Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mobile AL Installs DriveCam in City Vehicles

MOBILE, Ala. -- Mobile is trying to cut down on the number of accidents involving city vehicles by video recording the employees who drive them.

Officials have installed dashboard cameras that record both the driver and the road in 99 city vehicles, including ambulances, garbage trucks and WAVE buses.

Gary Gamble, the city's safety manager, said the program has been in place for a little more than a year now and has coincided with a decrease in city car crashes.

The City Council on Dec. 8 unanimously voted to pay $49,000 to continue the service for another year.

The cameras run continuously and record with infrared light when it gets dark, Gamble said.

Anytime there is an accident or even a sharp turn or hard brake, the camera saves the video from eight seconds before the event to four seconds after.

The camera sends the video to a company, San Diego-based DriveCam Inc., which analyzes the driver's behavior. The company tells the city whether drivers are doing things such as talking on their cell phones, not looking at the road or not wearing their seatbelts.

Supervisors use the data to train drivers, Gamble said, but the information can eventually be used for disciplinary measures.

Nobody can trigger the camera to send a recording remotely, so they can't be used to spy on employees, Gamble said.

Drivers can trigger the cameras. Gamble said garbage truck drivers have used the cameras to show that parked cars were blocking their access to bins.

The city can also use the videos to either defend itself or decide to settle quickly if a vehicle accident spurs a lawsuit, Gamble said.

But the main point is to use the data to reduce accidents, and Gamble said he believes the program has been successful in that regard.

The program went online last fall after a test run over the summer. Accidents involving city vehicles dropped from more than two per month last year to about one per month this year, Gamble said.

Al Stokes, the city's chief of staff, said the program has been so successful that other departments are asking to be included.

"It's had a tremendous effect on behavior modification," Stokes said