The National Tank Truck Carriers last year launched its Zero Distractions campaign to raise awareness and help combat distracted driving, which now is more pervasive—and deadly—than drunk driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
CJ Meurell says his company deletes distractions.
Motion Intelligence, which Meurell co-founded, is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company specializing in mobile device location and identification that developed a technology capable of recognizing and disabling smart phones and tablets in the “driver’s zone,” helping prevent distracted driving.
“The economic damage of distracted driving today far exceeds drunken driving accident damage,” Meurell said during a presentation at Tank Truck Week 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. “We crossed that line two years ago, so it’s an epidemic and it’s expensive. Not only does it kill people, it really hurts your business.”
NHTSA says distracted driving costs $175 billion a year—and kills nine people daily.
Of course, distractions come in many forms, but mobile devices, and the texting, Tweeting and Snapchatting they afford, taking eyes off the roadway, are public enemy Number 1, especially for fleets.
“Cell phones are the biggest threat to any fleet,” said Clay Gaudet, fleet manager for AutoZone. “Distracted driving has surpassed drunk driving and will continue to increase until our government mandates that all OEMs and cell phone providers block cell phone usage while a vehicle is in motion.”
Meurell, citing an analysis of NHTSA and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data, said the average property damage claim from a truck-related accident, which account for 78% of these types of incidents, is $63,000. The average injury claim (21% of truck-related accidents) is $438,000—and the average fatality claim (1% of truck-related accidents) is $10.9 million.
These costs hit carriers in multiple ways, all detrimental to the bottom line. In addition to the worst possible consequences, including death, injury and property damage, insurance premiums go up, truck downtime increases, resulting in lost revenue, and the company brand takes a hit, potentially leading to a loss of customer trust and the ability to generate new business.
“A lot of fleets are self-insured, so when we stand in front of the CFO of a fleet company, we give them the spreadsheet and our ROI analysis and say, ‘Look, this is how many accidents you reported in the last two years, here are the three buckets of accidents, and if we eliminate a certain percentage of those, the ROI for having this technology installed in your operation is a no-brainer,’ Meurell said. “It pays for itself in the first six to eight weeks.”
SaaS (Software as a solution)
Technology caused the problem, so technology should solve it, too, Meurell says.
Motion Intelligence’s solution consists of its SENTRY hardware, which attaches to the windshield like a toll pass, and EVVY software, which is installed on the driver’s company-approved device.
The SENTRY features an accelerometer that measures the vehicle’s speed and is solar-powered, eliminating the need for cables, with a battery backup that provides 200 hours of life before recharging.
The software uses algorithms, along with a combination of patented send and receive technology, to pinpoint the device’s exact location in the vehicle and then lock out the cell phone screen in the driver area.
The tech works with any device with an operating system and microphone, and is accurate to within a ½-inch, Meurell said.
“When the vehicle begins to move, this hardware device broadcasts an acoustic signal in the vehicle,” he said. “We don’t use sonar, but it’s a similar technology. It’s an acoustic signal that we can’t hear.”
The system also features programmable time limits, so, for instance, the device won’t unlock while the vehicle is stopped at a traffic light, although certain features, like the ability to use Bluetooth for hands-free operation, can be left unlocked, depending on a particular fleet’s policies.
The device automatically unlocks outside the vehicle, or within a safe zone inside the vehicle, eg the passenger seat.
“We don’t want to burn the battery down on your phone, so we’re not listening for any acoustic signal on your phone when we shouldn’t be,” Meurell said. “If you’re in your own private car, and you don’t have (the SENTRY), we’re not listening for an acoustic signal.”
Meurell said Motion Intelligence, with industry help, went through many hours of troubleshooting, trying to figure out how drivers might try to fool the system, and then installing safeguards.
The most obvious way to circumvent the system is with a “rogue” device.
That won’t work, Meurell said.
If a driver brings in a phone without the EVVY software, thinking they can use that while driving and no one will be the wiser, the SENTRY device still detects it, by “seeing” a device without the software, and then sends a message to the fleet supervisor, alerting them to the rogue presence.
“It’s one of those ‘Oh darn’ moments, where the driver goes, ‘I got caught, I guess I can’t bring another phone into the vehicle,’” Meurell said.
What if the driver tries to cover the microphones or put the device in the glove box? No problem.
“If our technology does not detect two acoustic signals (from the SENTRY and the device) while the vehicle’s moving, and it should … then it goes into a school lockdown,” Meurell said. “It locks the display of the device because, if the driver has put bubblegum on the microphone or tried to tape the speakers, we don’t know where the phone is in the vehicle, so we lock the display automatically and send a message to the fleet supervisor that ‘Heads up, something’s not working quite right here, so for safety we’re locking the driver’s phone.’”
Motion Intelligence’s preferred approach is to embed its software on another platform the driver already is using, like a telematics or ELD system, making it easy for companies to deploy and utilize.
And, unlike in-cab cameras, which provide evidence and help determine fault, but can’t prevent an accident, Motion Intelligence’s system, based on a standard API interface that is easily integrated with other tech, actively works to prevent incidents by disarming distracted drivers.
“We don’t want to be another app that you download,” Meurell said. “We are imbedded in something you’re already using.
“We want to make it as easy for the driver as possible.”
It’s not hard to see the benefit for carriers either, particularly ones that can’t afford to see their logo on local news.
In Meurell’s example, pulled from public records, a company with 811 fleet vehicles experienced three fatal, 19 injury and 39 tow-away accidents in a 24-month period, costing the company $10.9 million, based on the estimate that 25% of incidents involve distracted driving.
He said Motion Intelligence’s software licensing and hardware would have cost $296,015 for the same fleet—for an ROI of 3,572%.
“Distracted driving is preventable,” Meurell said. “It’s a combination of education and technology, and, especially in the fleet business, it’s about protecting the brand.”