“In-Cab” or “dash-cam” cameras are becoming a more and more popular way for trucking companies to use technology to lower their costs and improve the safety of their drivers.  The relatively low cost of a dash-cam system compared to the high price of insurance, fuel costs, and possible litigation make them an economically feasible risk management solution for most trucking companies.

In 2015 the National Transportation Safety Board analyzed the use of dash-cam video and made a recommendation to the American Trucking Associations to develop written guidance to the installation and long-term maintenance of onboard video systems and encourage members to use onboard video systems.  NTSB Safety Report 15, March 3, 2015.  Studies have also shown that when truck drivers and bus drivers know that their driving is under the watchful eye of a camera, they are generally more careful on the road.

Most of these systems activate a video recording when there is an “event,” such as hard braking or a collision, and records for 10 to 30 seconds before and after the event. The video feed is uploaded to a centralized computer, and each event is analyzed and scored based on the severity of the event. Fleet managers can review these events regularly, coach drivers, and reinforce good driving habits. These systems are generally designed for larger fleets who have a dedicated safety manager.  Pricing of various systems are generally between $400 to $600 per truck.

The intended benefit of the dash-cam systems is to enhance driver safety and serve a tool to accurately document and record the circumstances leading to “event.”  A recent study from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that the use of dash-cam video systems can reduce trucking accidents by up to 34 percent.  Trucking Accident Attorneys Roundtable, May 19, 2015.  Additional benefits include improved fuel efficiency, lower insurance rates due to fraudulent claims, and security or theft control.

Although dash-cam video systems have a positive effect from the perspective of risk management, not all drivers are comfortable with them.  Many drivers, and the unions representing them, argue that the cameras violate a transit employee’s privacy and will lead to increasingly strict and unfair disciplinary policies.  In March 2016 the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) challenged federal requirements that they start electronically logging their hours on the road arguing the electronic tracking of their time amounted to an illegal monitoring of their private activity by the government.  Wall Street Journal, “Independent Truckers Tell Court E-Logs Violate Constitutional Rights” (March 31, 2016).  Currently, there are no federal regulations requiring the use of dash-cam video, but those who oppose the use of technology to monitor drivers argue the research does not prove that the costs of mandating technology improvements are justified.

This dynamic between the attempts to use technology to improve driver safety versus the potential invasion of privacy for the drivers was studied in 2011 by Michael Litshi at the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University.  “Video-Based Driver Risk Management Systems: Evaluating Effectiveness at Improving Transit Safety” (June 2011).  The results of his research confirmed that safety is improved and the chances of traffic accident are decreased because video-based risk management tends to limit unsafe or risky driving behaviors.  The research also shows dash-cam type video is a great deal less intrusive compared to video surveillance at banks, hotels, and department stores.  Since the camera is only activated by some type of g-force event, drivers are not monitored continuously and possibly not ever.  While Mr. Litshi cites the potentially high startup cost of installing dash-cam cameras, he notes that ongoing the maintenance of them is very minimal.1

In summary, dash-cam technology is becoming more prevalent as installation costs are coming down and anecdotal and qualitative research shows it lowers unsafe driving behaviors and reduces the chances of an accident.  Independent truckers may be leery of the video’s potential to invade privacy; however, dash-cam video is not as intrusive as other forms of surveillance.  As technology continues to progress, it is more and more likely fleet carriers will employ it to increase safety, and reduce other costs.


1 Mr. Litshi’s research article was published in June 2011, when presumably the acquisition and installation costs of this technology were higher than they are today.


Andy Stein

The information published in Hedrick Gardner Alerts is general in nature and not intended to take the place of legal advice on any particular matter. © 2017 Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo LLP