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FLEET DECISIONS – Black boxes shown to improve safety.

Fleet managers, anxious about the soaring costs of accident repairs and maintenance contracts, are being asked to put their faith in two new gadgets designed to help them get the best out of the fleet and persuade drivers to take better care of their vehicles. The computerised Journey Data Recorder and its cousin the Accident Data Recorder are both said to have resulted in dramatic falls in accident rates and a general improvement in driver behaviour. The claims were cautiously supported by an EU-sponsored investigation lead by the University of London and by earlier trials in Berlin. Journey Data Recorders (JDR) record a range of driver behaviour such as acceleration, braking, speed and engine idling times, while Accident Data Recorders (ADR) concentrate on the few seconds before and after an impact. Four years ago, the EU-sponsored Samovar project, which was lead by Dr Bill Fincham of Queen Mary and Westfield College, found that the presence of monitoring equipment resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of accidents in the cars using it. This was followed by more recent trials for the Berlin Police, in which significant accident reductions were achieved. In London, the Metropolitan Police also fitted a small number of ADRs and found that driver behaviour was being influenced even in those vehicles not fitted with the equipment. As a result, the Met announced last month that ADRs would now be fitted to around 400 of their Immediate Response vehicles. In spite of this, market penetration of the ADR is extremely slow and there is little evidence to suggest the device is being fitted to vehicles outside Germany, where German electronics firm VDO-Kienzle counts sales in the low thousands. On the other hand, JDRs, particularly in the heavy goods vehicle market, are being seen as a means of controlling maintenance and fuel costs. Produced by companies such as Wiltshire-based Leafield AVM, the French company Simac Logiq and IMS of Northampton, Journey Data Recorders are about the size of a video cassette, cost around £300. The ICS Black Box marketed by IMS is a typical example. It is based around a solid-state cartridge carried by an on-board computer. Pre-set parameters, including the g-force of deceleration, maximum speed, maximum driving hours and so on can be set in accordance with company policy and the device then allows the fleet manager to monitor driving patterns in individual cases. An alarm warns the driver if he exceeds the set limits, and details are recorded on the computer’s hard drive for later analysis. “We are not sure yet whether driver behaviour is changed because of the presence of these devices,” said Paul Foreman of the Transport Research Laboratory, “or if it is a combination of this and other factors like additional training. What is undeniable is that we are seeing accident reductions of the order of 28%.”

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