Telematics for driver behaviour: the fallacy that hardware is better

It’s understandable to believe that a device attached to someone’s vehicle is going to be a more effective telematics solution than an app on a driver’s phone. But it is a misconception (see quiz, below).

Don’t forget, for example, that it might take months to install hardware devices across an organisation. With several thousand vehicles it can become a significant drain on core resources to coordinate. That’s without factoring in the cost, which can be substantial.

Many also believe that on-board diagnostic devices (OBD) offer a worthy alternative. Effectively a dongle, you can plug it directly into the vehicle. But there’s the ordering, distribution, tracking and then the registering and the maintenance.

You only need to take look at the manuals that come with the installation documents to see that it’s very far removed from ‘plug and play’. 

Registration, for example, requires capturing each OBD device’s serial number and manually associating it with a vehicle or user. The failure rate of hardware devices is also high. Even one of the market leaders for OBD devices talks about a rate of 1.5% over three years and there is typically a 5%+ failure rate with installed hardware devices over the same timeframe.

Another factor is that many fleets are leased, typically over a five-year period. If you bought vehicles, your company would probably own them for a similar period. Now, with decarbonisation and ultra-low emission zones there is a trend for shorter lease terms and the growing prevalence of grey fleet.

For many fleet managers this means the constant headache of continuously installing or moving hardware around fleets as leases expire. 

The Brightmile experience

Let’s not forget, of course, that it’s perfectly possible to tamper with or simply unplug hardware devices. If someone is determined to avoid being tracked they will find a way. Also, when it’s hardware and you haven’t got any kind of user-interface, or app through which you can directly communicate with a driver, it becomes much harder to have a conversation. All too often it turns into (at best): “This device is not working... could you unplug it and post it to us, we’ll send you out a new one.”

While it is obviously possible to log-out, uninstall or block an app, tracking, alerting and troubleshooting such behaviour is far faster and easier with an app-based solution.

At Brightmile, we know instantly when someone’s logged out. If it’s user error, we can get that fixed within minutes and send out Help Centre documentation. 

Our app-based driver-behaviour solution offers customers real-time data around who is active, who’s inactive and why they are inactive. We involve the driver directly from day one and it means managers can reach out easily.

Most people know how to use an app. There is no third-party installer to manage and so checking in with drivers takes a matter of seconds.

What’s more, smartphone telematics is evolving constantly and with every new phone that comes out and with every new OS release we leverage the supercomputer that you have in your pocket. To a large degree, it’s a future-proofed solution. 

If you want to test your understanding of the merits of driver software over telematics hardware, check out the True or False? statements below.

Further reading

True or false?


Apps are a huge drain on the battery

False: There is additional battery use from driving with a telematics app such as Brightmile, but we have spent years optimising and using the tools provided by Google and Apple to ensure we are power efficient when using location services and running our in-app intelligence. Many drivers will be able to use Brightmile without the need to change their usual charging pattern. High-mileage drivers may need to charge their phone for longer trips but with low-cost cradles and chargers, as well as the advances in wireless-charging, there will be few high-mileage workers who won’t already charge their phones routinely.


Drivers might leave their phones at home

True: However, it can’t be stressed enough how integral mobile phones are to everyone’s everyday life. Invariably, they are relied upon. Leaving phones behind is an occasional hazard at most and would not detract from understanding and coaching long-term driving behaviour. 


Smartphone solutions only offer limited data

False: We’ve heard people say that mobile GPS apps can’t tell you if a driver is speeding or texting while driving. This is bizarre as it’s exactly what they do. Telematics hardware, of course, would not be able to detect phone distraction. 


On-board diagnostics allow you to track speed more accurately

False: People often misinterpret the difference between what Google maps or a satnav show you versus your car speedometer as GPS inaccuracy, whereas car speedometers tend to overestimate speed to ensure regulatory compliance by never under-reporting speed. GPS-derived speed has its foundation in military-grade positioning systems and is typically more reliable than a speedometer.


The phone can’t tell you if the engine has been idling for 15 minutes

True: But with modern stop-start and hybrid engines, idling is increasingly being managed by the vehicle itself and fast becoming an anachronism.


Smartphone telematics rely on outdated maps
False: The maps used by smartphone telematics are unrelated to the phone the driver is using. The Brightmile solution, for example, uses its own mapping provider, HERE, a world leader in mapping solutions used by the likes of BMW and Audi. 


OBD allows you to capture revs per minute (RPM)

True: But there is little value in this metric for driver safety. Select the wrong gear and you can drive at 20mph at 7,000 rpm. It might be valid in an argument about fuel economy but the variations in vehicle characteristics mean those calculations are fraught with complexity and error. 


OBD does software updates too

True: We’ve seen claims that telematics companies roll out firmware updates throughout the year. While this is true, we don’t see it as a numbers game. We update as often as fortnightly, with the crucial difference being that we deliver new features and value directly to our users. The ‘box’ doesn’t engage with the driver in any way.


Natively integrated telematics offers a better solution

False: The likes of Mercedes and BMW do offer built-in telematics, which is great in theory. However, especially in passenger vehicles, the technology was not designed to deliver telematics services, it is there for consumer value-add services and diagnostics. As a result, the availability and quality of data varies considerably before even addressing the challenge of understanding which telematics company is working with which OEM. Furthermore, it is very rare for any company fleet to comprise of a single manufacturer.

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