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5 Unanswered Questions About Driver-Facing Cameras

Among truckers, driver-facing cameras (DFCs) are as popular as a steer tire blowout. Still, more trucking companies continue to install these cameras. Many assume that extra cameras will help lower insurance costs. Actually, a lot depends on how the cameras (and their recordings) are used. Are they only activated during incidents like collisions or hard braking?

Cameras have the potential to improve fleet safety, but lawyers and insurers see other dangers. Inconsistent DFC policies would make trucking companies more vulnerable in court. Drivers tend to feel threatened by DFC footage, which might be used against them. Some argue that the hardware itself is an invasion of privacy. Many questions remain unanswered:

1) Will driver-facing cameras improve safety?

We all know that distractions and drowsiness are deadly on the highway, but they’re hard to measure after an accident. When you see a car drifting and swerving up ahead, the natural impulse is to look at the driver as you pass. We've all seen terrible drivers eating or texting in their personal vehicles. Trucking companies have big, expensive equipment on the road. To them, DFCs look like a “magic bullet” to ensure driver safety (and compliance with policies).

Credit where it’s due, the technology is impressive and constantly improving. Some cameras can detect drowsiness and distractions like texting, including controversial biometrics. Other cameras will only record during an incident like hard braking or a collision. Conventional dashcams show when other cars suddenly merge or fail to yield; other systems record the second when brakes engage; but DFCs can show whether a driver had their eyes on the road.

Incidents and near-misses provide opportunities for coaching drivers. Some companies may use DFCs to police and enforce other company policies. They might watch for smoking, unauthorized passengers, and uniform violations. Coaching will reinforce good behavior as well as the fear of getting “caught” texting. Some drivers will be more careful under the watchful eye of DFCs, and others will be nervous. A survey by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) asked truck drivers about DFCs. Many drivers felt stressed and distracted by the constant surveillance of DFCs:

“With a driver-facing camera you get the feeling that you are being watched 100 percent of the time. I know that is not the case, but it’s the perception. The company has to find a way to assure the driver that they are not looking to punish the driver for every little thing that they may do wrong.”

– LTL Driver in ATRI Report

“The technology is often faulty causing triggers for mundane tasks such as [putting on] sunglasses. The psychological effects of this are incredibly harmful and I have experienced them.”

– Truckload Driver in ATRI Report

“[DFCs] actually endanger my safety and those around me, because I feel stressed and nervous about being watched, even though I’m doing nothing wrong.”

– LTL Driver in ATRI Report

2) Will CDL drivers “learn to love” driver-facing cameras?

ATRI surveyed 650 drivers who currently use DFCs. Their approval was 2.24 on a 0-to-10 scale. ATRI concluded that “direct DFC experience does have a positive impact on approval; current users rate DFCs more than twice as high as drivers who have never used DFCs.” Despite ATRI’s use of the word “impact,” statistical correlation doesn’t mean causation. Drivers who hate DFCs will quit driving for any company that installs the cameras.

Even within the ATRI report, a Specialized Driver said that DFCs “. . . drove me to purchase my own truck.” In an opinion piece on, Rolf Lockwood claims, “. . . if I wandered into the terminal one night for a run to Winnipeg and found a new DFC on my dashboard, one that was going to watch my every move, I’d quit on the spot. Even if I had a mortgage and three kids wondering which college or university to attend.”

In different transportation sectors, like school buses, DFCs are already normalized. Under those circumstances, cameras help drivers document the behavior of students or passengers. Can trucking companies use DFCs in a way that benefits drivers? Company policies can either relieve or fulfill the concerns of drivers. If routine footage is used to coach drivers, does the criticism come across as nitpicky or genuinely helpful?

For companies installing DFCs, ATRI offered these tips for making the cameras more palatable to drivers.

graph shows ATRI survey responses from drivers, ways to improve DFC acceptance among drivers
Source: “Issues and Opportunities with DFCs” by ATRI

3) Are DFCs inevitable?

The trucking industry seems to be approaching a tipping point. DFCs might either recede or become normalized. Various types of in-cab cameras (like Road Facing Cameras and video telematics) generated more than $3.6 billion in global revenue in 2021. In North America, 2.9 million in-cab cameras are already being used. There are good reasons to expect DFCs to become more commonplace.

