The number of safety systems running in truck cabs is reaching a point where we have to ask the question about how far can driver surveillance go? Or, more precisely, what are the regulations and legal rights around monitoring an employee’s every move when they are doing their job.
There is a point at which the effect of the technological solutions now running in truck cabins to fight fatigue and distracted driving, intersect with the truck driver’s right to some privacy in a place where they not only work, but also eat, relax and sleep.
Twenty years ago the first driver surveillance systems started to undergo testing. There are plenty of different approaches being taken by the different technology developers, from monitoring eye blinking rates to how many inputs there are on the steering wheel from the driver, to watching the driver’s every move. All of these are valid and have proven to be effective over time.
Let’s go back to the situation twenty years ago. Not all truck drivers had mobile phones at that time. The amount of GPS tracking in trucks was relatively low and only on specialist trucking tasks. Once the truck left the yard it was on its own, the driver worked on their own initiative and the operator knew everything was alright if they didn’t get a phone call.
It was up to the driver to manage their own fatigue, as best they could. They would monitor themselves, to the best of their ability and to mitigate the risks to their own well-being. The level of incidents caused by fatigue were higher than they are now, but much lower than they had been ten years before.
Some great improvements in accident figures had been achieved by getting the trucking industry to address some basic issues around safety and take responsibility to send safe vehicles and rested drivers out onto the highway.
Those were the big wins, possible because the safety situation in the past had been so dire. Over these last twenty years the safety situation has improved year-on-year, but the gains have been smaller. It gets harder and harder as you get closer to zero incidents.
At the same time the level of surveillance has grown exponentially in the cabin. The dash cam looking forward at the road ahead, is now a set of cameras looking in every direction, including at the driver.
The precision of the driver monitoring improves with leaps and bounds, in terms of its precision and accuracy. The trucking operator sitting at their desk has the opportunity to watch a driver’s every move from the beginning to end of their shift. The operators are in complete control, if the driver makes one false move, it will be documented and can be picked up on by their manager for ‘counselling’, if required.
Perhaps what’s happening here is more than just safety monitoring, perhaps it’s becoming more about control. If the level of surveillance goes up another 20 per cent, are we going to achieve a 20 per cent decrease in dangerous incidents?
I am not sure where, or whether, the line can be drawn between driver monitoring and personal space. I am also not hearing anyone discussing the topic. Perhaps we should take some time to examine how effective the extra surveillance has been and examining the balance between personal space and safety systems used to control behaviour.