How would you drive if you knew your boss was watching?
That's at least partially the premise of an increasingly popular practice of trucking companies installing in-cabin cameras in their big rigs. The dual action cameras capture both the road ahead as well as the actions of the driver - but only when triggered by specific actions such as hard-braking, rapid acceleration or swerving. The goal is to drive down the number of trucking accidents in Fairfield County, Connecticut and throughout the country.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports an estimated that some 400,000 trucks are now equipped with these cameras, which cost approximately $36 each. Given that there are a total of 3.6 million heavy trucks (mostly tractor-trailers) on the road, it still leaves plenty of room for expansion. Trucking industry executives say that's a likely outcome, as it has reportedly benefited the industry in a number of ways, and may well soon become required by the federal regulators.
Some expect this technology could reshape the trucking industry and trucking accident litigation. In some ways, companies say it already has.
While some truckers have complained about this as a "Big Brother-like intrusion" on their privacy, trucking companies say it has gone a long way toward improving safety. For example, one company out of New Jersey installed these dual cameras in 2,200 of its fleet three years ago. Since then, its accident frequency has been reduced by half. Insurance costs fell too, by 30 percent.
On top of that, firms say the videos have provided valuable in court evidence in cases where the trucker was not at-fault, but the case hinged on he-said-she-said testimony otherwise. It's actually helped in cases where the truck driver was at-fault, companies say, because by providing concrete proof of the trucker's negligence, companies were motivated to settle quickly with plaintiffs, as opposed to fighting tooth-and-nail in a drawn out litigation process.
Trucking companies also say there are training benefits to having their trucks outfitted with cameras. Truck drivers encounter hazards on the road almost daily, and not all motorists are as cautious as they should be around these over-sized vehicles. Video images of truck drivers deftly avoiding crashes with quick reflexes and appropriate responses are now being shown as part of educational exercises for new truck driver recruits.
The systems are designed to be "on" at all times, but only record when there is a trigger. They preserve clips from a few seconds before an incident, capture the incident and then continue recording for several seconds after.
While large truck accidents resulting in fatalities has fallen nearly 75 percent since the mid-1970s when considering the per-mile rate, it's now on par with the fatal crash rates of passenger cars. Plus, recent data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reveals trucking accidents have risen by 8 percent just from 2014 to 2015. More than 4,300 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), which is a 26 percent increase since 2009.
Drivers of big rigs are seven times more likely than the average worker to die on-the-job. In these cases, workers' compensation death benefits may be available to surviving family members, and there could be grounds for a third-party liability lawsuit if another driver was at-fault, or if a vehicle manufacturer or maintenance provider was negligent.