Between 40 and 50% of trucking fleets in Canada currently use telematics systems to manage their assets. That number is substantially higher in the U.S., where trucking fleets' use of telematics systems grew from 35% in 2015 to a stunning 90% in 2019, primarily propelled by new regulatory requirements for electronic logging. With similar electronic requirements launching in Canada in June 2021, experts expect the Canadian trucking industry to experience a similar uptick in the use of telematics.

This growth in the adoption of telematics is fuelling a parallel broadening of the types of data and integrations this technology can supply. Telematics relies on two specific technologies, GPS tracking and onboard diagnostics (OBD), to gather and deliver critical vehicle data. While most companies primarily employ telematics to track their fleets, the technology can also be a game-changer when it comes to safety. Here are 5 ways telematics can improve your fleet safety.

1. Easy Asset Tracking

Telematics allows companies to easily track and control their fleet assets and map out the best and fastest routes. However, it also provides companies with an opportunity to map out safer routes and avoid hazards and bad weather. Telematics systems will also immediately inform both managers and emergency services in the event of an accident or breakdown. Your drivers will get the help they need when they need it.

2. Improved Driver Behavior

Driving behavior is a leading cause of roadway accidents for commercial motor vehicles. According to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), excessive speed was a factor in 25% of all commercial vehicle crashes. However, other driver behaviors, including improper lane changes, following too closely (tailgating), and inattention, followed close behind.

Many companies already use telematics to track speed, but that is just one of many driver behaviors it can track. It can also monitor braking, acceleration, idling and many other actions. This provides opportunities to reward good behavior and address problematic behavior before it results in a fine or accident. For example, telematics can log information about seatbelt use, safety checks and load securement. More advanced systems can even intervene when a driver makes a poor choice. They can, for example, lock a driver's phone or prevent the truck from moving until the seatbelt is engaged.

Many telematics systems can distill all of the data they gather into a driver scorecard which employers can consult to support additional training, remediation or disciplinary actions. The complex data supplied by telematics can inform training and it allows managers to precisely target and deliver the exact training their drivers require. Conversely, you can create a reward system that provides incentives for achieving a high driving score.

3. Enhanced Maintenance Routines

Improperly maintained vehicles are a safety hazard to drivers and the public and are a huge risk exposure for companies and their insurers. In addition to preventing accidents, telematics can keep track of driver behaviors which create the need for additional maintenance. This allows managers to address these behaviors and help protect brakes, transmissions, tires and suspensions. Unanticipated last-minute repairs can be expensive and can result in supply chain and logistics interruptions. Telematics informs managers and supervisors of vehicle diagnostics in real-time. This means they can anticipate maintenance and service and avoid the expensive downtime and accidents caused by service issues.

Most telematics systems will also proactively remind drivers and managers of maintenance schedules and will track usage to warn when it's time for additional, preventative maintenance. This type of data can also allow companies to switch heavily used vehicles in the fleet for alternate vehicles in order to increase the longevity of assets and improve safety.

4. Better Safety ROI

Improved fleet safety can also enhance your company's bottom line and allow you to direct that cost savings to other safety initiatives. Efficient fleet management translates into cost savings, and the data supplied by telematics can significantly improve the quality and capacity of your fleet management. Targeted training, better vehicle maintenance and driver behavior monitoring are all examples of safety benefits of telematics that can also save a company money. There are others as well. For example, telematics can supply data on fuel consumption and help determine whether switching to electric or fuel-saving vehicles makes sense financially and in terms of safety.

Idling is both expensive and hard to monitor by traditional methods. It also has a tremendous negative impact on the environment. Telematics can provide managers with real-time data on idling and send warnings or alerts to drivers when idling become excessive.

While telematics will alert managers when vehicles need servicing, it will also tell you when they don't. You'll save by running well-maintained vehicles and by avoiding over-servicing other vehicles.

5. Less Paperwork, More Efficiency, More Safety

In the most recent OBD systems, the external electronic logging device (ELD) or telematics unit connects directly to a portal in the vehicle to access OBD data. This allows companies to easily track and assess driver logs and ensure compliance and public safety. It also eases oversight by transportation authorities, which also translates to improved fleet safety.

There is also hope that the acceleration of electronic logging and the increased use of telematics by fleet managers will automate some of the data collection currently used in the SmartWay program in the U.S. and Canada. SmartWay is a voluntary program run by the Canadian and U.S. governments that encourages best practices and specifically targets emission reductions in the trucking industry. Telematics could eventually allow SmartWay to make fleet-specific recommendations for operational improvements and fuel efficiency.

Telematics and Fleet Safety

Telematics can help companies better manage and protect their assets, but it also offers an unparalleled opportunity to improve fleet safety. Employers who are not currently utilizing telematics may wish to seriously consider the potential benefits.