What is telematics vehicle tracking?

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Compare Telematics Systems

Use telematics to control the efficiency of your fleet

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This page runs through the basics of vehicle tracking, how it can be useful, and what to look out for when you are choosing a vehicle tracking system for your business.

Telematics is a mix of technologies used for tracking vehicles and other moving assets remotely.

Hardware devices transmit signals to a server. They can be fitted inside cars, vans, lorries and basically anything that moves, including cranes, trailers, boats and more. A huge variety of devices can transmit different types of information, from simple GPS locations to film footage. A secure website or app presents the fleet manager with constantly updated information. It shows where the vehicle goes and how the driver is using the vehicle and handling it while driving. The data stays confidential because it is transmitted over secure cellular networks and stored on secure servers.

In this article we sometimes say vehicle tracking and sometimes say telematics. They mean the same thing.

Types of vehicle tracking hardware

First of all, let’s talk about some of the devices that can transmit signals.

All vehicle trackers transmit a GPS location signal

The simplest vehicle tracking devices are wired to the vehicle battery and only send a GPS signal. They are easily self-installed.

Some insurance companies give their customers GPS transmitters that they stick on their car windscreen. This type can recharge their batteries using solar power. The disadvantage is that they are a bit too easy to remove, so they definitely won’t help you find a stolen vehicle.

When telematics software is connected to one of these GPS devices, it shows where the vehicle is. As the data accumulates during the day, the software can list out where the car, van or HGV was at any given time, how fast it travelled, and whether this was within the speed limit.

Many vehicle tracking devices have accelerometers

Devices with accelerometers as well as GPS can give information on how the driver handles the vehicle. These need to be fitted by a mechanic as they have several wires which must be connected correctly.

Telematics systems which use this type of device are sometimes called ‘in-vehicle monitoring systems’ (IVMS) because they monitor the driver. The vehicle tracking software stores detailed records of how carefully drivers handle their vans or lorries and how productive they are each day.

What data do GPS accelerometers transmit?

When and where the driver has rapidly accelerated When and where the driver has braked harshly
When and where the driver took corners too fast When and where the engine is left idling when the vehicle is stopped
More accurate information on the vehicle speed than simple GPS trackers
Definite evidence if divers break the speed limit

Cameras and other devices can be added for special types of vehicle tracking

Cameras can face forwards and transmit film of the driver’s view. These days it’s not just companies but also some private individuals who install these as backup, in case they need to make insurance claims.

Cameras can also be fitted around the vehicle to improve the driver’s visibility when reversing or parking, and they can record the view behind the vehicle so there is a record if necessary.

Just in workplaces alone, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reports that there are more than 1,250 accidents and injuries each year in Britain caused by vehicles reversing. More than ten workers a year are killed by colleagues reversing into them.

If this isn’t enough of a case for installing vehicle cameras, the statistics for pedestrians and cyclists on the roads are even more horrendous. In London alone, a staggering 26,000 people are injured each year, reports Transport for London, and two-thirds of these accidents are caused by HGVs. Cameras are vital to get rid of driver blind spots in lorries.

In Greater London vehicle cameras have become compulsory for HGVs under a new law called the Direct Vision Standard.

Power take-off sensors can report whether a switch is positioned to ‘on’ or ‘off’. This could be anything from a vehicle-mounted crane, the bin lift in a bin wagon, special vehicle doors, working parts on an agricultural vehicle or more – their uses are almost endless.

CAN devices pull data from the vehicle diagnostics system. This means they can transmit anything from the vehicle’s own diagnostics system about the condition of the engine, brakes and anything else a mechanic would check via a vehicle’s CAN bus.

Sensors can be wired to other parts of moving assets to tell when doors are opened, when a tail lift is activated, or even the temperature inside a trailer. The variety of telematics devices at the top end of this technology is huge and constantly evolving.

How does telematics help businesses manage their fleets?

Now we’ll explain some of the types of information that a good telematics system can give you, and the benefits it can bring to businesses that use vehicles.

A lot of the real advantages of vehicle tracking depend on making sure you use all aspects of its functionality. Well over 50% of telematics users pay for functionality they never use, and the number one reason for this is that they find the system complicated and do not have time to study how it works.

iCompario tip: Compare how the same information is presented in different vehicle tracking software. Some systems are much more user-friendly than others.
The more functionality you actually use, the more cost savings you can make over time.

Manage your drivers efficiently by always knowing where they are

The core functionality of any telematics system is locating vehicles. This makes the difference between a fleet manager who is truly in control of his operation, making it as efficient as it can be, and a manager who basically relies on his drivers to manage themselves. Having an eagle-eye view of all your drivers and a complete breakdown of where they have been all day means you can truly tell who works the hardest and find out if anyone is wasting time while working for you.

Know where your vehicles are, all the time

All vehicle tracking systems show you exactly where every vehicle is, and where it has been. Most systems show you a map with a marker for each vehicle.

