Cameras in trucks “breach personal space”

This T659 Kenworth acts as Mr Weherm’s home five nights a week. Photo Samantha McCombe
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The installation of driver-facing cameras in Australian trucks has sparked serious privacy concerns in the trucking community. Samantha McCombe reports.

His laugh fills the cabin as the T659 Kenworth roars over the West Gate bridge. With such a deep contagious chuckle, it’s no surprise his friends have nicknamed him ‘Giggles’. His grease stained hands grip the polished wood of the steering wheel as he directs the monstrous B Double towards South Australia. It’s 2:30pm on a Friday, and this truck driver can finally go home.

Robbie Weherm, a 50-year-old truck driver from South Australia, has been driving trucks for 26 years. The walls of this Kenworth cabin act as his home from Sunday night through to Friday evening. Despite its cramped nature, it contains the necessities: a small set of shelves to hold various personal items, a thin single bed and space to store the duffel bags full of essentials for a week away. His iPhone sits propped up on the vinyl dash, its background displaying the image of his two young kids. It’s a constant reminder of the sacrifice he makes every day as an interstate truckdriver.

Interstate truck driving is a difficult and demanding industry. Drivers work to tight deadlines, running off little sleep and food, and are usually separated from their families for days, and occasionally weeks, at a time. They often spend more days in the truck than they do in their own homes. But these are aspects of the job drivers are willing to accept. However, the same cannot be said for the driver facing cameras being installed by transport companies.

“I don’t agree with it facing the driver from a privacy aspect. That’s where we live,” Mr Weherm said.

This technology has recently been distributed to truck companies throughout Australia. One popular brand is Guardian cameras created by Seeing Machines. According to the Seeing Machines website, Guardian cameras use “face- and gaze-tracking algorithms [to] measure the driver’s head position and eye closure and when safety parameters are exceeded, audio alarms and seat vibration are immediately activated”.

A fatigue report by the Road Safety Commission in 2018, stated that 36 per cent of Australian truck drivers surveyed “reported ‘nodding off for a moment’ on some occasion in the previous 12 months of work”. Additionally, the report highlighted that 14 per cent of truck drivers who participated in the study, “admitted to falling asleep at least occasionally whilst driving for work”.

After driving for 26 years Mr Weherm is most comfortable behind the wheel of a B Double truck. Photo Samantha McCombe.

These statistics reinforce the message that fatigue is an issue among Australian truckdrivers, one that transport companies are trying to solve with inward facing cameras. The Seeing Machines website says that Guardian cameras are used by “leading transport and logistics companies worldwide” and have been proven to “reduce fatigue events by more than 90 per cent”.

Bill McKinley, chief of staff at Australian Trucking Association, commented on the effectiveness of Guardian cameras saying, “Guardian by Seeing Machines has detected more than five million distraction events in its installed fleet and intervened in more than 121,000 suspected fatigue events over 12 months.”

“As part of a fatigue and distraction monitoring system, inward facing cameras are an important tool to improve safety and reduce crashes,” he said.

However, despite their effectiveness the installation of these cameras hasn’t been well received by some in the truck driver community. Some drivers are particularly concerned about their actions being recorded, as their trucks are their homes five days a week.

“You’d have issues with blokes getting changed. And if they have microphones to pick up driver’s conversations that’d be the same as bugging your phone,” Mr Weherm said.

“When the ignitions off you should be able to cover the lens. But they can be hardwired so they’re on all the time, even though you’d like to think that they’re not.”

Forty-one-year-old Matt Kelly, who has owned his own trucks for nine years and been a truck driver for 25 years, agreed with Mr Weherm that installing inward facing cameras in trucks raises privacy concerns.

“It’s just a breach of your own personal space,” Mr Kelly said. “They’re recording sound and if you’re the owner and can plug into that and can pull it up on your laptop in your office, you can listen in to what’s been happening in the cabin at any time. And this is where I’ve got a real issue with it. When do you get privacy?”

Mr Kelly said that as a truck owner he would not install the cameras as he feels they are a tool insurance companies use so they can “blame someone else”.

“It’s just basically a big handballing game in my opinion of insurance companies, employers, whoever, wanting to shove the responsibilities anyway they can. In my opinion, they’re looking at sharing the blame but they’re going to do it under the disguise of safety,” he said.

Mr Kelly said that while a common belief is the cameras result in cheaper insurance, he is unsure of the accuracy of that statement.

“There’s some that say, ‘oh you’ll get a rebate’ and I know there’s some that if you’ve got a forward facing dash camera they do give a rebate. But I don’t know 100 per cent on the ones that face backwards,” he said.

When asked about the impact of driver facing cameras on truck insurance, Mr McKinley said, “Australia’s leading trucking insurer, NTI, and Seeing Machines recently announced a partnership to deliver insurance benefits to companies that fit the technology. This is an important example of how advanced technology can reduce the risk of crashes – and therefore costs ‒ because safety is good business.”

Driver Robbie Weherm said that whilst the privacy issue troubles him, he does recognise some of the benefits of companies installing the driver facing cameras. In particular, he thought the cameras would help prove driver’s innocence in situations where an accident has occurred through no fault of the truck driver.

“In some ways it’s not a bad thing because if the driver’s in the clear it’s proof. When there’s an accident involving a car and a truck the first thing everyone thinks is, ‘oh it’s the trucks fault’. A lot of people have to realise that these drivers have been doing this for many years and they know what they’re doing,” Mr Weherm said.

“The biggest issue companies put them in for is the fatigue, [but] accidents do happen. It doesn’t matter how many cameras or how many regulations, it’s still a machine and you’re still human.”

Mr Weherm said that fatigue is an issue experienced by interstate drivers, but most understand their limits.

“If I get four or five hours sleep for the day I’m good. I’m not too tired because at one stage I was only getting two hours,” he said. “When you’ve been in the industry a while you know the signs of fatigue and when you need to pull up.”

For this driver, the industry becoming more regulated by technology was evident. Although he doesn’t agree with some of the new technology, as he sits in the cabin watching the countryside roll by travelling from state to state, he can’t deny this is where he’s meant to be.

“The lifestyle it gets in your blood. I enjoy driving, I can’t imagine doing a nine to five job after this. After trucking for a while, I don’t know what else I’d do,” he said.