Thursday 20 January 2022

Opinion: keep an eye on driver surveillance

Researcher and supply chain risk expert David Hogarth, formerly an international truck driver, argues that the increasing surveillance of drivers by their employers will play a growing role in the industry’s driver retention and recruitment difficulties

Eighteen-year-olds have been able to drive an articulated lorry since 2009. But for whatever reason, the road transport industry has failed to effectively engage with school leavers in order to recruit the lorry drivers of the future. The mounting surveillance of drivers by their paymasters is unlikely to improve this situation.

Immersed constantly in the always-on world of smartphones and social media, web-savvy young people are not only adept at deploying increasingly sophisticated hardware and software to achieve their goals – they are also acutely aware of the technology’s pitfalls, not least in terms of its implications for privacy.

More than any other demographic, the unregulated introduction of advanced telematics monitoring technology in the transport sector is likely to put off potential young recruits.

When logistics companies introduce new technology like telematics into the driving sector, it’s often done without any prior consultation or regard for the individual.

A typical driver is already monitored by a digital tachograph, an inbuilt lorry computer, satellite tracking, automatic gearbox, brake sensors, audible lane changing sensors, outward and inward facing cameras.

Telematics can measure a whole range of fluctuating functions such as harsh braking, acceleration, cornering and unscheduled stops.

While individual technologies are increasingly mandated by governments, employers or their clients on safety, security or efficiency grounds, the cumulative privacy impact on drivers is practically unregulated and rarely, if ever, monitored.

An inmate in a Category A prison is placed under less surveillance.

Today’s cutting edge telematics are yet to be fully developed. Before long, systems will measure personal data via wristband fitness and activity trackers, to identify heart rate, blood pressure, stress, fatigue and sleep apnoea.

The grieving families of pedestrians killed in recent tragedies involving heavy vehicles might welcome such surety. Policies will allow managers to question lifestyles and inform the authorities of their concerns.

Left unchecked, telematics will prove to be a mixed blessing for logistics companies. Drivers are often monitored over a few trunk routes. The financial margins represented by this fleet data are very thin, but pressure and disciplinary hearings are inevitable.

The saving is trivial when offset against the cost of calling out a technician to change a headlight bulb because drivers are forbidden to do this task themselves.

The savings are also wiped out by the amount of time drivers waste hanging about waiting for delayed loads or paperwork to materialise. Nevertheless, managers find time away from more pressing matters to scrutinise driver performance and make up their own penalties as they go along.

The industry often boasts about valuing a skilled workforce, but obviously doesn’t trust them enough to work unsupervised. Managers have chosen to constantly micro-manage them instead.

In the late eighteenth century, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham pioneered the concept of the panopticon.

Its name reminiscent of Argus Panoptes – a many-eyed giant of ancient Greek myth – it is a type of building design within which all the workers, or inmates, can be surveilled by a single watchman, but without being able to tell whether or not they are being watched at any given time.

As such, all the workers must act as if they are being watched at all times, and constantly regulate their behaviour accordingly.

The lack of sufficient regulation of telematics technology by government or the industry has allowed employers to create an all-seeing ‘panopticon’ work environment in the transport sector.

It’s only a matter of time before embarrassing video clips featuring drivers in their cabs end up on social media.

The science might be amazing, but there’s no scientific evidence pointing to drivers preferring this stifling level of surveillance.  A driver seeking new work can’t even offer a potential employer a sample of telematic data, as the settings can differ among employers and there’s no agreed method to present it.

Moreover, telematic data is almost exclusively quantitative. A driver’s qualitative strengths – such as reliability, dedication, politeness and consideration – aren’t measured. Telematics systems don’t offer solutions either. Solutions are learnt through training, but unfortunately training is often cut back to make tenders more competitive.

Just because there’s little or no resistance to this level of intrusion from the current driving sector, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good omen for the future. Telematics are being tested on older, experienced drivers who don’t care about the long-term implications of their introduction because they’ll be retiring soon.

The next generation of drivers is unlikely to be so accepting. This sort of intrusion strips away the vital essence that motivates people to work in a solitary environment.

Should it continue down this route, the industry is in grave danger of creating roles for which no self-respecting person will apply.

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1 comment

  1. Steve W says:

    Wise words.

    While I’m quite partial to singing along to ABBAs Greatest Hits at the top of my lungs while trundling up and down the Nation’s highways and byways, I’m not so keen on said footage being passed around for everyone’s amusement. Ditto me picking my nose, adjusting my undercrackers and all sorts of other unsavoury behaviour that I get up to in a truck

    And I’d really not recommend anyone to start measuring stress levels of drivers. Because that’ll be a Pandora’s box you’ll find hard to close. “These guys are THAT stressed?? THAT often?? Oh my God, how are they still alive??”

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