  • Who will you send to the next job? With vehicle trackers, you get a bird’s eye view of your whole fleet, so it is easy to see who is closest. A lot of systems highlight traffic jams, so you may want to give the driver a tip on which route to take.
  • Is a customer asking when the delivery man or plumber will arrive? You can enter a destination into vehicle tracking software and the system estimates the time of arrival. This functionality is great for multi-stop delivery fleets or taxi agencies, for example. It can give a real boost to the impression you give your customers.
  • Is the system showing certain roads that always cause delays to your drivers? You may improve their productivity by telling them to use a different route which gets them to their destination faster.
  • Was there really a hold-up at the warehouse, or do you have a driver who likes taking half-hour naps just outside the depot? Vehicle tracking will tell you.

Get systematic about fleet management by using geofences and alerts

Vehicle tracking systems can let you know if any of your vehicles are being driven outside working hours, or if they stray out of pre-set areas. In telematics these virtual boundaries are called ‘geofences’.

Geofences give you an easy way to stay in control and make sure your vehicles are always where you need them to be. In most systems you can set up alerts. For example:

  • You can find out as soon as each vehicle gets to a warehouse, and keep an eye on how long it takes to load up.
  • You can find out if a vehicle leaves your depot outside working hours when it should be staying where it is. If your employees keep vans outside their own homes outside hours, you may want an alert if the vehicle is used at all when the driver is not actually working for you!
  • Some fleets, usually with HGVs, ask their drivers to avoid going past schools at certain times of day. Setting up geofences around schools is an easy way to make sure your drivers are following the guidelines and also to have evidence if they are accused falsely of going where they should not.

Better driving with vehicle tracking saves money

Driver behaviour metrics, or an in-vehicle monitoring system (IVMS) are what make the difference between basic vehicle tracking and a full telematics system.

iCompario tip: When choosing a telematics system, ask how the in-vehicle monitoring system driver data is calculated and summarised in their software.
Some systems make this data much more digestible and usable than others.

This functionality is often neglected by users because they have signed up to a system which makes it look too complex. Vehicle tracking systems can pay for themselves many times over if fleet managers make proper use of the cost-saving data they provide.

  1. Save money using less fuel
  2. Spend less on vehicle repairs
  3. Get cheaper fleet insurance

Save money using less fuel

The most wasteful drivers use one third more fuel than the most efficient ones.

The top three ways of wasting diesel or petrol

Rapid acceleration

If you stop your drivers accelerating too harshly you could save a whole tank of fuel per vehicle per month.

The key is to look at the rev counter. The more revs, the more fuel it takes to cover the same distance.

Those Formula One take-offs from the traffic lights place a heavy load on drivetrain components, too.

Speeding

In a 3.5 tonne HGV, the “racy” style of driving costs hundreds of pounds in extra fuel every year.

The main way this happens is constant speeding up and then braking.

It is more fuel efficient to keep going at a steady speed, which is why it is so important to maintain safe stopping distances as well.

Leaving the engine idling

An HGV left idling for half an hour wastes up to 5 litres of diesel.

There used to be an urban myth that it uses more fuel to start up an engine than to leave it idling.

In reality, the fuel used to start a vehicle engine from cold is the same as the vehicle uses to drive for just 10 seconds.

Telematics can monitor each driver for the three fuel-wasting habits.

  • Most systems will work out a monthly total for the fuel-wasting habits and put them together in a single driver score. This lets you rank your drivers and keep track of how they are improving.
  • Vehicle tracking software shows how many minutes every vehicle is left with the engine idling while it is stationary.

You can give drivers advice on how to use less fuel, and then track if they improve. You can be an eco-warrior and save the planet at the same time, of course.

  • Some companies display leader-boards, for example, and reward the month’s most economical driver with an extra half day off or some other incentive.
  • A few larger companies invest in driver re-training courses.

Read more about how to save fuel.

Spend less on vehicle repairs

Harsh acceleration causes excessive wear and tear to your vehicle engine. Consistent late braking will place more strain on the braking system, wearing out your pads and discs faster, as well as costing you more fuel in the process. This kind of boy-racer driving may seem fine if your most productive driver is getting from A to B faster. But have you priced in the cost of the wear and tear on your vehicle, that you will be paying to repair?

Nobody wants the hassle and cost of their vehicles being off the road for repairs.

  • Which drivers are wearing your brake pads and gearboxes out faster and going to cost you more in repairs? Vehicle tracking has the answers.
  • A little word in the ear of some of your drivers could save you a small fortune in the long run.

Get cheaper fleet insurance

Many of us have felt the pain of seeing how much our car insurance goes up the year after we make a claim. Fleet insurance works the same way, of course, but this means there is an upside.
Insurers reward safe drivers with cheaper insurance. Fleet premiums can go down by as much as 30% if drivers are safer and the claims record is excellent.

