Commercial Fleet Operations Take One More Step Into Algorithmland
Jan 5, 2017

Early speed recorders in large, long haul trucks date back well over a generation now, but the science of monitoring fleet operations has taken enormous strides in just the last few years. The San Diego Union newspaper brings us news of a new development in driving telematics in this short article, complete with an embedded demonstration view. The importance of this story is not just the new Netradyne product profiled. The "Driver-i" device is the most current version of automated driver oversight to hit the market. The device is notable in part because it is small enough for any kind of vehicle - eighteen wheelers down to pickup trucks - and it offers a 360 degree view of all aspects of vehicle operation. It also uses cloud technology to facilitate the use of the data it generates for all aspects of fleet operation, not just routine safety reviews.

The questions for risk management now ratchet up one more notch. As more information becomes technically available, what degree of oversight or surveillance do you need to manage fleet risk effectively and how do you optimize the use of the reams of highly granular information now available? You've probably noticed, as a risk professional, that you are in danger of drowning in data nowadays. Yet if an accident occurs, you may be held accountable by plaintiff attorneys, carriers, and the C-suite for knowing, understanding, and acting on this inrushing tide of information.

A couple of common sense suggestions: first, review your RMIS capabilities. Most RMIS systems were designed years ago in a simpler time when the major issue was the lack of available data and simple Excel type graphs told you everything you could be expected to know. If your RMIS hasn't been upgraded recently, you may be ill-equipped to use the enhanced data coming on stream. Second, think about risk management consulting services. New data resources call for new thinking and new data algorithms call for new operational algorithms.

Self-driving trucks are not here quite yet but revolutionary telematics are on the scene today, offering a major step forward in both efficiency and safety of fleet operation.

DEATH, BE NOT PROUD

After three years running flat, life expectancy in the US actually ticked down by a couple of months in 2015. Why should you care? While the major drivers of the higher death rate cited in the National Center for Health Statistics data - heart disease, dementia, and accidental infant deaths - are not primary risk factors for workers' comp or liability, this development may be a case of the canary in the coal mine developing a bad cough.

Any reversal of the long standing improvement trend in American life expectancy may signal important underlying changes, such as a higher prevalence of co-morbid health conditions. Note also that, while the uptick in heart related deaths had a larger impact statistically, one of the biggest relative increases in cause of death was unintentional injuries - up 6.7%. Other recent research shows a startling rise in premature deaths among white women in the US. Life expectancy in the US has never been better than middling among the OECD countries (26th out of 43 nations, right after the Czech Republic and slightly ahead of Turkey), so any slippage may be ominous.

Meanwhile, the US also had the highest one-year percentage increase in traffic deaths in half a century, according to 2015 data released last month by the National Safety Council (NSC). Experts attributed the startling uptick to lower gasoline prices and more travel on US roads coupled with, of all things, lower unemployment rates. Increases in the traffic death rate for 2015 seems to track improving employment from state to state. But there may be more to it than a simple increase in exposure since highway miles traveled went up 3.5% but highway fatalities went up 5%, almost twice as fast.

These new numbers may suggest an increasingly less healthy population. You might want to keep a wary eye on comp medical cost trends and also on the bodily injury claim components in your liability exposures. The developments cited here are more suggestive than definitive, but we may all be looking at killer medical costs in the not too distant future.

FUNCTIONALLY DRUNK?

How many of your regular fleet drivers (or even occasional company drivers) are on the road right now with the equivalent of a snoot full? The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has just published a new report, Acute Sleep Deprivation and Risk of Motor Vehicle Crash Involvement, based on an analysis of a representative sample of 7,234 drivers involved in 4,571 crashes. The report shows in graphic detail how drivers who sleep for less than five hours quadruple their risk of a having a crash, making their crash risk similar to the one associated by the US government with driving over the legal limit for alcohol.

The study carefully isolated those drivers who slept too little just the night before the accident being investigated, so the sleep deprivation issue was not necessarily the result of a chronic lack of sleep, but of inadequate rest immediately preceding the accident. These sleepy drivers accounted for one in five of highway fatalities during the period studied.

What does this mean for risk and fleet operations managers? We all know the rules for long haul drivers pushing the big rigs down the highway, but this study highlights the risk posed by the employee who only occasionally hops behind the wheel on company business to make a delivery, travel to an away meeting, or fetch visitors from the local airport. Do we have to teach our people to catch some zzz's before driving? This AAA reports seems to indicate as much.

Fortunately, organizations such as the National Sleep Foundation have been working on just this issue. A short item in EHSToday speaks to measures employers can take to assist employees in improving sleep habits. An effective sleep program not only is a form of risk management, but a form of preventive healthcare because it also improves the vitality, energy, and well-being of employees. Sleep hygiene should be in every driver safety kit.

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