonizing drivers,” he said. “Drivers don’t like the cameras, especially drivers who have been with the company for 10 or 20 years. Drivers think, you’ve trusted me with your truck and your freight for all this time. Now all of a sudden you don’t? You have to stick a camera in my face?”

Jon Osburn, who captains OOIDA’s tour truck and interacts with all sorts of drivers every day, said Wal-Mart drivers are an excellent example of exactly that. Wal-Mart is reportedly installing driver-facing cameras.

“I have spoken to a lot of Wal-Mart drivers with 20 or more years in service with the company. They say they are done once the camera is installed. They have no problem with the forward cameras. Some might not mind over-the-shoulder cameras that show the dash and their hands. But they want nothing to do with the ‘spy eye.’ These folks can’t use their cellphone when the truck is moving, even hands-free. Micro management at its worst,” Jon said.

“I have not had a single driver state that he or she is in favor of the rear facing camera,” Jon concluded. “Most say that a forward-facing camera is okay, but the camera facing the driver is an invasion of their privacy.” LL

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the February 2017 edition of Land Line’s “Gizmos & Gears” column.