  • A lot of tech hardware includes cameras.
  • An unused camera becomes a liability.
  • Younger drivers are less worried about DFCs.

Manufacturers put tiny cameras in everything these days, from doorbells to GPS units. With each upgrade to your fleet, the next messaging or navigation hardware may include new cameras. It might become a liability if your company has in-cab cameras that it chooses not to use. Older drivers worry about the constant surveillance that’s possible with DFCs. Younger generations are more accustomed to cameras in classrooms and the workplace. Brand new drivers are more receptive to coaching and constructive criticism.

A sleeper cab is different from the average workplace (or a day cab with slip seating). As one Intermodal Driver told ATRI, “It’s hard to accept a camera pointed at you in your work/living space. This isn’t like an office job where cameras may be all over a building. The truck is our workspace but also our personal space just like a home. A company may own the truck, but it doesn’t give them the right to have a camera looking at me. Landlords can’t install cameras in their homes to make sure tenants are following rules.”

4) How will DFCs affect female drivers?

According to the ATRI report, “Several female drivers in the survey complained that they have experienced voyeurism, unwanted comments about their appearance, or even sexual harassment from employees tasked with reviewing DFC footage.” Harassment isn’t a new problem in the male-dominated trucking industry, but DFCs will present new opportunities for misbehavior.

Even when colleagues and managers behave respectfully, female drivers can’t be sure about their privacy. Archived recordings and access to cameras might be hacked or shared inappropriately. On TikTok, @originaltruckerbarbie2.0 claimed that her DFC continued recording at inappropriate times: “So, outside of the truck, they’re supposed to be on for 15 minutes just in case something happens during that time. . . However, mine continues to stay on, facing my cab while I’m getting undressed.”

Since the trucking industry wants to hire more women, ATRI argued that their privacy and harassment concerns “should be given special attention”. In the sphere of DFCs, ATRI recommended consistent policies and cameras with visible on/off indicators. Trucking companies will need to be proactive about protecting their employees and preventing harassment.

5) Will DFCs lower insurance premiums?

At the time of ATRI’s report, less than a quarter of insurers reduced premiums for installing DFCs. A discount from 1 to 10 percent wouldn't offset the cost of DFC hardware and installation. With most insurers, companies who install DFCs will have to reduce the number of accidents before saving money on premiums. Good coaching policies and consistent implementation can improve the habits of drivers. As already mentioned, young drivers are generally more open to DFCs. Besides growing up with cameras everywhere, young drivers are more open to learning how to avoid bad habits. Seasoned professionals may get defensive when criticized for cellphone use (or other distractions).

Although DFCs are controversial in themselves as hardware, implementation makes a bigger difference. Are they only activated during an incident? How are recordings used? Drivers are understandably worried about the overuse and misuse of cameras.

Companies with DFCs need consistent policies for coaching drivers and storage of videos. Footage that includes accidents and incidents should be kept only as long as required by the statute of limitations. Excessive coaching and incident documentation are major fears of drivers who dislike DFCs. The same problems could also leave the company vulnerable in court.

Drivers worry they'll be blamed for wrecks because of sneezing or sipping a drink at the wrong second. ATRI says that DFC video “exonerates drivers in 52 percent of insurance claims and 49 percent of litigation cases” when it's available. Those odds don’t inspire a lot of confidence on their own. Still, good drivers spend the vast majority of their time paying attention to their surroundings.

Bonus Question: What happens next?

In the fragmented transportation industry, company drivers can't easily rally against DFCs. As individual companies continue to adopt DFCs, they'll accept the uptick in turnover and complaints. At least in theory, the technology helps enforce company policies and improve safety. Some employers will be more consistent with coaching and timely deletion of videos.

Eventually, lawsuits may play a deciding role in the future of DFCs. If archived “incidents” endanger trucking companies, then insurers may turn against DFCs. On the other hand, if DFCs tend to protect companies from liability, then bigger insurance incentives will accelerate adoption.

What if DFCs become a standard feature of Company Driver jobs? Then, the debate will shift to appropriate use and policies, not the hardware itself. How much will DFCs add to the harassment of female drivers?

One way or another, lawsuits may turn the tide. DFCs have a huge impact on drivers and trucking companies, but the road ahead may be determined by courts and insurance providers.