Driver Safety

Impact of In-Cab Event Recorders in the Waste Industry

To reduce risky driving in your fleet, you need to know what your drivers are doing behind the wheel. Once you do know, coach them to drive better.

Del Lisk

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that texting and the use of cellular phones while driving is big news. In fact, as a result of the recent Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study and the news it garnered, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, held a Distracted Driving Summit. In planning the meeting, Secretary LaHood said, “If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting, but unfortunately, laws aren’t always enough. We’ve learned from past safety awareness campaigns that it takes a coordinated strategy combining education and enforcement to get results.” Added Secretary LaHood, “The bottom line is … distracted driving is dangerous driving.”

Prior to releasing the cellular phone study, VTTI released another study evaluating onboard safety monitoring devices in commercial vehicle operations. Funded by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), this study was created to help determine if an onboard safety monitoring device actually reduces risky driving events involving behaviors such as texting and the use of cellular phones, following too close, traffic violations, as well as other unsafe activities. The result of such behaviors, ultimately, is abrupt braking, swerving or collisions. The results of the study showed that the number of risky driving events fell by 37 percent in the first fleet and 52.2 percent in the second fleet for those vehicles running the a driver risk management program.

Why Programs Succeed … or Fail

Distracted driving, drowsy driving and just plain poor driving habits lead to risky driving and possible collisions. So how do you correct these problems? Why do some driving safety programs succeed, while others do not? It all comes down to effective risk identification and coaching with the proper tools.

  • Effective risk identification—Fleet operators must have the means to identify risky driving on an on-going basis. In-cab event recorders are ideal tools to capture, on an exception basis, instances where drivers have passed the thresholds of safe driving.

  • Coaching with the proper tools—Driver coaching is an important follow up activity once concerning driving has been identified, but the coach needs to have the tools to succeed at modifying behavior. One of the challenges is that when it comes to driving, just about every driver thinks they are good. In fact, a recent survey found that 78 percent of drivers surveyed rated themselves as at least above-average drivers; yet this same group only rated 9 percent of other drivers as better than average.1

So, when coaching, how do you convince a driver that he needs to change? The key is the video. With this objective, visual evidence, coaches can quickly move past any debate about what really happened and instead focus on what needs to change to reduce risk in the future.

It’s important to understand that behavioral safety programs are advantageous because they are easy to implement, easy to teach and can be implemented in the setting where the problem occurs. Behavioral safety programs have been successfully used to increase safety-related work behaviors in a variety of organizational settings. In a review of 53 occupational safety and health studies covering various safety approaches, it was found that behavioral safety approaches had the highest average reduction in injury rate (59.6 percent).

However, almost all prior behavioral safety research has been applied in work settings where employees can systematically observe the safe versus at-risk behavior of their coworkers. In contrast, truck and bus drivers work alone in relative isolation and thus require alternative strategies. Until recently, the primary problem has been getting quality behavioral data on driving behaviors. If behavioral approaches can be integrated with technologies that monitor driver behavior, fleet safety managers would have an effective tool for improving safety-related behaviors that occur when there is little or no opportunity for interpersonal observation and feedback.

The VTTI/FMCSA study referenced earlier involved 100 trucks—both long haul and short haul—over a 17-week period. During the four-week baseline phase, the event recorder recorded safety-related events. However, the feedback light on the event recorder was disabled and safety managers did not have access to the recorded critical incidents to provide feedback to drivers. During the 13-week intervention phase, the feedback light on the event recorder was activated and safety managers had access to the recorded safety-related events (following the coaching protocol with drivers).

Lessons Learned

Although both companies had a strong commitment to safety, each was surprised to find a significant gap in what they thought and what was revealed through their involvement in the program. This is because, previously, they had little insight into what really was happening out on the road. What they found out was that drivers are not as good as they thought. This is simply to say that they were surprised to find several drivers with common driving flaws, such as following too close, reluctance to wear a seatbelt or using a cell phone in violation of policy. The company soon realized that there was more work to be done to make their fleet safer. Company commitment is key. Now that the organization had greater insight into what risks really existed out on the road, was the company committed to do something about it? Were they willing to coach, adjust their training focus and reinforce policies to ensure behavior modification occurred, etc.?

Executive sponsorship is paramount. Although it is becoming more commonplace, the placement of video recording devices in trucks is still new to most fleets and, hence, a cultural change. It’s essential to have support from leadership to overcome the challenges and barriers to the effective application of the program if the company wants it to be successful.

Despite the challenges listed above, “Both carriers (long-haul and short-haul) significantly reduced the mean frequency of recorded events/miles traveled from baseline to intervention,” commented Jeff Hickman, Lead Researcher, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “The results prove that the combination of onboard safety monitoring and behavioral coaching were responsible for the significant reduction in the mean frequency of events/miles traveled at both carriers.”

COACH Your Way to Success

What are some keys to a having a successful program using this technology? Think of the word C-O-A-C-H:

C Level or other high-level ongoing support from high levels within your organization

  • Gain high-level support for the program before launch.

  • Once the program is launched, maintain the support of your high-level advocate(s) by providing this person with ongoing reports demonstrating its success.

Open communication with employees before and after the program is launched

  • The program must be properly explained to employees prior to launch to eliminate misconceptions and unfounded concerns.

  • Constantly reinforce the program through coaching, safety meetings and newsletters

Application of the process must be consistent and constant

  • Roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined.

  • Don’t get complacent about coaching. Constant application will bring continuous improvement.

  • Be sure the program is properly staffed in case of vacation, illness or job change.

Clear set of consequences

  • Violations of driving expectations must be addressed with coaching or other consequences.

  • Violations of company policy should be followed through per your organization’s already existing plan. The program is just an additional tool to monitor compliance; no new policies are needed.

  • High achievers in the program should be acknowledged and rewarded.

Have a system in place to monitor and evaluate the performance of the managers entrusted with applying the program

  • Program managers should have a stake in the success or failure of the program. Reports tracking key activities such as system health, coaching and reduction in risky events should be frequently monitored and directed to high levels in management.

To reduce risky driving in your fleet, you need to know what your drivers are doing behind the wheel. Once you do know, coach them to drive better. By having a consistent program across your fleet, you’ll begin to see results that not only reduce the number of collisions across your fleet, but also reduce your company’s claims costs.

Del Lisk serves as vice president of safety services for DriveCam Inc. In this role, he is responsible for developing safety policy and procedures and overseeing training for DriveCam’s fleet customers. His duties include administering the DriveCam Certification Program and directing the DriveCam Academy. Prior to joining DriveCam, Lisk spent 21 years with Smith System Driver Improvement Institute, a leader in professional driver training. Most recently, he served six years as company president. While at Smith Systems, Lisk developed fleet safety programs and personally delivered training to more than 10,000 fleet drivers.


  1. DriveCam Survey of 350 DriveCam Academy participants.