Telematics: The Science of Safety Behind the Wheel

February 15, 2024 • Previsor

Telematics is a form of technology that allows us to pass real-time information over long distances. For an employer that manages drivers, whether it’s a single delivery driver or a fleet of truckers, telematics is an innovative way to keep them safe behind the wheel. Not only does it measure efficacy and check potentially risky behavior, but it also enhances the way companies operate.

On this episode of the WorkSAFE Podcast, we are joined by Ryan McMahon, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development for Cambridge Mobile Telematics. The company works to unlock the potential inside businesses to save money, time, and lives through telematics.

First, we’ll introduce the concept of telematics. Then, we’ll share how this technology is the next evolution of defensive driving. Finally, we’ll talk about how telematics makes a practical difference in driving behavior.

Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.

What is telematics?

In the world of transportation, telematics is used to collect and access data from vehicles. Users receive insights about a vehicle’s movement, usage, and any associated safety risks. Further, the information can also be used to provide a driver and passengers with emergency support if needed.

The application of telematics increases every year, appearing in everything from tractor trailers to space-bound rockets. McMahon points to more accessible prices as the reason. Commercial insurance companies now participate. In exchange for sharing their data, their customers get to control part of their auto policy costs. As a result, roads have become safer, and insurers get more insight into the behaviors and safety risks associated with drivers.

Feedback makes an impact

Telematics creates a unique feedback loop. Drivers get a deeper look into their own driving habits on the road – and the safety risks they are engaging in.

“It’s actually showing that driver specifically the risk that they are individually exhibiting on the road, and how that risk could unfortunately lead to a crash, which results in injuries or something worse,” he added. “When you provide feedback to drivers, and the drivers engage with that feedback, it fundamentally reduces crashes. We’ve published papers on this.”

Telematics: The next evolution of defensive driving

“When I was learning to drive, when I was sixteen years old, growing up in New York, the term defensive driving was so critically important,” McMahon shared. Defensive driving is a technique that focuses on looking out for other drivers who may not be following the rules of the road.

However, telematics evolves this approach. It provides drivers with an incentive to drive safer and practical ways to do it. “The more people that have incentives to drive safer – that means that your defensive bubble becomes stronger, because those individuals are also looking out for your safety too.”

Our behavior changes over time

Our driving behavior often changes depending on the situation. For instance, a leisurely Sunday drive is different from a long road trip where we’re anxious to arrive. However, there are some choices we make that have a bigger impact.

McMahon offers the example of a parent who drives their child to and from school each day. Many people naturally become more careful with a family member in the car, especially a child. The parent then chooses to take on extra work in the evenings, working as a delivery driver for an app-based delivery service.

With no child in the car and tight deadlines to meet, their driving behavior changes while they are working. They speed a little more, push through yellow lights, and are tempted to use their phone behind the wheel. Eventually, the parent finds that they drive as if they are making deliveries all the time – even on the way to morning drop-off for their child.

“The right thing to do from a safety perspective – like come to a full stop, look both ways, don’t speed, don’t use your phone will you drive – now, all of a sudden, that is overridden by something else,” he explained. “The real challenge is that the more we find ourselves in situations where it’s easy to override the right thing to do, the more we’re increasing that likelihood that something really bad happens.”

Road risk is on the rise

Road risk increases every day.  “You have a 16-year high in roadway fatalities that occurred in 2022, and went backwards just a touch in 2023, but the pedestrian and bicycle fatalities is at a forty-year high,” McMahon stated. “And there’s really no signs of that slowing down.” New technology comes at us all the time – new phones, tablets, screens built directly in vehicles – that threatens to take our eyes off the road.

Telematics customizes safety messages

Human error plays a large role in vehicle crashes. “I hear this a lot, that people say ‘Well, I haven’t been in an accident’ and ‘I haven’t had a speeding ticket in six years, seven years’, whatever the number is,” McMahon shared. “Unfortunately, the next trip doesn’t care about your last thousand trips.” A momentary lapse in judgment turns a perfect record into a different one.

Telematics is a way to account for change and error. McMahon points out that we tend to ignore safety messages that are personalized to us. Telematics  highlights where poor behavior is appearing in each individual driver.

Telematics on the road

For McMahon, the key success of telematics is not necessarily about the technology. It’s about the perspective the data provides to drivers about their own behavior. Every day, we rely on drivers to transport goods, take us to work and school, and bring essential materials to where they are needed. “Commercial vehicle operation is inherently a risky activity,” he explained. The safety application of telematics is one the most important, most practical, and most beneficial aspects of telematics for employers.

An investment into the future

Telematic technology is getting easier to use and more advanced every day. It is becoming less focused on cables and devices and incorporates more easy-to-use integrations. “The use cases expanding from telematics go far beyond safety,” he explained. For example, it may be used to plan routes, optimize fuel management, or effectively charge vehicles.

“Driving is no different than any other other performance-based activity,” he said, “in that when the context changes, it becomes more about trying to identify and understand these behaviors and lead to better outcomes.” McMahon compares it to the way people try to optimize everything from their diet to their sleep schedule.

“I think there’s really nothing more important right now than the risks that come with driving, because it is simply the most dangerous thing that people do on a daily basis.” Consequently, the future of telematics will focus on optimizing our driving performance and reducing poor outcomes.

February 15, 2024
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