Safer Driving with Telematics: How Data and Technology Keep Drivers Safe | The WorkSAFE Podcast

Vehicle crashes are the number one way to die on the job nationwide. Some business owners are turning to GPS tracking – known as telematics – to help them identify problems and prevent car crashes. Col. Mark Trostel of Encana Corporation and Dan O’Neil of StriveSafe by Cartasite share their experience with telematics programs and what the future holds for driving safety. Introductory discussion by Garrett Benskin and Mark Woodward (Missouri Employers Mutual). The following is a transcript of the conversation, which you can also hear using the player. Learn more about how StriveSafe works in this video.

Why vehicle fleet safety matters

Benskin:

Today we’re going to talk about the importance of fleet safety, and we’re going to talk about fleet telematics as well. Mark, I’ll start you with a broad question.

Woodward:

MEM gets heavily involved in business fleet safety because over the last 23 years of doing business in Missouri, our records show that vehicle crashes are the most common way to be killed on the job as a Missouri employee. So, around 40-50 percent of work-related fatalities our company has handled in those years are vehicle crashes. It’s what we call a leading loss driver, meaning it’s a top cause of work comp loss and injury. They’re a top cause of workplace fatalities. Even though MEM is not the fleet insurance carrier for the vehicles, we do insure the employee, so that’s why we get involved.

Benskin:

We’ve all seen it out on the roadways: you come up on those traffic incidents, and you can tell, some of them went okay and some have a grim outlook. You hit us with a statistic: 40-50 percent of our fatalities happen on the roadway. What’s important for businesses from a safety protocol? What do you see as being able to prevent those – is it seat belt policies? What will help businesses keep those incident numbers down?

Woodward:

The single most important safety policy that any size business could put in place is the enforcement of seat belt usage. Talk to your employees about seat belts. Get it in writing. Put a poster up. Hang a print-out on the door. Have a policy that says all employees, when driving or riding in a vehicle for company business, must use a seat belt. We see personal vehicles used for company business. We see company-owned trucks, cars and vans used for company business. It doesn’t matter what vehicle they’re using; we want them to wear seat belts.

Fleet of semi trucks

How vehicle-tracking technology can impact driver safety

Benskin:

I recently interviewed a company called StriveSafe out of Colorado and Encana Corporation, an oil and natural gas company in the U.S. and Canada. One thing they talked about was fleet telematics and the role it’s starting to play in safety. Mark Trostel is the fleet safety manager for Encana and he was really excited about the possibilities of fleet telematics and the data they get from that.

Woodward:

Technology is to the point to where we can actually keep a close eye on what the vehicle is doing now. It used to be that, when the vehicle left the yard, you had no idea. You were 100 percent dependent on driver behavior. Now we have better cell phone signals and tower coverage, and a better ability to communicate back and forth with the vehicle. Vehicles 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, just didn’t have the electronics within the vehicle. Now we’re able to capture that data and transmit it back to a business owner or safety rep or HR, and take action immediately when we have a driver behavior issue. Technology is there to take that data and immediately transmit it back to the business owner, and they can make a phone call or get in touch with that driver immediately and correct the behavior.

Benskin:

In dealing with some of our policyholders at MEM, have you seen fleet telematics adopted by a lot of businesses or is it still a pretty new concept?

Woodward:

It’s still pretty new. People are learning about it. I think business owners are seeing it; auto insurance carriers are promoting it. You do have some fleet insurance carriers promoting it. I’m not sure how many work comp carriers are promoting it – I believe MEM is one of the only ones that’s really promoting it heavily. But people are starting to catch on. We’re going to try to do what we can to promote it to our customers. It’s just another avenue of keeping an eye on what the drivers are doing to verify that things are being run safely out there. We’re promoting it as much as we can.

Fleet driver beside truck
Benskin:

You touched on it a little bit, that auto insurance carriers are starting to promote it as well, and that spans outside of business to families and their personal vehicles. Is widespread data use starting with personal vehicles and coming into business, or do you see the opposite?

