8 Jul 2019

Cameras filming drivers continuously 'does nothing for driver safety'

9:04 am on 8 July 2019

As more companies keep a digital eye on drivers, a US company that makes cameras for trucks says it would welcome clearer rules on how they should be used.

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Photo: 123RF

In May a survey carried out by drivers' union First Union, found cameras that record inside the cab were a leading reason why truck drivers were quitting.

Gareth Balfour, the New Zealand agent for the Lytx DriveCam system said there was no reason for drivers to be filmed continuously.

The US-made Lytx cameras snap short events inside and outside a vehicle, and can also be enabled to record continuously. They are installed in 7000 vehicles in New Zealand and about one million worldwide.

Mr Balfour said more needed to be done to stop trucking firms breaching drivers' privacy by putting in cameras that recorded more data than was necessary.

"A lot of companies are getting on the camera bandwagon, for whatever reason, to win contracts and tick all the boxes ... but a camera that just continuously records does nothing for driver safety. And who will sit through and watch all that footage anyway?

"Cameras are readily available, they're becoming cheaper, they're becoming high definition, there's other technologies that are claiming to prevent accidents and it is confusing the market and it is confusing drivers - and we do totally understand the pressure they will be feeling because of this."

He would welcome a discussion with regulatory agencies such as the Transport Agency and WorkSafe to set some grounds rules on what cameras in trucks should or should not do, and what drivers should be aware of when it came to protecting their privacy.

First Union transport spokesperson Jared Abbott said it was considering asking the Privacy Commissioner to look into the use of cameras, and exploring whether legal restrictions were possible on their use.

"In all situations I've seen the only justification for them is to identify root causes around health and safety incidents, so if there is data being collected beyond that scope then I think it's probably unlawful."

Before October 2018 the Lytx Drive Cam was an event recorder only. It snapped 12-20 seconds of video and audio inside and outside the truck when triggered by a force - for instance hard braking, swerving or a collision.

It still does that, however the technology can now record up to 100 hours of continuous footage, should the company chose to have this function enabled.

Lytx vice president of safety services Del Lisk said the continuous recorder was helpful for companies if they needed to prove liability for accident or get more information that was not available through the event recorder.

He said it was not for spying, and was up to stockists to inform fleet managers and drivers about what the camera could do and why.

Most New Zealand drivers who have spoken to RNZ did not understand how the cameras in their trucks worked.

They said they weren't given much information about why they were being installed and were told by management to more or less "take it or leave it".

None of the drivers would speak publicly for fear of losing their jobs.

Mr Balfour said any drivers with the DriveCam installed in their trucks were welcome to contact him directly if they wanted to know more about it.

'They were spying on me' - US driver

DriveCam's continuous recording function was available overseas before October 2018. US driver Christopher Dennison of South Illinois recalled how he learned in 2017 that it was recording more than he thought.

"I was at home on Thanksgiving break and my truck was in my driveway and after I came back on the road my safety department called me and wanted to know why my truck was sitting in the woods - it wasn't their business but I was like, it's in my driveway' so it really upset me because it meant they were spying on me to know, there was no triggered event, it was just my driveway.'

He set up a meeting with the safety director - increasingly concerned that access to the footage was being abused - after he saw office staff crowded around a computer screen watching what looked like YouTube videos.

"[The safety director] left the room and her subordinate was in the room and so I asked her if that was safety footage and she said yes and told me they watch it all the time and it's hilarious the things that drivers do when no one's watching."

Mr Dennison has since left that firm.

Mr Lisk said only a handful of companies were having the DriveCam configured to continuously record the driver, and were mainly bus companies as a way to keep an eye on passengers.

Mr Balfour said he was not aware the camera was capable of recording the driver continuously and said of the 500 units installed with the function in New Zealand since October 2018, none had been configured to record inside the cab - only road facing, without audio.

He said some New Zealand clients had asked for continuous driver-facing capabilities and when denied this by Lytx were able to easily find such technology elsewhere.