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7 technologies for improved fleet safety

The Trapeze Team | July 22, 2015

In the UK, around 160,000 buses and coaches traverse the country's roads, ferrying passengers on some 5.2 billion journeys each year.1 Behind the wheels of these vehicles are some 105,000 bus drivers, each responsible for the safety and well-being of their passengers.

Every single one of these journeys represents an opportunity for a driver to do a great job and deliver exceptional passenger – or customer – service.

But of course they also have the potential for drivers to get things wrong. Indeed, the accident rate for buses is more than twice as high as that for all other vehicles.2

And, while most reported accidents are relatively minor, there will also unfortunately be far more serious incidents: statistics compiled by the UK Government show that in 2013 alone there were around 300 fatal or serious accidents involving buses and coaches per billion miles.3

Keeping drivers and passengers safe is therefore of utmost importance to any public transport organisation. But ensuring the safety of your transport fleet presents unique challenges. This paper examines seven technologies, which, when used separately or in conjunction with each, other do just that.

Photo of buses

Technology 1: Automatic Vehicle Location

Using Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) technology provides real-time location information for every vehicle in your fleet. GPS enables in-vehicle devices to send location information back to the office, where dispatchers track vehicle movement on their electronic maps. In the event of an emergency, the exact location of each vehicle can be acquired instantly.

AVL can also be used to create boundaries for vehicles, based either on timeframes or geographic zones. When vehicles move outside these predefined limits, managers are immediately alerted. This means it is possible to track and quickly apprehend stolen fleet vehicles, and address unauthorised vehicle use or vehicle misuse.

Furthermore, drivers themselves can use the technology to monitor their progress along routes – comparing with timetables and schedules to see whether they are driving too quickly, for example.

Technology 2: Driver monitoring and training

Though most transport managers would agree that managing driver behaviour is important to the safety of drivers and passengers, it has been difficult to enforce safety standards from the traffic office - until now.

A driver behaviour monitoring system uses a GPS device installed in the vehicle to gather data, called vehicle telematic data, to track information such as vehicle speed, instances of hard braking, cornering and overall smoothness of driving. Managers can set speed thresholds and be alerted in real-time when a driver surpasses the threshold.

Managers can use this information as a corrective tool to alert drivers to unsafe driving and to ensure drivers are meeting your organisation's safety standards. Driver monitoring tools also allow for easy identification of trends that determine whether a driver is improving or requires additional training.

Of course, often the best way to implement safe driving practices across all drivers in your fleet is to ensure they receive the best training possible before setting out on the road. Technology can play a role here, too, as driver training systems support training through the use of map-linked video footage with customisable audio/visual commentary.

Through simulation the system enables drivers to study and learn routes in the safety and comfort of a classroom environment, improving route knowledge and hazard awareness before getting behind a wheel. Driver training systems like this play a crucial part of the driver training process at National Express West Midlands, where drivers can also use training simulators from the comfort of their own homes.4

Indeed, it is also possible for drivers to use these training tools after they have become fully qualified drivers. Doing so can help refresh their memories of infrequently driven routes, or even help to learn new routes.  

Technology 3: In-vehicle cameras

A major challenge facing fleet managers is being able to clearly see what is happening inside their vehicles. Installing in-vehicle cameras gives managers a view inside their buses, either in real-time or through historical playback.

With in-vehicle cameras, managers can monitor driving behaviour, which helps to improve the safety of their drivers and passengers. In the case of a criminal incident, agencies can use tape from in-vehicle cameras as evidence. However, in many cases, having cameras installed is enough to deter criminals and keep drivers and passengers safer.

There's also a potential cost-saving element here, too, because utilising footage from CCTV and other cameras can be useful when dealing with insurance claims, in protecting against spurious or false claims from passengers or other road users. 

Technology 4: In-vehicle emergency buttons

There will be certain locations on any bus route that present a higher safety risk to your passengers, drivers and vehicles than others. Examples of safety-risk incidents include robberies and anti-social behaviour from passengers or certain pedestrians.

In an emergency situation, a driver may be alone in the vehicle, incapacitated, and unable to communicate with the traffic office via traditional radio methods. Installing an emergency button or alarm in your vehicles – ideally in your driver's cab – enables the driver simply to hit a switch to alert your traffic office or even the police in an emergency situation.

In order to ensure help arrives as quickly as possible, it is possible to use installed GPS/AVL data to instantly locate the vehicle, which can greatly reduce the amount of time it takes support teams or the authorities to arrive.