Woodward:

That’s a good question. I think what’s happening is that technology has finally grown so that personal auto insurance companies can offer this as a service, and give a little bit of a rate discount if you use this technology to keep your family and your personal fleet safe. That’s where a lot of business owners, especially small business, are learning about this. They’re saying “Hey, can I put this in my trucks too, and save some people?” I think there’s some crossover there. The promotion of telematics, like commercials, is pushing business owners to develop these programs and install these devices in their company vehicles.

Benskin:

A key topic that you see in a lot of Department of Labor campaigns is distracted driving. MoDOT has the Buckle Up/Phone Down initiative that they’re pushing hard right now, and it’s something we’ve all experienced. You’re going down the highway and you see a guy on his phone swerving from lane to lane and over to the shoulder. How do you see telematics playing into distracted driving in both business and personal? Obviously, if a driver is distracted they’re not paying attention to traffic in front of them. If somebody slams on their brakes, suddenly they have to hard brake to avoid that accident. How does fleet telematics tie into distracted driving?

Woodward:

With distracted driving you see an increase in rear-end collisions, stab braking and sudden lane changes. Those are the responses when you have driver inattention in traffic and you can’t react in time. You react late. Whenever I set up vehicle telematics, I’m going to want to really focus on the data coming out of that vehicle that’s telling me whether they’re hitting the brakes a ton, or swerving. Those vehicle maneuvers lend themselves to somebody who’s not paying attention.

Stop-and-go traffic is nasty, I get it, but you shouldn’t have sudden stab breaking in the middle of that. Let’s pay attention and keep following distance appropriate: three to four seconds of following distance allows drivers to smoothly apply the brakes or accelerate. You shouldn’t be jamming on the brakes over and over in traffic on, let’s say, 270 or 44 or 435. Let’s try to smooth that out and increase our following distance. If I have somebody who’s texting and driving or using their phone habitually, they won’t be smooth like that. They’ll be stabbing their brakes, swerving back and forth and driving erratically. If the vehicle can tell me this through the telematics program, I have something actionable with the employee.

Benskin:

That’s all great advice that every business should implement to try and prevent roadway accidents. With that, let’s head into the interview with Dan from StriveSafe and Mark from Encana Corporation.


Interview with Dan O’Neil and Col. Mark Trostel

Benskin:

Dan, you’re with StriveSafe by Cartasite. Tell us about your position there and give us a brief introduction of what you do there.

O’Neil:

I’m an attorney by trade. I was originally general counsel for Pinnacol Insurance. After that, I was also in charge of all of their business operations: claims, underwriting and safety services. I was there almost 10 years, and now I am with StriveSafe and Cartasite, and my role here really is just to bring telematics into the commercial insurance market.

Benskin:

Fantastic. And Mark Trostel with Encana Corporation, same thing to you – introduce yourself and share what you do.

Driver checking rear view mirror
Trostel:

I’ve spent 40 years in driving safety. In my current position I’m the driving safety advisor at Encana Oil and Gas Inc., an exploration and production company operating in the United States and in Canada. Prior to my time with Encana, I spent 32 years in law enforcement, 30 of that with the Colorado State Patrol, investigating crashes and teaching troopers how to investigate crashes. I rose through the ranks and retired as chief of Colorado State Patrol in 2009, before coming to Encana. So I’ve seen a lot of crashes on the highway, and I have a vested interest in reducing those and helping drivers get home safe every night.

What are the benefits of telematics technology?

Benskin:

Our discussion today centers on fleet safety telematics. Dan, I’ll throw this back in your court. How would you describe fleet safety telematics to someone who isn’t familiar with it?

O’Neil:

I always say that telematics is just a fancy word. That’s all it is; it’s a fancy word to describe transmitting data over a network. It’s really that simple. When you bring it down into fleet safety, it is a device that goes into a car and enables data to get transmitted, and provide feedback.

Benskin:

When it comes to telematics, what do you guys see as the key benefit that this technology provides?

