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Today Big Brother Watches Truckers, Tomorrow He'll Watch You

In-cab surveillance cameras are putting drivers inside the corporate panopticon

2 min read
Today Big Brother Watches Truckers, Tomorrow He'll Watch You
Lytx's DriveCam system
Photo: Lytx

Operators of trucking fleets have been clamping down ever harder on the oft-sung liberty of drivers, most notably with in-cab surveillance cameras. The camera lets remote observers watch for errors and, just important, makes the driver feel that he’s being watching, even when he isn’t.

Big Brother-like cameras make sense for the sake of safety and legal liability. Then again, it also makes sense to get up at the crack of dawn for an invigorating run.  You’d rather not do it, and if you did, you’d rather it were your idea and not somebody else’s.

The way it works was laid out this month at a meeting of the Association of Equipment Management Professionals in Orlando, according to a report in Equipment World. First, the trucking company sets out clear policies for compliance. Next it installs systems to record drivers’ behavior, particularly when onboard systems notice anything unusual, like sudden braking. Finally, human supervisors review the records the next day to see whether to apply the carrot or the stick.

The “Cars That Think” magic comes with the onboard system. It loads information from the engine, brakes, steering wheel, even the view from an outward-looking camera, adds the inward-looking view of the driver, and sends it all to the home base. For now, mere machines are not being trusted to study the driver’s face for signs of fatigue or distraction, though AI programs are being developed for just that purpose.

In the United States the leading two systems are SmartDrive and DriveCam, both based in San Diego, Calif. The equipment costs less than US $100 per truck (not counting self-monitoring systems that the truck may already have); the subscription service adds $30 to $40 a month.

It’s no wonder that truckers are the first to benefit (or suffer) from the Big Brother treatment. They have rather little sway in the world nowadays. It’s rather different for airliner pilots, who were able to fend off a 2000 proposal by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to install video recorders in the cockpit, alongside the voice and data recorders (a.k.a., the black box).

This year, following the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370, the NTSB reiterated its proposal. The Air Line Pilots Association called that an “overreaction,” adding that the money spent on cockpit cameras might even hurt safety “by diverting limited resources that could be used for more valuable safety enhancements."

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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