Driver Risk Management Systems (DRMs) May Be Double-Edged Sword in Trucking Accident Litigation


By: Barry Brownstein
What if you could watch a trucking accident that is the subject of complex litigation that could result in millions of dollars in damages? What if you could watch the driver’s conduct minutes or seconds before the accident occurred?
Video cameras and Driver Risk Management Systems (“DRMs”) have been installed in almost a half-million trucks around the United States. Major trucking companies, like Swift and Volpe Express Inc., have installed cameras in thousands of trucks to protect themselves from accident litigation. Now, with the installation of DRMs, cameras not only record what is in front of the moving truck, but also the driver controlling the truck in motion. Most cameras used in trucks are triggered by sudden changes in speed or other movement that may be an accident in progress. Some systems can even notify a driver when they are driving dangerously or burning too much fuel. Also, most cameras record in roughly ten-second increments after being triggered. By recording both the road and the driver, cameras and DRMs have become very useful for lawyers who represent transportation companies in complex and costly trucking accident litigation.
Cameras and DRMs allow an attorney and the transportation company to know what may have caused an accident that is the subject of litigation. The front-facing cameras can record swerving, illegal turns and lane changes, rate of speed, and the conduct of other drivers on the road. The driver-facing cameras, or DRMs, record the driver’s behavior, which can display signs of intoxication, sleeping, texting, and other dangerous driving habits that lead to accidents. With accident and driver footage, the lawyer and client have more information available to evaluate the case. Most importantly, the footage may show evidence of who is at fault, which is crucial in defending transportation companies from false accusations of dangerous driving. Studies also show that when drivers know they are being monitored, they avoid bad driving habits, which in turn could reduce the transportation company’s exposure to liability.
Being able to watch a recording of an accident and the truck driver involved as the accident occurred may seem too good to be true, and it could be. The benefits of installing truck camera systems could change the way accident claims are litigated, but the camera systems also raise other concerns. First, the installation of recording devices in long-haul rucks raises privacy concerns. Truck drivers spend a large part of their lives in their trucks. The drivers eat, sleep and talk to friends and family on the phone in their trucks. Some drivers believe the cameras are more for spying on the transportation employees rather than monitoring the safety of the driving. While DRMs, like Lytx and SmartDrive, claim that the cameras are not constantly recording and never viewed live, drivers are still skeptical about wide-spread system installations. In addition, there are concerns as to what exactly may be used while representing a client and who gets to view the recordings.
The concerns associated with truck cameras are similar to those involved in taxi cab cameras that have been being discussed since 2010. It should be noted that how taxi cab videos are used in litigation is highly regulated. Laws regulate how long an in-car camera can record once it is triggered. Also, all jurisdictions require that the recordings be given to the opposing party’s counsel during discovery, which could lead an injured party to file further claims against the transportation company. These are concerns that may affect the use of cameras and DRMs in long-haul trucks if the trend continues to grow.