Trostel:

From my perspective and the way we utilize fleet telematics, the key benefit is the vehicle monitoring system. Monitoring driver behavior, and specifically three key elements that are really the causes of a lot of the crashes. Speed is the number one reason for fatal crashes in the United States, and it’s measured, as well as hard braking and rapid acceleration. Monitoring those types of events and reporting active drivers to supervisors are key to changing driver behavior. So that’s my view of telematics in general.

O’Neil:

You know, I think the most obvious thing that people always want to ask is, what are some of the benefits of telematics and this type of device? And before we get into that, what I would like to do is define the problem, because I think that is most important before getting into the benefits. There are over 40,000 motor vehicle accidents per year all across the United States. Those accidents are very costly: well over a million dollars for every death, and each accident can cost well over $100,000. In my world, when I was with Pinnacol Assurance, the workers compensation carrier, that was our most expensive claim, an automobile accident. They were very, very costly.  A death in that arena would cost $250,000 and an incident would cost over $25,000. From that perspective, it’s very expensive.

Trostel:

Well, absolutely. It’s remarkable that in the United States and in Canada and around the world we are having 1.2 million people killed in driver crashes on an annual basis, globally. In the U.S. it’s about 40,000, as you said. That’s a lot of deaths. That means that some father, some mother, some child, grandparent, is not making it home at the end of the day. From a personal perspective, it is saving lives as well. There is the cost associated with it, but anything that we can do to reduce the risk that drivers are experiencing out on the highway is a plus in my mind. Bottom line for the company and bottom line for families.

O’Neil:

Yeah, and one of the other things that people don’t really talk about is that it not only costs companies from the financial perspective that we just mentioned, but there’s also this huge brand risk. If they have drivers on the road who aren’t driving safely or getting into accidents, there are reputational risks, and those costs can absolutely devastate a company. When we look at the benefits of telematics, there are so many benefits but a few that jump out at me: One is that we want to ultimately reduce accidents. That seems to be the most obvious; reduce accidents and save lives. That’s great. In addition to that, we also want to reduce driver downtime and reduce fleet downtime, we want to improve driver efficiency from our fleet perspectives, and ultimately what we want to do is improve driver behavior. That is really important and telematics is a great solution in order to do that.

StriveSafe by Cartasite Scorecard

How to implement telematics tools and increase adoption

Benskin:

You mentioned the ROVR. Can you go into detail and tell us more about what that technology is?

O’Neil:

ROVR is a very simple device. It’s a dongle that goes into a OBD port. It takes maybe three seconds to put it in, and it’s right underneath the steering wheel. It provides data back to a central location and we disperse that to whoever wants it. ROVR can measure things like speeding, hard braking and rapid acceleration. Then, scorecards are delivered to the drivers weekly. They can also be delivered to supervisors, multiple supervisors, we can group drivers together. There are a lot of things that we can do with that data, and it’s really just based upon this simple device. The nice thing about it is that it is very simple and it is very scalable. That means that one driver can use it, or a company can have a thousand drivers use it and scale it that way.

Benskin:

How long has this program been up and running, and how has the buy-in been across the business for implementation?

Trostel:

We actually began using a vehicle monitoring system, in particular the ROVR device, in 2010. So, we’ve had a number of years of experience, over eight and a half now, with this technology. Initially, we were concerned about drivers feeling like we were “big brother” or watching them, so we took the approach of informing them about the hazard of the job they were doing every day. That includes driving, which is not just a way to get to work; it’s part of your work on a daily basis. Changing mindsets about driving is a part of the job, and was a critical issue – one of the important things that we needed to address.

Secondly, preparing them for the introduction of the device with the understanding that this is a piece of technology that is going to benefit them personally, which it does by making them aware of driving behaviors that are high risk, particularly speeding, hard braking and rapid acceleration, that they commonly do. You see it every day out on the highway. Then, getting them the information on a weekly basis is also very simple because Cartasite has pushed that out. I don’t have to sit there and do all the analysis. Cartasite is doing that for me, and is providing that to the drivers. They can look at their performance from the previous week, make adjustments to their driving behaviors, and lower their risk in real time.

