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For your added safety

Date: 05 May 2016   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

It's easy to forget about the aftermarket sector amid advancements in manufacturer safety technology. The likes of apps, dash cams and sensors often play second fiddle to anything factory fitted, but you only have to look at the rise in popularity of dash cams (sales rose by 918% in 2014, according to research specialist GfK) to see the worth in aftermarket gadgets, both on safety and cost grounds.   

"What's driven [the rise in dash cams] has been the number of fraudulent claims," says Jenny Powley, sales director for corporate business at the RAC. "There have been a lot of claims where fraudsters manufacture slow accidents in cars where they brake suddenly so the person behind them runs into the back of them and they claim for whiplash [commonly known as 'crash for cash'].

"Because it's fairly low damage, it's quite hard to prove who caused the accident and as a rule of thumb, if someone runs into the back of you it's their fault. If you can't prove the third party was responsible, insurance companies often settle 50/50, so that increases your premium for the following year, usage on your policy goes up and it becomes more expensive.

"One of our sales team had exactly that happen to him. He actually did have a dash cam in his car and we would have had to pay for that claim, but because it was recorded we were able to prove it wasn't him, so they do work."

The purpose of cameras runs beyond recording accidents, as a lot of them are used to prevent something going wrong in the first place.

"The front blind-view camera allows you to see vehicles approaching from either side of your car," explains Selwyn Cooper, Volvo's national fleet sales manager. "For example, when you're coming out from a junction with parked cars on either side that are blocking your view from the driver's seat." The firm sells the camera as an aftermarket fit with most of its saloon and SUV models.  

Powley adds that a lot of van and truck fleets are now fitting cameras not only to record accidents but also with live feeds into the cab to improve visibility and reduce expensive low-speed shunts: "I'd say around 30% of van and HGV fleets have fitted dash cams, so it's quite a big take-up, and visibility is the main driver for that."  

Post-factory safety tech isn't limited to hardware, as smartphone apps have caught up on the risk and cost-saving front. Employee tracking specialist Romex offers an app called Driver Distraction, which locks the driver's phone when the vehicle exceeds 4mph.  

"Mobile phone distraction is the third-biggest cause of accidents at the moment," says Steve Arscott, sales director at Romex. "About 26% of all accidents on UK roads are now caused by mobile phone distraction - behind alcohol and speeding - and that's forecast to go up. The DfT said it could be the number one cause by end of this year.

"The technology works automatically and immobilises the phone while driving by using the GPS to detect movement and speed - and once it realises you're driving it just locks the phone. It suppresses text, email, social media and locks in and outgoing calls."

The app is also able to validate business mileage and Arscott claims the savings extend to fuel costs: "The national average over-claim of business miles is 24.7%, according to The Miles Consultancy. Very easily, companies can save lot of money by making sure they get it accurate. If somebody's doing 1000 miles and 250 of those are fabricated, that's a lot of money on a fleet of 100 vehicles."

Apps that guide the user through the post-accident process are now common enough, but plenty focus on preventative safety measures, too.

"With some apps, you can connect a transmitter to the engine management system, which then connects via Bluetooth to your phone, and the system can actually show you if there's an issue with the car - if the coolant's running too high, for example," says Antony Martin, chairman of the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association's technical and operational management committee. "[They can also display] the speed you're running at and tell you whether you're going too fast. There are some real positives.
"The downside to all this technology is that you've actually got to turn your phone on and activate it all - but the good thing is [many apps are free] so you haven't got any capital outlay."

Martin believes a lot of aftermarket safety technology, particularly cameras, will eventually morph into factory-fit items: "I think it's just a case of actually putting this technology onto a vehicle, almost like four or five years ago when Audi put hard drives into their vehicles for music.

"It'll be something as simple as that - a camera recording onto a small hard drive and if you're involved in accident you just download [the video]. Imagine if it were just a camera in the rear-view mirror doing it automatically.

"I don't think in 10 years' time we'll be using clips and Velcro or whatever else to attach our cameras to mirrors and screens."