Emergency buttons can also be of value if an incident with a passenger arises. Drivers can discretely push a hidden emergency button to alert the traffic office that there is an emergency on their vehicle.

Technology 5: Modern communication tools

In the event of an emergency situation, it is crucial that all lines of communication between the traffic office and the vehicle and driver stay open.

With in-vehicle mobile computers, drivers and back office staff can communicate using text messages in real-time. This eliminates reliance on radio communication and provides an added communication-safety net for traffic office staff, who know that if they are unable to reach drivers via the radio, they can send information and updates directly to their mobile computer screen.

Of course, effective communication channels flow both ways, so not only can office staff send information to drivers; drivers can also alert traffic office staff to any safety issues with their vehicle. Drivers can also communicate information regarding travel disruption, or provide information about certain parts of routes that are more hazardous or dangerous than others.

Technology 6: Vehicle monitoring and maintenance updates

A core part of a fleet manager's responsibility is ensuring that all vehicles are compliant with relevant health and safety regulations, and that their physical condition is maintained as it should be.

Technology can take the stress out of manually managing these processes with an automated vehicle monitoring system, which provides automatic warnings and alerts when scheduled maintenance is due or when vehicles are in need of urgent repair.

Indeed, such a system can store all internal and external service and repairs information, as well as technician performance analysis, fixed parts and labour charging information, as well as smoke test and MOT details. It is also possible to easily print maintenance service sheet schedules as and when necessary.

The importance of such vehicle diagnostics monitoring avoids dangerous scenarios where vehicles breakdown, stranding drivers and passengers in potentially high speed traffic areas, which raises the prospect of costly, dangerous accidents. It also optimises the performance of every single vehicle in your fleet by anticipating maintenance issues before they turn into safety issues and hazards.

These tools can also help save money in terms of scheduling vehicle downtime. By monitoring the state of your vehicles, and comparing it with other fleet management technology, it is possible to schedule vehicle downtime for maintenance at the most optimal time – for example, when demand for capacity is reduced, or when numerous drivers are unavailable due to planned leave.

Technology 7: Reduce driver stress

There is little doubt that driving a bus can be an extremely stressful job. In a high-pressured environment, it can be difficult for drivers to focus properly on the task at hand. This significantly increases the safety risk posed to the driver, passengers and the vehicle itself.

Anything which reduces things the driver has to worry about is therefore a significant factor – which is why this is an area where technology can play a huge role.

Technology already exists to ensure drivers aren't asked to work unfamiliar routes; are aware of recent incidents on the route; and even have access to information relating to crime in the areas they are travelling through.

Technology can also be used to eliminate possible distraction from other sources, such as mobile phones and computers. Mobile computers, for example – like the ones we mentioned earlier – can be set with a blocker, such as a clock, map or blank screen, to prevent access to the application while the vehicle is in motion - thereby limiting the driver's interaction with the computer until the vehicle is safely stopped.

Furthermore, by ensuring drivers are relaxed about fairness and processes relating to duties, holidays, shifts and swaps, we can take away the associated periphery stress that comes with the job of being a bus driver (but is not actually associated with the act of driving a bus). In doing so we can ensure drivers are entirely focused on the simple act of driving their vehicle as safely as they can.

Of course, happier drivers will also mean happier passengers – and happier passengers usually lead to increased revenue and profits, which is something we can all relate to!5,6   

Conclusion

Maintaining the safety of your drivers and passengers is the most important job of any transport fleet manager. In-vehicle and in-office technology can reduce the time required to locate a vehicle in an emergency, improve driver behavior, lower crime rates, open lines of communication, and enable preventative vehicle maintenance. When these technologies are paired with a conscientious management team, stringent safety standards, and extensive safety training, exceptional fleet safety is within your reach.

References

  1. "Bus Statistics: Great Britain" Department for Transport https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bus-statistics
  2. "Bus industry, usage, economic activity and environmental statistics: Great Britain" Department for Transport, (September 2013) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/244334/bus-summary-statistics-2013.pdf
  3. "Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2013 annual report" Department for Transport (September 2013)  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/359311/rrcgb-2013.pdf
  4. "Maintaining Standards: the importance of driver training" Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/case_study/maintaining-standards-the-importance-of-driver-training
  5. ADNEY, P., "6 Tips For Happy Drivers" Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/lp/6-tips-happy-drivers
  6. "Increasing Bus Usage with Passenger Information" Trapeze http://www.trapezegroup.co.uk/lp/increasing-bus-use-passenger-information

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The Trapeze Team are here to bring you news and information from Trapeze Group (UK) and the public transportation industry.

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