O’Neil:

I think that’s a really good point. Drivers get the information themselves and they have the ability to correct. That is one of the things that really takes away that “big brother,” because if they are self-correcting, there’s no need for a supervisor to get involved. It really gamifies it. In my scorecard, I want to beat you this week or you want to beat me this week, and so we can get into a friendly contest, ultimately improving our driver behavior. You know, one of the things that is important in that scorecard is not just the score itself but the trending reports. We provide information that goes over four weeks at a time, and so if someone has a bad week – it happens, we know that, everybody has a bad week –we tell people to look at the trend over time. That’s the most important thing. It’s not just one incident of speeding or one incident of hard braking, because that’s what safe driving’s about too. Sometimes you have to get on the highway, for example. But what we think is important is looking at those trending reports.

Trostel:

I agree, patterns of behavior are critical to the analysis of the reports that are being pushed out to the drivers. You know, I don’t want supervisors looking at this from the perspective that “Joe had a speeding event last week.” There might be a real good reason for that. It might be that someone’s coming up behind him fast, and he had to accelerate a bit, which turned into rapid acceleration. Or a child runs out in front of him on a city street and he has to brake hard. Those are preferred to having not do that, and it’s going to impact their scorecard. But the pattern behavior, if it’s a continuous thing – you’re seeing a lot of speeding events or a lot of hard brakes – then you can counsel and coach.

They do self-analysis, for people who want to get a better score for the gamification reason as well. That peer pressure can mean a competition goes on. When you look at those pattern behaviors, that’s what drives drivers to change those behaviors. I might also add that after a certain period of time, you do change behaviors with it, too, because what you measure is what people will produce. If they know they are being monitored for different things, they strive to achieve those expectations. Over time, my drivers have changed their driving behavior. In fact, some of them have purchased this and applied it to their teenage drivers at home. Because that is an important thing for them as well, as for all of us.

How do vehicle-tracking tools fit into overall workplace safety culture?

Benskin:

Both of you have mentioned safety culture, and Mark, I’ll direct this question at you. Fleet telematics on its own is a small portion of the safety program that your company pushes. How does that safety culture do you see the fleet safety plays in the overarching safety culture of your company.

Trostel:

There really is no single silver bullet to fixing what I call our driving safety issues on our highways. You know, you have distracted driving, you have speeding people, you have aggressive drivers, we have people who don’t really know and understand the rules of the road. You combine all those elements together and you get a lot of pieces in your toolbox. A big one has to be your vehicle monitoring system, because it is that self-analysis, self-correcting tool that we can use. You also have to have driver training, and commitment from leadership in a company. Every vehicle at Encana in our fleet has the ROVR device in it, from the president on down. That demonstrates to members that commitment from the company for their safety as well. You have to have policies in place, everything. It’s a mixed bag that you have to cover as many bases as you possibly can in your overall driving safety program. Some pieces are a little more effective than others. The education and the in-vehicle monitoring are ways to achieving lower risk, lower insurance rates and safer drivers.

Benskin:

Dan, earlier you touched on the partnership between StriveSafe and work comp insurance carriers. How do you see those relationships developing in the coming years?

O’Neil:

Sure. You know, one of the things that insurance companies have done and Cartasite has been able to take advantage of is, we have a relationship with group called AASCIF, which is the American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds. It’s basically a group of 20+ state funds in the U.S., plus the Canadian provinces that are part of this group. We have partnered with them in order to get preferred pricing, so our pricing is very favorable. The dongle costs $100 and that is just really a pass-through. Then, in addition to that, if a company wants to do scorecard only, which means any driver can get a scorecard and you get as many scorecards as you need, that’s going to be $10 a month per vehicle. And if you want to add worldview on top of that, which is a mapping system, fleet efficiency visibility and access to where people are in real time, that’s going to be an additional $5 per month. So, these insurance companies have done a great job getting preferred pricing, for lack of a better term, which is an advantage.