How do you make fewer claims? Incentivise your drivers to safer habits. By recording the way your vehicles are driven, vehicle tracking systems give you the information you need to encourage your drivers to adopt a safer driving style.

Most companies see an instant improvement in driver behaviour simply because drivers know they are “being watched” even before the fleet manager starts actually using the software. Some telematics companies claim the improvement averages 20% across all their clients.

By reducing the number of insurance claims and fault accidents for three years, you can drive your insurance premium down by as much as one third. Some insurers go back as far as five years.

Most telematics systems work out a score which some insurance companies are interested in knowing. They give cheaper quotes to insure fleets with a better safety record.

Staying under the speed limit

The first way vehicle tracking can reduce fleet insurance costs is by keeping drivers under the speed limit. Statistics show that for every 5 miles an hour your speed increases, the risk of having a crash goes up 8%.

All telematics devices can detect vehicle speed and compare this to the legal speed limit of the road which the vehicle is driving along. In most systems you can set up alerts so that every time a driver goes over the speed limit, this is flagged up to you. Alternatively you can get a single consolidated figure at the end of the month which tells you the total number of speeding events for the driver.

Progressive braking

The second way to have fewer accidents and fewer claims is progressive breaking. This means looking ahead instead of stamping on the brakes at the last minute.

Telematics software counts up how many times a day each driver brakes suddenly, and gives them a monthly score.

Sudden braking is often a sign that drivers are too close to the vehicle in front of them. Are your drivers tailgating others because their shift is too long and they are tired? Are they just reckless drivers? Do they sneak a look at their phone while driving? It is also likely to result in your drivers getting rear-ended: they may have reaction speeds like a boxer, but what about the driver behind them? Whatever the reason, putting a stop to sudden braking can reduce insurance claims and wasted time with vehicles off the road for repairs.

Gradual acceleration and cornering

The third way to reduce accidents with telematics is by tackling fast cornering and sudden accelerating.

If you put your drivers under time pressure, they may feel they need to drive aggressively. But have you balanced up the cost? You need to consider vehicle wear and tear, higher insurance premiums, more time off the road for repairs and a higher consumption of diesel or petrol.

Aggressive and reckless driving can give your company a bad name, which you may not want! Remember, it is your logo on the side of the vehicle.

Using vehicle tracking can stamp our fraud and keep drivers safer

Reduce fraud and moonlighting

Not all vehicle usage is for business purposes. From weekend usage, to more serious issues with employees potentially moonlighting, the cost of fuel can be expensive for a business.

  • Telematics can monitor if vehicles are always where they need to be, and can send alerts if they are being driven outside working hours.
  • Some telematics systems integrate vehicle locations and fuel purchasing data when a certain fuel card is used. This means you can compare where each vehicle was with the location of each fuel purchase made using the driver’s fuel card. If they are not in the same place, you have identified a problem!
  • A few systems show you data on the miles per gallon for each vehicle, based on fuel purchased using a fuel card and the miles travelled. Bear in mind, the miles per gallon data is only accurate if you always use the linked fuel card for every purchase: if your drivers use more than one card, or sometimes use cash, the data will not be accurate.

Rapid rescue if drivers have an accident

Should the worst happen and one of your drivers is involved in an accident, vehicle tracking can help you pinpoint exactly where it happened. Communicating this to the emergency services can speed up response times.

This is not just useful for companies in remote areas whose drivers may use roads where very little traffic passes. There have been a few cases of companies installing vehicle tracking after a driver had a motorway crash and was injured and just out of sight from passing traffic for way to long.

Work legal shift lengths and stick to health and safety regulations

With telematics you can see how long each driver has been on the road and how many miles they have travelled.

It is in your interests to make sure your drivers stick within the maximum number of working hours that regulations permit. Telematics is the easiest way for you to put your mind at rest and have evidence that you follow the law. Sophisticated systems can give tachograph data which records this data and sends it to an independent registered third party, meaning it classes as legal evidence.

Find your vehicle if it is stolen

If your vehicle is stolen with a telematics device fitted to it, you will be able to find it on a map. Some professional vehicle thieves know how to remove telematics devices, but amateurs are very unlikely even to realise the device is there.

Are you ready to give it a try?

The way pricing usually works for telematics is that you pay an up-front fee for the transmitting devices and their installation, and a monthly subscription to the software online. Some of the entry-level systems cost less than a pound a day. Even the more sophisticated ones can cost the same as you would pay a driver for two hours work. This means they tend to pay for themselves pretty quickly if you can use them to put a stop to drivers taking breaks while on the clock or using your fuel for their second job. The savings only go up if you make full use of the information and build a fuel-efficient fleet with a great safety record.
Here at iCompario we have the low-down on the leading vehicle tracking suppliers in the UK. If you want to give telematics a try, bookmark our vehicle tracking systems search page to start browsing your options.

Sources and useful links

Telematics: Wikipedia
Transport for London: The direct Vision Standard