Safer, greener driving through modified behavior

  • 04-Jun-2009 04:09 EDT
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GreenRoad’s Safety Center is the Web portal that allows drivers and managers to review reports about driving behavior and access tools, risk analysis, and information to help them improve driving. 

Fuel economy and safety—and more accurately, improvements in those two areas—are the main drivers behind a subscription-based service that GreenRoad Technologies offers to drivers and fleet operators to help improve driving behavior.

“It’s a combination of real-time feedback with a suite of Web-based applications that…coach and empower the driver and fleet to improve driver behavior, with the result being a 10% improvement in fuel economy and 50% reduction in crashes,” explained Eric Weiss, the company’s Senior Vice President of Marketing.

In-vehicle feedback is offered through a device that lights up green, yellow, or red depending on the driver’s performance in five categories: braking, speed handling, acceleration, corner handling, and lane handling. According to Weiss, 120 different event types in those five categories are examined. The device can provide overall status as a driver, trip status, or per-event feedback mechanism.

“So if a driver takes a corner too hard, you get a red or yellow light telling you that you’re taking it a little too hard, if you’re a professional driver,” Weiss said. “If you’re a consumer driver, you get a little bit more information. You get a braking icon or a speeding icon in addition to just the light. We don’t want to distract the driver.”

The consumer device includes a light “dial” (instead of a simple colored light for professional drivers) that illuminates in degrees based on the severity of the event.

The complete system consists of the display, an accelerometer, a CPU to perform the algorithmic processing, an under-dash cellular data modem to transmit the information, and GPS and antenna. GreenRoad uses off-the-shelf components for the hardware, Weiss explained, but develops its own software and designs the overall system.

“We’ve made a lot of progress with seatbelts and airbags and things like that, but we’re starting to get to the point [of] diminishing returns in terms of the improvements to driver safety from those. We think the big apple out there, the big kahuna, is driving behavior,” Weiss said, stressing that driving behavior accounts for 95% of all crashes. He also claimed that of all the variables affecting fuel economy, driving behavior accounts for 33%.

“The early part of the [driver monitoring] industry was started off with generalized training and video, and maybe some blackbox recorders. We think those are fundamentally looking in the rearview mirror; they’re trying to assess blame and settle claims,” he continued. “We think it’s better to be looking at a preventative approach, finding the yellow and red events that are better predictors of future crashes.”

Data can be analyzed online, allowing fleet managers to drill down and identify specific trends of their drivers. The end result is a more targeted, coaching-type approach to rectifying driving-behavior problems, according to Weiss.

“Traditionally, the way fleets manage driving-behavior problems was to send everyone to a class, [which] is very expensive and time consuming,” he said. “What you’d rather do is say, ‘You’re having a corner handling problem, so we’re going to…give you 10 tips on how to do a better job of corner handling. If you keep having problems, then we’re going to send you to a computer-based training course.’”

Development of the technology began in 2003, with GreenRoad working with several prominent universities in Israel, as well as with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, followed by extensive field testing. The company was launched commercially in 2007.

“We employ some Ph.D.s to help us with the statistical relevance to what we’re doing, especially when you’re going to an actuary at an insurance company; they don’t care about anything except the numbers,” said Weiss, explaining that GreenRoad works with commercial insurers that arrange for fleets to get a discount on their insurance if they install the system and maintain green scores. Insurance-rate discounts apply to the consumer side as well, he said.

In addition to safety and fuel economy, comfort is another driver for bus fleets, in particular, to adopt the service. “If you’re on top of a double-decker red bus [in the U.K.], you get swung around a lot if they take the corners too hard, so comfort’s a key,” Weiss said. “We calibrate the system to meet the particular vertical market need.”

Public safety (ambulances and police cars), military, and light to heavy trucks are other major verticals. He noted that one of its customers, Ryder, is using safety as a “competitive weapon.”

In the future, Weiss believes the technology will shift from aftermarket to OE application: “We’re a software company; we can ride inside of a vehicle just as easily as we can ride on a separate device [like] a Garmin.”

GreenRoad has had discussions with some “more innovative and progressive OEMs” who are looking ahead at how to differentiate themselves, he said.

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