Benskin:

I think you guys have both hit on it, from the program side and in the industry: it’s very important to have that relationship with the workers comp carrier that you’re aligned with. That’s not always an even comparison across the board. There are a ton of carriers out there. MEM strives to care the most about the business and the employees, making sure that employees get home safe and sound to their families every night. This type of partnership between the carrier, a safety program like StriveSafe and the policyholder is the real key to pushing that safety culture and getting those employees safely home.

We’ve talked a little bit about what the future holds. With about ten years of experience with telematics, where do you see the analytics technology going in the next five or ten years? Is this going to become the standard for every company?

Trostel:

You know, I monitor and do a lot of research on, what’s going on technologically with vehicles, self-driving cars, parking. All of the technology that’s out there. We have a lot of distractions in our driving environment by putting a lot of technology in cars. I grew up in an area where GPS was unheard of; I had a number of vehicles that didn’t have radios even. So, we have added so much technology to cars that in some ways we have created some distractions. Technology has a place, but I think the best way to really impact risk and safety on the road is continuing to engage drivers; you have to keep them engaged. I recently read a study about distracted driving and the use of cellphones. It was done with 3 million drivers and 560 million miles, some number like that. Everybody in the study knew there were risks with using their cell phones while they were driving, but eight times out of the 100 trips they made, they used their cell phone. They knew it was illegal and not safe to do. You know, awareness education and engaging drivers, monitoring behavior is our best hope in changing driver behaviors, to keep everyone safe when we share the roads together.

Fleet driver in truck
Benskin:

I agree with that completely. The human factor is still the biggest factor. Monitoring tools like telematics can help make an impact. Like you said, Mark, training people is also a huge part of it. Thank you both for joining us today. We really appreciate your insight and the information that you shared with our listeners today.

Trostel:

I appreciate the opportunity to share this message with companies large and small, because you know what? All my drivers share the roads out there with their drivers, and the more we can do to keep each other safe and ensure that our divers get home safe every night, the better it is for all of us. So, thank you very much.


Benskin:

That was a great interview with Dan and Mark; a lot of good information in that discussion.

As Mark (Trostel) explained, fleet telematics is an important piece of his safety program but it’s just one piece. It’s important to understand that telematics by itself is not going to correct every issue with fleet safety. I’m now back in the studio with Mark Woodward.

What elements build out a full fleet safety program at a company?

Vehicles on the road
Woodward:

The first things I look at with fleet safety are policy and procedure. Policies could include cell phone/distracted driving, seat belt, incident reporting, injury reporting, drug-free workplace and more. That’s a big part of fleet safety. Another gigantic part is vehicle inspections. Are the tires good? Does the engine actually have oil in it? Is there an emergency kit in the vehicle? Are there emergency phone numbers and insurance paperwork in the glove box? Is the vehicle safe? Do the lights work? Does the seat belt actually latch? Inspections are a big thing.

Safety training is also big. Most people do not receive driver safety training through their career. We get our license and that’s it; there’s no continuing ed. I’m a big fan of providing the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving course for every driver. At MEM, all of our company drivers take it. If you drive any vehicle for MEM, you have to take NSC Defensive Driving every three years. If you don’t have it, you don’t get to drive for MEM.

Driver safety meetings are a big thing. Talking about safe driving best practices, the need to back off and not tailgate drivers, to put down the phone and focus. One of the things people need to understand is that just talking about these issues will help you. We visit a lot of employers and we’ll see a company with work comp costs and vehicle collision numbers that are out of control. Literally, if they just start talking about it with their employees and being real with them – saying things like “listen, we’re crashing too many vehicles, this has got to stop” – that will help!

Fleet safety has multiple pieces, but we have to remember the basics: policies and procedures, inspecting vehicles, and safety education and awareness are the three big ones for our drivers.

Benskin:

That’s great advice, Mark, and it’s easily applicable to any business, small or large. Thanks for that insight. I think that brings this episode to a close.


Thanks to Mark and Dan for sharing their expertise on the podcast. Learn more about how StriveSafe works in this video.

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