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Telematics in Commercial Trucking: Wheels on the Road and Eyes in the Sky

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Wide-open roads thanks to fewer drivers behind the wheel in 2020 due to COVID-19 saw accident frequency go down but, unfortunately, accident severity continued to spike for both personal and commercial vehicles. Speed was a contributing factor for large losses and behind the drive of rising insurance rates.

Now that everyone is back on the road, including truckers, it’s time to ramp up safety through the utilization of telematics, the latest in video technology and connected vehicles. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, vehicles equipped with telematics software have been linked to safer driving behavior and patterns, as telematics captures speed, hard braking, tailgating, driver distraction and other behaviors.

Insurers Are On Board With Telematics

Mike Mitchell, RPS Area President – Transportation, says insurers are increasingly helping out transportation companies and truckers with telematics to improve their safety and minimize accidents.

“The utilization of telematics to capture driver behavior and prevent accidents up to now has been more widely accepted by larger accounts [11 trucks or more],” says Mitchell.

“They typically have both the financial resources to invest in telematics and the risk managers on staff to track and utilize the data to improve driver safety through training. If a particular driver has a track record of habitually performing badly, it could be a huge liability for the insured. A trucking carrier can take steps to rehabilitate a driver.”

Telematics Software Isn’t Just for Large Fleets

Mitchell also says more insurers are making telematics available to smaller, non-fleet accounts [1-10 trucks]. Some insurers are absorbing part of the costs involved with telematics – providing a camera and an annual subscription for a specified number of years as long as the trucking company remains an insured with the insurer. Other insurers are providing a discount for telematics utilization.

“In 2020, one insurer in particular provided brand-new ventures, which is historically a challenging segment, with telematics,” says Mitchell. The insurer found the segment performing well with the addition of telematics. It was also a perfect time to equip the start-ups with telematics during the pandemic as the insurer charged only for the miles driven which were tracked with telematics.

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“The insurance company knew how much to charge, along with providing the trucking firms with real-time feedback on their performance and safety.”

Benefits Beyond Improving Safety

Telematics can also be used to determine the responsible party in an accident.

“Front- and rear-facing video cameras can serve as a significant tool in a lawsuit involving a vehicular accident when the event is unclear. Often, it is assumed the trucker is at fault, and a video camera can help clarify who is actually responsible,” says Mitchell.

This is particularly critical with the proliferation of civil cases with jury verdicts totaling more than $10 million, known as “nuclear verdicts,” which, along with litigation funding, have significantly altered the business of fleet management.

Video footage can even help prevent litigation and avoid going to court.

“If the footage shows the claimant doesn’t have a strong case, he or she may settle for less with the trucking firm mitigating the increased defense and legal costs that come with litigation,” notes Mitchell.

“On the contrary, if the video shows the trucker was clearly at fault, the carrier may offer to pay up to the policy limits to avoid going to court and the possibility of a large verdict being rendered.”

When it comes to telematics, increasingly more trucking companies are getting in the driver’s seat and seeing the benefits it provides in driver accountability, increased safety, fewer accidents and the potential for lower premiums. As more insurers partner with insureds to help them with the cost of telematics, the path to utilization is wide open.

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