Why smartphone solutions hold the key to improve fleet safety

Everyone knows that using a phone whilst driving increases the risk of having an accident. Around 30% of crashes involving motor vehicles are attributable to drivers using their smartphones whilst driving. That’s almost 400,000 fatalities globally that could potentially have been prevented by eliminating smartphone distraction.

So it might surprise you to learn that at Brightmile we believe that smartphones actually hold the key to improving road safety. In this blog post we will explain how we’re turning road safety’s primary nemesis into an ally.

The power of the smartphone

The smartphone is the definitive technological breakthrough of our age. This revolutionary piece of hardware, some 25 years in the making, is really a collection of technologies bundled together into one compelling package.

In 2007, Apple released their iPhone and the world changed. Since then, the smartphone has become a cornerstone of our everyday lives, governing how we communicate with each other, buy goods and services, consume entertainment, and manage every aspect of our lives.

By the end of 2019 there are forecast to be over 2.5 billion smartphone devices in daily use globally. They are literally everywhere.

They are also incredibly powerful. Even older generation smartphones make huge amounts of computing power available — by way of comparison, an average smartphone today is 120 million times more powerful than the 1971 Apollo Lunar Landing Spacecraft!

By leveraging the ubiquity and power of smartphones, change-makers can achieve great things at scale. And that’s what we’re doing here at Brightmile.

Why smartphone solutions hold the key 
to improving fleet safety

Harnessing the power of our smartphones to make roads safer

Traditional fleet telematics gives managers visibility of vehicle movements and optionally some basic information on driver behaviour. The hardware used within these solutions tends to be based upon older, lower powered microprocessors with limited memory. This results in most telematics devices being used as relatively simple data collectors with very little processing of the data being done at the point of capture.

Smartphone telematics changes all that. Our software uses the embedded sensors and processing power in drivers’ phones to ingest and fuse together large amounts of data and analyse this within the device, creating unique analysis of contextual risk. This data can be used both to deliver real-time coaching to drivers and provide more insightful analysis to drivers and managers to enhance safety on the roads.

A long list of benefits

One obvious benefit here is cost. Using smartphones to monitor drivers instead of hardware devices reduces costs for fleet managers and insurance companies. Telematics devices have additional costs across upfront hardware, installation, replacements, and repairs. In comparison, Brightmile has no upfront costs and requires no hardware. 

But it’s not just about money. When it comes to risk prevention and driver safety, smartphones offer significant advantages.

First, fixed devices cannot directly measure distracted driving. At Brightmile, whilst we rely on the smartphone as a tool, this allows us to monitor and eliminate any interaction between driver and smartphone whilst driving. Perhaps ironically therefore, we are using the power and ubiquity of the smartphone to counter the dangers created by the power and ubiquity of the smartphone.

Being smartphone-based also allows large scale deployments across even the most complex fleet to be carried out with a simple click of a mouse. Compare this to the complex logistical planning and coordination involved with installing traditional hardware into a fleet of even a few hundred vehicles…

Furthermore, smartphones provide the most immediate personalised feedback to the driver, giving the best chance of engagement and sustained improvement in behaviour. And the flexibility of smartphone apps makes it easier to comply with GDPR and other data protection regulations than fixed hardware, which may violate the principles of giving drivers more control over when and how they are being monitored.

Debunking some myths

The idea of using smartphones for telematics is an exciting one. But to date it has generally been greeted with a degree of scepticism from those who continue to advocate fixed devices.

Objections often relate to:

  1. Inferior hardware components and ability to capture data

  2. Smartphone battery life

  3. Connectivity and cost of data transfer

  4. Driver privacy

However, on closer inspection we can see that each of these objections can largely be debunked as myths.

1. Smartphones generally have better, more modern components than most hardware telematics devices. Many studies — both public and private — have been conducted and the overall conclusion is that smartphone telematics data is now as reliable as that from a fixed device. In many cases smartphones are actually superior.

Ptolemus, widely considered an authority in this area, performed a detailed test in 2016 of two high-end black boxes alongside latest generation phones from Apple and Samsung. It concluded that “smartphones’ specifications are more advanced than black boxes”.

Every year phones become more powerful and the data we can collect and analyse becomes richer and more granular. Simple cloud-delivered updates allow smartphone apps to utilise these new facilities — something that is much harder with hardware-based devices.

2. Modern operating systems have improved smartphone battery life to the point where this is no longer a valid concern. Apps such as Brightmile take advantage of all of the optimisation techniques available.

Whilst stationary, the Brightmile app is asleep in the background of a user’s phone; when it automatically wakes up to capture a trip we estimate that it uses ~4% of an average battery’s life for each hour driven (and that’s only for the very few drivers who don’t charge their phone whilst driving).

3. As Brightmile’s behavioural analysis takes place on the driver’s phone, data connectivity is not used or required during a trip. As soon as possible after a trip we send trip summaries from the driver’s phone to our platform. The size of these summaries pales into insignificance compared with the amount of data available on a typical smartphone plan and used for other apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook.

4. As above, because the driver is in full control of the smartphone, data privacy is enhanced. At Brightmile we only assess a driver on trips taken for Business purposes, and the driver has the ability to easily mark journeys for as ‘Business’ / ‘Personal’ / ‘Passenger’.

The bottom line is that smartphones are now as reliable as traditional alternatives for the collection of data relating to driver safety. And when coupled with the plethora of smartphone benefits listed above, this creates a huge opportunity for us to improve risk prevention and driver safety.

Delivering on the data

It’s one thing collecting data on driver behaviour. It’s another entirely being able to analyse this information in order to derive actionable insights that improve driver safety.

Brightmile employs 5 pillars to assess driver behaviour and understand contextual risk. We will explore this topic in more depth in our next blog post but suffice to say, this is the basis of how we engage and reward drivers who drive more safely and cut out risky behaviours. It’s also central to our efforts to help fleets reduce costs and corporate liability.

None of this would be possible without the humble smartphone. Far from increasing risk and accidents on our roads, it has the power to transform the way we approach driver safety. By tapping into the smartphone’s phenomenal hidden power, we can change our roads for the better.

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