Truck Driver Operating Monitor Systems – Is it Safety or Spying?

Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP May 21, 2015

Many methods are used to encourage safety compliance on U.S. Highways. According to safety industry professionals and law firms who help clients injured in trucking-related accidents, one particular method is causing a certain amount of controversy. Truck monitoring systems in the form of GPS vehicle monitoring and tracking devices record commercial truck driver’s activities. Many truck operators view this action as an invasion of privacy. Attorneys who handle truck wreck cases report that there are different opinions on both sides of this controversial subject. The primary question appears to be whether truck driver monitoring systems are justifiable in the name of safety or breach the boundaries of personal privacy?

Safety and GPS Tracking Devices

Truck tracking systems record many different things, including the driving time of a vehicle, distance traveled, fuel consumption, engine performance, dates, times, locations, and many other details about the specific truck and its use. Lawyers who handle truck wreck cases advise that trucking companies can monitor the location of any truck at any given time.

In terms of increasing safety, such systems can alert a trucking company of a potentially unsafe situation before it happens. Trucks are involved in 11 percent of fatal crashes, resulting in 4,500 deaths per year.1 Truck wreck attorneys report that driver error was determined to be the primary reason for truck accidents 87% of the time when big rig truck drivers were held responsible for the accident. The reasons for driver error were divided into four major groups: recognition, performance, decision, and non-performance.2 Truck drivers argue that monitoring does not actually improve safety. It is their belief that monitoring systems are used for spying purposes, not safety reasons.

Is Truck Monitoring Spying?

Monitoring systems can provide trucking companies with more than just driver hours. Safety advocates and lawyers who help clients recover from truck wrecks view this as an unavoidable necessity. The truck drivers whose every location, stop, and action with their truck can be monitored disagree. They point out that recent research data reports that medium-duty trucks have a worse crash safety record than heavy-duty trucks.3 The drivers of heavy-duty trucks contend that safety is taken seriously and compliance with safety regulations has increased in recent years.

Some safety studies attribute the decrease in incidents to increased compliance thanks to FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) reporting system. While many drivers willingly accept certain levels of monitoring, other drivers believe that surveillance which includes video monitoring inside and outside of trucks is an invasion of privacy. When surveillance can prevent unauthorized stops, unsafe habits, or other unacceptable driving behaviors, trucking companies are within their rights to do such monitoring.

The question of safety versus privacy spans not only practical concerns, but legal and moral ones as well. Attorneys who help clients with truck-related accidents have acquired great insight about the business, safety, and personal sides of big rig accident prevention. They point out that the main concern when drivers are on the job is their compliance with national safety rules and company policies, not privacy issues.

1 U.S. DOT National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Traffic Safety Facts 2012 Data

2 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: The Large Truck Crash Causation Study, July 2007

3 American Transportation Research Institute: New Research Clarifies Large Truck Safety Trends, May 2013