Today's Trucking - Danger, Will Robinson, Going Too Fast, says Safety System
12/11/2012 - Picture this. You’re driving your truck. You decide to go for a lane change, but then suddenly, a voice comes out from your dashboard and stops you cold.
It’s serene and restrained, the tone very serious.
Perhaps a little 2001: A Space Odyssey-like.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. The risk is unacceptable.”
Well, you’ll be relieved to know that it won’t actually be HAL talking.
But the latest in road-safety technology, called the inthinc waySmart, comes pretty darn close, as it can “coach” the driver in real time when it detects unsafe driving behaviour.
Or, in other words, it’ll know something’s wrong before you do.
Installed as a box beneath the driver seat, waySmart plugs into the vehicle’s onboard computer and “watches” the driver, checking speed via both the vehicle’s sensors, as well as its own sensors, in real time, monitoring vehicle motion and aggressive driving behaviour. Notably, pumping the brake too hard, accelerating too fast, or making sharp turns. The system also alerts drivers if they drift outside their lane, or if their cushion of distance is too small.
Inthinc’s Communications Manager, Daniel Ashby, stressed that waySmart technology does not, in fact, have any control over the vehicle and that it merely acts as a monitoring entity.
“When the driver is speeding down a street, a voice prompt will tell them to slow down and let them know they’re speeding. The driver then has 15 seconds to comply with that violation, otherwise, it’s reported to inthinc’s online portal where managers can see,” he said. “The idea isn’t so much to punish the driver, but rather coach them to become safer drivers, so we give them that opportunity to slow down.”
WaySmart also acts as a GPS tracking device that communicates wi-fi, cellular, or satellite signals that are directly sent to inthinc’s online portal. There, fleet managers can track their vehicles’ location and drivers’ performance.
A Voice of Wisdom?
Uniform giant Cintas reported that since their fleets were equipped with waySmart technology, speeding incidents were reduced by a staggering 85 percent.
“The verbal coaching feature has had a huge impact, keeping our drivers safe on the road,” said Josh Moore, Cintas project manager. “Even with excellent driving courses and training, sometimes drivers become unaware of their driving habits. Having an in-cab device coaching drivers in real time has been a huge help in correcting dangerous driving behaviors.”
Cintas reported that seat belt use also increased in all their divisions, ranging from a 79-89 percent improvement.
And with a computer watching the seatbelt closely, there really is no room for error.
“One of the most common excuses we hear from drivers who fail to wear a seat belt, is they simply forgot. With inthinc in the vehicle reminding drivers to buckle up, there really is no excuse and so drivers are complying with our seat belt policy more frequently.”
On top of monitoring driving habits, waySmart can also be programmed with multiple alerts, such as timed engine idling.
“If managers don’t want their drivers idling over five minutes, they can set an alert,” Ashby said, adding that alerts will continue to persist if ignored. “If they haven’t buckled their seatbelts on, it’ll tell them to put on their seatbelts, and it will repeat it every 10 seconds until they actually comply.”
Ashby highlighted that inthinc decided to go with an automated voice instead of other types of alerts because they can confuse the driver even more.
“Other solutions use beeps and lights, but the problem with that is it can mean a variety of things; it’s just beeping at you and you’re not exactly sure what it’s beeping about,” he said.
Making The Call on Safety
Using a directional antenna installed in the cab’s headliner just above the driver, this yet-to-be-released device detects cell phone waves emitted from the driver seat and reports it to inthinc’s portal. Fleet managers then get notified via email, text message or phone that their drivers' vehicles are in motion and a cell phone is in use whether they’re calling, texting or emailing.
At the manager’s discretion, settings can also be adjusted to either send an in-cab voice alert or quietly report the violation, so drivers who are using their cell phones behind the wheel won’t necessarily know they’re being caught in the act.
Ashby said the ‘cell phone visibility feature’ is currently under development, set to be an addition to existing waySmart technology, not at all related to other cell-jamming applications.
“Our approach for this is just detection; it’s not really smart to be jamming cell phones while on the road. If someone’s using the phone, then the system reports it to the manager and they can assess for themselves if that was a warranted phone call or not,” Ashby said, adding that inthinc’s modus operandi is actually before the fact, not after.
“We’re all about correcting bad habits so we can form safer drivers. We’re a proactive solution, versus a reactive solution. We’re trying to prevent accidents from happening, not figuring out what happened after the fact,” he said.
[W]aySmart also has other safety features, too.
In case of emergencies, drivers can hit a call button that puts them in direct contact with the manager (or whichever phone numbers are programmed in the system).
And, in case contact cannot be made with the driver, Ashby said waySmart will still be able to detect the status of the vehicle itself, as crash sensors are installed onboard as well.
“We have a crash detector, so the manager will receive a call, an email or a text message if the vehicle has been involved in an accident,” he said.
In a worst case-scenario where the vehicle is lost altogether, a black box, or data recorder, (the kind you find on jetliners) is also installed onboard, which in turn can send crash reconstruction data to inthinc themselves.
Ashby said that besides being a safety system, waySmart also serves as fleet management application, allowing users to log in service hours, record vehicle inspection alerts, and input safety checklists, which, in turn, they can send back to their fleet manager.
It’s not solely for trucks either. The waySmart can be installed on anything from a Ford F150 pick-up, to a colossal mining hauler.