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An AI camera becomes an in-cab coach – Chris L’Ecluse

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Every time we get behind the wheel we make choices. Unfortunately, poor choices are a major factor contributing to death and serious injuries on our roads. In the first half of 2022 alone, there have already been 187 road deaths, with victims across all age groups. The good news is that an evidence-led approach can make a difference and encourage safer behaviour.

In May, a six-month trial of safety cameras in Auckland was introduced in an effort to call on drivers to buckle up and put their phones down when driving. While the trial of safety cameras is relatively new to Kiwis, this system has been in Australia since last year with steep penalties.

With all this in mind, we sat down for a chat with Solutions Specialist Chris L’Ecluse, who used to work in crash investigation in the Western Australian police force, about the roles of safety cameras and driver education. He admits that during the trial in Australia, the sheer number of people using their phone or not wearing a seatbelt (even children!) shocked him to no end.

The efforts to change a culture

“There is a direct correlation between having safety cameras and reducing collisions. When you text and drive, you lose situational awareness”, Chris says. “And when that happens, not only do you become a danger to yourself and other road users, but you’re also less likely to know where those cameras are. That’s why they can catch you.”

Having trained Advanced Defensive Driving in many countries worldwide, Chris adopts the habit of constantly observing driving behaviour wherever he goes and seeing it through the lens of culture. “Looking at the road toll in some countries, you realise driving is a gamble,” Chris says.

His work experience shapes his belief that the long-term goal of the trial is not just reducing the collision rate but changing culture instead. But culture can’t change overnight. It must start with smaller steps, like improving people’s mindset and behaviour.

“If you’re going to drive while talking on your mobile phone or not wearing a seatbelt, it demonstrates a clear personality trait that you don’t think the rules apply to you,” Chris explains. “If you get caught, you get a big fine. You might come very close to losing your licence. This flow-on effect aims to make people think about the consequences of their actions.”

Driving is a discipline

The biggest challenge in changing people’s behaviour is the lack of education. Chris believes that more people need to be aware that driving is a discipline, not an activity.

The majority of workplace fatalities occur when operating a vehicle. For fleet operators wanting to build a culture of safety and improve fleet performance, driver education should be a top priority. Chris says that many companies that he speaks to just wait for something bad to occur then they deal with the aftermath, rather than proactively mitigating the risk from the get-go. “The keyword here is to be proactive. Fleet companies need to have a solid understanding of their duty of care and where the risks lie.”

One out-of-the-box driver upskilling solution for fleet companies can be telematics. “Telematics does present absolute data to a driver, let them know what their driving looks like. And often, people are shocked.”

As a veteran driver trainer, Chris notices the startling difference when he’s in the car coaching someone versus when he’s not there. “When I’m in the vehicle, they demonstrated almost perfect driving. The minute I leave the car, they fall back into bad habits.” But AI-enabled dashcams can play the critical role of coaching drivers in real time to get them back into caution mode. “It tells whether you’re over the speed limit, things like stop signs, distance between yourself and the vehicle in front, and gives you the warning. It’s like having a driver trainer next to you as you go about your journey.”

A more driver-focused approach

As good as technology like smart dashcams can get, it’s relatively common for fleet operators to have a problem getting drivers’ buy-in, but is there a rationale behind the hesitation of drivers?

“I did some research, and I found that many drivers aren’t appropriately consulted. They believe that someone must be watching their journey in real-time on a map, 24/7. There’s no such thing as mission control watching all the screens and every single journey. The dashcams are just in the background, recording the trips, and by the end of each month, there will be a report identifying some areas for improvements that fleet operators can look into and act upon”, Chris explains.

Once fleet operators realise that, they focus more on proper education and consultation with their workforce. “While there’s often resistance to start with, I found in organisations that have a successful approach to cameras in the vehicles, drivers don’t want to go out without them. Professional drivers often find its people around them causing a collision. This is where cameras are hugely beneficial because they can demonstrate physically what occurred.”

Be more aware of your own driving

Chris has noticed that Kiwis appear more connected on the road compared to Australian drivers. “My take is that in New Zealand, you have more geographic scenery, which doesn’t distract but engage people. When people remain focused with their driving tasks, inherently they become safer.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be room for improvement. “The first step to becoming a better driver is to look in the mirror, understand where the failings are, and try to fix them.” Unfortunately, most of us are too quick to cast the blame on other drivers. “We all do it. We see fault in every other driver. Instead of pointing fingers, let’s reflect upon your own driving. Look into the mirror, control what you can control and that's in your vehicle only.”

 


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