Driver monitoring systems, or DMS for short, are a sophisticated new type of auto technology designed to provide real-time assessments of a driver’s fitness to operate their vehicle.
Specifically, Driver Monitoring uses cameras and other sensors to pick up on signs of drowsy or distracted driving, then alert the operator of any safety risks they spot. They're also being used more widely by fleet managers and DMS features are an important part of choosing the best fleet management software for your business.
The importance of combating drowsy driving shouldn’t be underestimated. According to an AAA report, experts believe that as many as 6,400 road fatalities every year are likely to involve drowsy driving. Underlining the severity of this is the fact that the symptoms of drowsy driving mirror those of drunk driving: delayed reaction times, poor judgment, and falling asleep at the wheel.
In the context of fleet management, the risks are even more pronounced as commercial drivers will usually be operating large trucks, which require more skill to safely operate and are more dangerous when involved in accidents. The financial and reputational damage of crashing is another factor for fleet managers to consider, though obviously nothing is as valuable as human life.
Read on for an in-depth guide to driver monitoring systems, how they work, and why they’re increasingly important to an effective fleet management strategy.
A driver monitoring system is a combination of hardware and software elements that monitors driving behavior and looks to identify any potentially-unsafe actions. More specifically, driver monitoring systems use cameras and other physical sensors to feed AI algorithms with a range of driver data, which is then used to judge if the vehicle operator is at risk or not, and issue alerts accordingly.
Currently, most fleet management tools come with some driver monitoring features, though DMS with more advanced AI facial recognition features are only just starting to enter the mainstream. Expect to see them more widely offered in both fleet management products and consumer cars over the next few years. By way of a timeline and barometer, European regulations will mandate that all new cars and light commercial vehicles are equipped with driver monitoring systems from 2024.
The backbone of a Driver Monitoring System is a driver-facing camera, which can be integrated directly into a vehicle’s dashboard or take the form of a dash cam. These cameras use LED lights to capture various facial movements, which then get assessed by AI to establish a baseline of what a particular driver’s normal, attentive and safe driving state looks like.
From there, the system monitors for changes in this state that would indicate an impaired ability to drive. One obvious example would be a change in a person’s average rate of blinking, which could suggest their eyes are tired. This kind of facial data is measured against other contributing factors, such as the length of the journey and the time of day, to decide if the driver should be alerted to take a break.
Warnings are usually delivered visually on a dashboard or other display, with the inevitable coffee cup icon accompanied by rousing audio or even haptic feedback (vibration) in the steering wheel.
It’s worth noting that this is an example of the kinds of advanced driver monitoring systems currently being developed by the likes of Bosch Mobility, who say that its system takes into account as many as 70 driver cues. In addition to blinking, other signals include head tilting, steering wheel movements, eye narrowing and more.
When it comes to what’s currently offered by fleet management solutions, even the very best dash cams for truckers are a little more basic. However, they’re still useful and work in fundamentally the same way. The in-cab dash cams that accompany many fleet tools are similarly trained using AI to detect common signs of distracted driving such as eating, smoking or fiddling with the radio. Their sensors can also relay and record information regarding speed, cornering, and harsh braking.
Some, like the Samsara CM32, are now getting advanced enough to predictively warn of potential collisions and tailgating risks. Alerts are again provided, both to the driver and the fleet manager, who can add it to the rest of the driver performance data they accumulate by using fleet monitoring tools.
Absolutely. That may surprise you coming from us here at Tech.co, given we’re normally such staunch advocates of privacy and Driver Monitoring could be viewed as an intrusion. However, in the context of driving and commercial driving in particular, the safety benefits far outweigh the fact that some employees may find it unnerving to begin with.
The statistics speak for themselves in this regard: Data from AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety has drowsy driving confirmed as responsible for 100,000 crashes and 1,550 fatalities annually, in addition to 71,000 injuries. However, experts tend to agree that the real figures are likely to be much higher.
Selling DMS to your fleet drivers is all about highlighting the safety benefits for them. They have friends and family who worry about them, too, and Driver Monitoring System technology promises to give everyone far more peace of mind than diner coffee and Pro Plus ever can.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out a couple of home truths. First, fleets tend to be monitored in a variety of ways already, these days. For instance, your trucks might be equipped with one of the best ELD devices to ensure drivers stay within hours-of-service regulations.
