Study Shows Monitoring Plus Coaching Can Cut Risky Driving in Half

By Jim Sams | September 24, 2020

Oil-field workers who bomb around in pickups across hundreds of miles of countryside every work week cut speeding and hard braking in half once their boss started monitoring their driving habits and scoring their skills.

Researchers for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute were able to measure that change after a vendor installed dongles in the pickups driven by a crew of oil and gas well service workers without the drivers’ knowledge. Once the in-vehicle monitoring system was revealed and the oilfield workers were coached to avoid excessive speed, sharp turns and hard braking, instances of speeding dropped by 60% and aggressive driving by 50%.

Virginia Tech research associate Andrew Miller said the research confirms previous findings by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health that found coaching is a crucial piece of any driver monitoring system.

“The monitoring systems themselves weren’t necessarily effective on their own, but with the inclusion of some sort of accountability then you see the change in behavior,” he said.

The study on in-vehicle driver monitoring systems was one of three research products released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in recent months that demonstrate the potential of technology and careful attention to driver training to ward off commercial auto claims.

The university also released a return-on-investment calculator that calculates how much savings can be realized by installing advanced driver safety technology. Also, a study on commercial motor carriers concludes that driver experience is more important than age when considering risk.

Each of the reports was commissioned by the National Surface Transportation Center for Excellence.

For the driver monitoring study, researchers collected 3,500 hours of data from a fleet of 23 pickups driven by employees who maintained 30 well rigs in western Colorado and eastern Utah. Neither the drivers nor their managers were told the results of that monitoring.

That initial monitoring collected enough data to create a baseline for comparison from 21 of the vehicles. Researchers then began actively monitoring the driving habits of four employees who agreed to participate in a more detailed study. Researchers collected data for six weeks and then began to intervene when the drivers exhibited risky behavior. Employees were scored on their driving behaviors each week over a six-week period. The information was shared via a web portal and weekly emailed reports the allowed the workers to view specific incidents of speeding, hard braking or change in direction.

The result: Speeding events that ranged from 3.6 to 8.7 per hour when the drivers were unaware of the monitoring devices dropped to 3.61 to 1.49 during the six-week “intervention period,” when the drivers were coached and scored. Aggressive driving events, which ranged from 0.89 per hour to 1.18 initially, dropped to a range of 0.59 to 0.41 during the intervention period.

The researchers said safer driving is crucially important for the oil extraction industry. The annual fatality rate for oil and gas workers is six times the U.S. average for all workers. Motor vehicles cause 40% of those fatalities.

Data returned from the research also sheds light on the perils of traveling to far-flung well sites. The monitoring devices showed workers drove an average of 147.5 miles to each well site, adding almost three hours of driving to a 12.5-hour average work day. Miller said most were scheduled to work seven days followed by seven days off.

Miller said the long hours are concerning because fatigue is a common cause of accidents. He said federal motor carrier regulations that apply to commercial trucking firms do not apply to oil and gas well service workers.

Return on investment

The Virginia Tech research shows that in-vehicle monitoring systems are one way to improve safety. But how would the cost of installing that equipment, or other advanced safety technology, impact the employers’ bottom line?

Virginia Tech’s “Large Truck Technology Return-on-Investment Calculator — which was also plugged in a media announcement last week — can tell fleet managers or risk managers exactly how much bang they will get for their buck.

To build the calculator, the Virginia Tech team consulted with a panel of experts commercial trucking to give their estimates on how effective various advanced safety technology systems are in reducing accidents, said researcher Matthew Camden. He said the numbers are based on “real world data.”

Advanced safety systems have been around since at least 2008, so insurance carriers and trucking companies that have installed devices have a good understanding about the cost of crashes and how many are avoided after safety systems are installed, Camden said. He said most studies up to now have based potential accident avoidance rates on simulations or probability models.

The safety ROI calculator gives ranges of costs of equipment and potential accident avoidance:

  • Automatic emergency braking is expected to prevent 16% to 28% of trucks striking the rear-end of other vehicles at a cost of $2,500 per vehicle.
  • Lane departure warning equipment will prevent from 30% to 47.8% of side-swipe, run-off-the road and head-on crashes at a cost of $1,000 per vehicle.
  • Video-based in-vehicle monitoring systems will prevent from 20% to 52.2% of large-truck crashes involving driver error, at cost of $525 plus $40 a month for the monitoring and coaching.

For cost-of-accident input, the calculator relies on data from the American Transportation Research Institute. Property damage crashes cost $43,124 each, injury crashes $217,657, and fatal crashes $4,340,160.

To use the calculator, managers must enter data that is specific to their fleet of vehicles, such as the period of time over which equipment is being financed, driver pay and benefit costs and driver turnover rates. Camden said Virginia Tech built two versions of the calculator. One is designed for financial officers and risk managers; it asks for specific financial data, such as depreciation rates. A less complicated version of the calculator is designed for fleet managers and uses default values based on statistical averages.

Camden said the point of the calculator is to hand trucking companies a tool that will allow them to objectively analyze the cost and benefits of installing advanced safety technology. While many trucking companies have made substantial investments, he said many safety advocates and government regulators would like the transportation sector to pick up the pace.

“The adoption of these technologies is slower than some people would like,” he said.

Age and experience

The Virginia Tech study on the impact of age and experience on commercial motor carrier accident rates addresses the human portion of the safety equation. In short, the researchers found that a driver’s first year on the road behind the wheel of a commercial motor vehicle is the most dangerous.

That is especially true if the new driver is more than 55 years or older. The research determined that inexperienced drivers of that age were involved in more crashes than younger counterparts. The researchers concluded that fleet managers should retain older experienced drivers for mentoring programs with inexperienced drivers. Also, fleets may benefit from video-based technologies to monitor driver behavior for training purposes.

“Video-based technology systems have been shown to be associated with a reduction in crashes and risky driving behavior, such as cell phone use while driving, late braking, and following too closely,” the report says.

That lesson has already been learned by, which is one of few retailers enjoying booming sales during the coronavirus pandemic and presumably hiring a fair share of inexperienced drivers. Amazon contracts with eDriving to monitor and coach its drivers through a telematics program called Mentor.

Jim Noble, eDriving’s senior vice president of risk engineering, said Virginia Tech’s message of monitoring coupled with training matches his company’s approach to improving driver safety. He said when a driver exhibits risky behaviors, they are assigned to training directly by the Mentor app. The system delivers several different messages to avoid monotonously reporting the same advice time after time. Drivers need they know the areas where they need to show improvement as a result, he said.

Noble said Virginia Tech’s return-on investment-calculator will be useful to fleet managers, who now depend on their colleagues, sales pitches or professional publications to gather data about the cost and benefits of advanced safety technology.

“None of this is pennies, so when you are making an investment, whether it’s a minor investment or major investment, you want to know where you’re getting a return on your dollar,” Noble said.

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