Swift Transportation to install driver-facing cameras

By John Bendel, Land Line editor-at-large | 4/22/2015

Swift Transportation informed its drivers last week that the company will deploy dual video recording systems in all company trucks beginning in May. The systems include both forward-facing and driver-facing lenses. Installation of driver-facing cameras, sometimes considered distasteful to drivers, represents a risk for Swift at a time when most truckload fleets concede their most pressing concern is recruiting and retaining drivers.

According to Swift’s website, the company operates more than 18,000 power units and does more than $4 billion in business a year. The company ranks by revenue as the second-largest truckload carrier (behind Schneider) and the sixth-largest for-hire fleet overall in the most recent Transport Topics Top 100 survey. Swift will be the largest for-hire truckload carrier yet to deploy driver-facing cameras.

A Swift spokesman said the company had no comment on the internal announcement.

Concerns with driver-facing cameras were underlined in December when PeopleNet, the onboard computing company with a large carrier market share, introduced a four-camera video system that pointedly omitted a driver-facing lens. One PeopleNet executive explained they had heard from fleets who didn’t want to lose drivers by “putting a camera in their face,” while another said, “We are not watching the driver; we are watching out for the driver.”

Swift’s internal announcement last week came in the form of a video distributed over the fleet’s Omnitracs onboard communications system. The video featured Swift President and Chief Operating Officer Richard Stocking speaking directly to drivers.

“We want you to think of it as your in-cab coach,” Stocking says in the video. The systems, he continues, will help “correct at-risk driving behaviors you might not be aware of.”

Stocking said a forward-looking camera can help “exonerate or clear you,” noting that 80 percent of accidents involving trucks are not caused by the professional driver. 

In the video, Stocking speaks directly to the issue of driver-facing cameras.

“Now I know what you may be thinking. Why are we placing inward-facing video in our trucks?” he says.

“Jerry (Swift CEO Jerry Moyes) and I have talked with many of you about these concerns, and we want you to know that we are doing this for you,” Stocking says pointing to the camera. “We want you to be successful in all you do and to be safe doing it.”

Later in the video, Stocking implores Swift’s drivers, “I am personally asking that you resist listening to all the rumors and misinformation that seems to be circulating.”

Those rumors, said one Swift employee who asked to remain nameless, involved claims that the video systems would monitor drivers constantly, allowing management to see what a driver is doing at any time.

Stocking takes on that issue in the video. “The in-cab coach is controlled by your driving behaviors. We cannot and do not want to watch you in real time,” he says. “In fact, the video recorder will only record when there is an event like swerving or braking. And then it’s only capturing 10 seconds before and 10 seconds after the event.” 

Actually the video system called DriveCam does record the entire time it is on. But recordings are only saved and forwarded for review when the system is triggered by an event like hard braking or swerving. Otherwise when the system runs out of available memory, it simply records over previous data. Only the 10 seconds before and after an event are transmitted, and in any case DriveCam does not allow real time viewing.

Video clips triggered by an event go to a DriveCam facility first where they are evaluated. Only those events that meet certain criteria are forwarded on to Swift for consideration. Thus minor incidents -- a pothole, for example -- are disregarded.

According to DriveCam data sheets provided to Swift drivers, an event trigger cannot be initiated remotely.

It isn’t clear exactly how many Swift trucks will be outfitted with DriveCam. Of the company’s 18,000 power units, only 6,081 are described as “company owned” in the Transport Topics listing. More than 5,000 trucks are owner operators who are specifically excluded from the program according to the video. In question are 6,685 trucks listed as “lease-to-own tractors.”

Even if the implementation is limited to the 6,081 company-owned trucks, it has to be a major order for DriveCam distributor Lytx Inc. Only nine other fleets in the United States, private and for-hire, field more than 6,000 power units.

However like Swift, San Diego-based Lytx declined to comment on its apparent blockbuster sale.

According to the Swift video, implementation will take place in three phases beginning in May.

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