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How to manage risks using telematics data

Date: 05 July 2017   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Any fleet can buy a telematics system, but there is a world of difference between signing a cheque and then using the technology wisely. For example, there is a major ball and chain that accompanies the provision of data, because as soon as you have it, you're under obligation.

Any service that tells you what employees and vehicles are up to brings with it a responsibility to do something when it flags up the negatives. Speeding, reckless driving, drivers being somewhere they shouldn't; there's a pretty long list of things telematics brings to the fore, of which fleet operators would previously have been unaware, and enjoyed plausible deniability.

A digital trail proving foreknowledge is not something that can be left to idle, as Peter Golding, managing director of Fleetcheck, explains: "If you fail to act on that information - in other words, you turn a blind eye to it or you're too busy - that's worse than not having tracking fitted. It's absolutely imperative for a company, if they have a notification to do with speeding or excessive braking, that that should be recorded. There should be an interview with the driver and there should be actions taken from it.

"The worst thing you can possibly have is somebody involved in a horrific accident and the authorities find out, when they look at the telematics records, that they had been driving in excess of 90mph for the last six months, and nobody had done anything about it. That information could be made available for the court."

The more data you have, the less the old safeguard of a fleet policy, however decent, remains a solid fallback. "Let's take speeding, for instance," says Beverly Wise, sales and marketing director at TomTom Telematics. "If that person were to cause an accident, the health and safety executive would then be going to the business and looking to see what actions had been taken - what you, as a business, had actually carried out in terms of education, training, feedback to the driver - because it's no good just saying that you've got a policy in place and they need to adhere to it.

"Some companies will do six-monthly checks and drivers need to sign up regularly, but a lot of companies will say 'yes, they sign our policy,' and when you ask 'when did they sign it?' you can, in some instances, find they signed up when they started. That could be 10 years ago and they've never signed anything since."

At the extreme, businesses could find themselves accused of aiding and abetting if they had knowingly allowed drivers to string out dangerous practices. Far more likely, though, are civil law implications, reputational issues and operational problems. "What I think is far more serious from an employer's point of view is that it could have reputational implications or an impact on their operator's licence if they have one," says Richard Silver, senior partner at Richard Silver Solicitors. "There might be civil law implications; from a negligence point of view, you've obviously got a duty of care to other people, and I would have thought that if you knew one of your drivers was speeding and you didn't do anything with it then you could well be negligent.

"Also, if you know you've got a driver speeding and you don't tell your insurance company, then they might say 'you've not notified us of the material facts' and it could invalidate cover."

This sort of weight on the shoulders is enough to put off many a business, as Nick Walker, managing director of RAC Connected Services, explains: "I've seen car fleets who have looked at telematics and realised that it gives them obligations they don't necessarily want, and have avoided the deployment of telematics."

"I had one company which asked: 'do you think you could get the tracking company to switch off the speeding alerts, because we have a problem with it and we haven't got time to manage it?'" says Golding. "I said: 'If that ever went to court and it's proven that you asked for this data to be removed, you would be prosecuted without question, and they would consider your actions to be negligence.'

"What I suggested they did was fit speed limiters, which, in fairness, is what they ended up doing. So when you have a situation where you've got a driver who is constantly speeding, which has been identified by telematics, there are solutions."  

A glaring, and unintentional issue, which is just as hazardous as deliberately turning the other cheek, is with fleets that don't know how to interpret the data they're getting. A lack of understanding, training or staff changes aren't decent excuses in the eyes of the law, and a lot of businesses just don't know what they're looking at, or at least the full extent of it.

"So many people who invest in telematics do not get the true value out of the systems they put in play," says Golding. "There could be lack of training, it could be that they may have forgotten what it does, and in many cases, there are functionalities to do with driver behaviour or speeding that they may not be looking at.

"We get companies that say 'I just want to see where they are, make sure they're at work or see if I can redirect them'. Whoever is going to look at the data needs to be trained by the provider; they need to understand the software they are using and ensure that they've got the report that they want."

Some of these issues are rooted in over-selling, where fleets end up with bells and whistles systems which overload them with information. "It happens all the time," says Walker. "Unfortunately, telematics has got itself a bit of a bad name by overselling and under-delivering, and actually selling more than a customer can even deal with. It is a bit of a disease in the telematics world, and telematics has been described as the double-glazing company of the IT industry."

Oversold or not, a lot of this comes back to resource - or a lack of it. Most managers don't have oodles of time on their hands, and analysing vehicle data is far from a quick job.
"The problem is, if you're going to analyse and work with this data in a live environment, I won't say it's a full-time job, but you need to have a really good process in place to act on that information," says Wise. "I think the problem with fleet or transport managers is they don't have the time; generally, the role of a fleet manager is sort of all being, and unless you've got somebody in the business whose only function is to review the data and to take processes and action from it, unfortunately I think it does go by the wayside."

There is a massive argument for less is more with telematics, both in terms of the benefits and the feasibility of keeping track of what the system is telling you. The technology has been honed to the point where most systems, decent ones anyway, can be tailored to dish out specific information in bite-sized doses, which is absolutely what fleets should be asking of their providers.

"Reporting is becoming geared towards exception reporting, so you're basically telling the fleet manager what he needs to do; you're giving him an action list rather than giving him a massive amount of data," says Walker.

"We code faults in a colour: red, amber and green. Most fleets will only want to know what the red things are, and those are the things that are going to cause either a security risk, a safety risk or are going to become incredibly expensive; you basically have a list of the vehicles that need attention, and the fleet manager takes care of those vehicles and doesn't worry about the rest.

"Most people who are actually looking for a telematics system are not really sure why they're doing it; they don't really have a very clear list, and a lot of what we do is sitting with the customer, saying 'what problem are you trying to solve?', and if they've got a long list, we tell them that it's too long, and we say 'just identify three things that you would like to solve in the first six or 12 months of deploying a system, and let's focus on those. Then let's look at how we can migrate the system to do more, to solve your next three, and your next three.'

"That's a much better way of doing it, and it's much more manageable. Also, the customer themselves sees the benefit earlier on; rather than trying to boil the ocean, they will very much focus on individual problems that they've got that they want to address."