Then there’s the fact that the US is already the most-watched nation on earth. If your drivers are already being snapped every time they stop for gas or at a 7/11, is there really any harm in some dashboard alertness tracking, if it helps them get back to their loved ones safely after a cross-country trip? We’d argue not and think most drivers would probably agree.
Safety is the common denominator here. In a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study of commercial vehicle crashes, it was found that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers were fatigued at the time of the accident. For fleet managers, crashes may be an occasional inevitably but they’re also the worst-case scenario for every deployment as they mean missed deadlines and additional costs. Anything that can be done to reduce incident rates and the financial consequences is a win-win.
Beyond that, healthy and well-rested drivers are going to perform better in the long run, which helps you stick to your delivery strategy and meet client expectations. It also makes you a better employer and enhances your credibility when it comes to duty of care.
Lastly, safe driving is better for the trucks themselves, as minimizing activity such as sharp braking and abrupt turning can help keep maintenance costs down. In short, knowledge is power and driver monitoring helps equip you with more actionable data than ever before. From a business perspective, it’s a no-brainer when it comes integrated with overall fleet management tools that also help you plan the most efficient routes, cut fuel consumption and more.
When it comes to driver monitoring tools, the best solutions combine hardware and software to help ensure fleet operations run safely and smoothly. Usually, this means a physical dash cam backed by AI that analyzes footage and flags unsafe behavior and signs of tiredness.
Our expert research highlights Verizon Connect, Samsara and Teletrac Navman as the top fleet management solutions for driver monitoring and safety features. In addition, Azuga’s products offer this kind of functionality to good effect, and Speedir offers strong standalone driver monitoring tech. However, note that most fleet and enterprise-caliber tools currently do not offer cutting-edge features like eyeball tracking, as these are still being developed.
Awarded a 4.7 score in our Verizon Connect review,we rate Verizon as our top fleet management system based on our impartial testing process. Among other impressive features, the physical dash cam offered as part of this system is backed by an AI cloud that both warns drivers of unsafe behavior and flags unsafe driving with managers, using relevant tags. It's a particularly good option for medium-to-large sized fleets due to the cost savings on offer, which combine with the smart monitoring and safety alerts for a package that's hard to beat.
Boasting a score of 4.7/5 in our Samsara Fleet review, which puts it on par with Verizon, this solution comes with a dash cam featuring AI Event Detection to help ensure safe following distances and flag distracted driving behavior such as checking a personal smartphone device or snacking. It also has a predictive forward collision warning system, currently in beta, and gamifies driver performance using a points/leaderboard system to encourage best practice.
Teletrac Navman TN360
Earning a 4.6/5 score in our Teletrac Navman review, the TN360 comes with a safety analytics module that utilizes an AI-powered dash cam to provide driver safety alerts, predictive feedback, and record data for acceleration, cornering and harsh braking. The data feeds in to a points system and is presented through leaderboard functionality, giving both drivers and managers an easy way to monitor performance.
Azuga’s AI Dashcam promises to detect a wide range of unsafe driving behavior, including signs of distracted and tired driving, like yawning. It links with Azuga’s fleet tracking app to provide another fully integrated fleet tracking option. As highlighted in our Azuga review, another major selling point of its safety features is the seat belt alert that’s unique amongst its competitors.
To get a taste of the full power and future of driving monitoring tools, Speedir’s AI dash cam is one of the few commercially available products we could find that promises advanced functionality like eye-ball tracking to help diagnose drowsy driving. Unfortunately, this award-winning product doesn’t seem to integrate with popular fleet management solutions but is a standalone tool in its own right.
Driver monitoring systems are an integral part of the future of car safety. With semi-autonomous driving modes set to feature in more and more mainstream cars, ensuring drivers remain alert is essentially a precondition of entering this brave new, self-driving world.
When you look at the statistics of how deadly drowsy and distracted driving can be, it’s difficult to argue against using driver monitoring systems. The same is true when it comes to large commercial fleets, where even more is at stake on so many levels, for both the individual drivers and the business concerned. Privacy concerns should never be diminished, but in this case the greater good makes it easy to endorse driver monitoring systems as the way forward for business and everyday drivers alike.
Learn More About Fleet Management
If you want to improve the management of your commercial fleet, a fleet management system is a great place to start — whether you're running a business with five pizza delivery vehicles, or thousands of semis. You'll be more efficient with planning driver routes, managing the upkeep of your vehicles, and monitoring driver workloads. What's more, your business will be fully compliant with the ELD mandate.
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