05/08/2015

By Geoff Ball, Matrix

For all businesses, investing in that first, second or tenth vehicle is a daunting prospect. Not only is it a huge investment each time, but, unlike a car we buy for ourselves, we’ll be putting the keys into someone else’s hand.

Business owners need to trust that the driver will look after the vehicle, drive it carefully and treat it as they would any asset that belonged to the company. Until recently there was no way to know for sure whether this trust was given wisely without waiting for an MOT or physical signs of damage to actually appear.

There were also fewer ways to monitor the hours employees were spending on the road or where they were travelling.

Managers have been handing keys over to drivers who they’ve known too little about. Are they a good driver? Are they a safe driver? Are they a driver that the company wants other road users to associate them with? This is where telematics systems are providing some much-needed assistance.

Commonly known as the ‘black box’, telematics devices are packed with sensors. Once fitted inside a vehicle, those sensors pick up data on everything from speed, braking, cornering, fuel consumption and GPS location. This information is then sent wirelessly to a portal that can be viewed and accessed by their team back in the office on a web-based portal.

The portal gives businesses the ability to see the location of all of their employees’ vehicles on a map in real-time and monitor whether they’re driving as they should be. When there are red flags to be addressed, managers are able to provide critical feedback to the driver in order to improve their safety on the road.

In addition to offering but on top of giving businesses the tools to eliminate dangerous drivers from their workforces, telematics systems also play a vital role in reducing the ever-increasing costs of company cars.

In an age of high fuel costs, growing pressure to slash emissions and improve duty-of-care for employees, employers are turning to technological solutions to address their fleet management headaches.

Some of the biggest benefits come from how the data gathered can be used. If company drivers are burning fuel by driving erratically, or corning sharply increasing wear and tear, the black box can spot this. Managers can also tweak and adjust driver routes based on collected data to ensure optimum fuel efficiency. It is only a minor change, but just a few miles shaved off a driver’s route everyday equates to vast fuel savings and CO2 reductions over the course of a year.

Driver behaviour scoring helps teams to pinpoint how employees could drive more carefully and when there is evidence of safer driving using telematics, this is rewarded. Insurance companies typically reward safer driving data with lower premiums — often by up to 25%, meaning that the initial outlay of investing in the technology, regardless of the number of vehicles, will undoubtedly save a business money in the long run.

The most important benefit comes in the form of improved safety and reduce damage likely to be incurred by a badly driven car. With the number of UK fleet registrations (covering everything from company cars to the HGVs) at a seven-year high and almost 600,000 more vehicles on the road in 2014, the number of fatalities on British roads saw a 4% increase last year. Telematics is making huge inroads in cutting this figure, but greater adoption from companies is needed to improve safety both for their drivers and for the public.

Telematics is no longer an exclusive technology, only for the bigger companies or the consumer market. It’s relevant to everyone, and particularly beneficial to small businesses or anyone responsible for the maintenance of a fleet of company cars.

Vehicles are an expensive asset for any business, so companies have a lot to lose from choosing not to monitor driver behaviour. No longer is there a need to rely on the public to warn the business about their drivers’ dangerous behaviour, at a point when it may already be too late — managers can now stay informed about potential risks before they become a reality.

The technology is here and it’s not just about taking precautions as a company to protect immediate financial interests. It is also about embracing the safety and productivity benefits which will always bring their own returns.