The truth will out

Philip Mason explores how vehicle telematics are being used to prevent fraud, and even bring dangerously negligent drivers to justice

As readers of Land Mobile magazine will know, the use of telematics is now more or less ubiquitous on the part of those in the business of fleet management.

There are a variety of reasons for this, not least that the technology provides companies with peace of mind when it comes to driver performance, in terms of both safety and efficiency. Conversely, the knowledge that they are being watched also impacts drivers themselves, ensuring a level of mindfulness (when it comes to speed, awareness of other road users and so on), which wouldn’t necessarily have been the case in more primitive times.

Having said that, telematics have by no means engineered out poor driving altogether, evidenced by the 1,710 reported road deaths – according to the Department for Transport – that took place in the UK in the past year. As it happens, however, the technology also has a valuable role to play in the quest to find out what happened after things have gone wrong.

Three in one
There are two core ways in which telematics solutions are useful following an incident on the road. The first is in relation to insurance claims – both fraudulent and legitimate – to examine the performance of the driver after the fact. The other is in a court of law. One company at the forefront of this kind of business case is APD Communications, whose Artemis solution is designed specifically for use by emergency services fleet managers.

“Artemis essentially has three parts,” says company MD Mike Isherwood. “They are: tracking vehicles and radios; fleet management; and collision investigation. It’s the last two which are the most useful following an incident involving an emergency services vehicle.”

Elaborating on the second function, he continues: “The fleet management aspect is essentially about monitoring driver behaviour, out of which you derive metrics in relation to fuel use and so on. It also helps to protect the organisation from any kind of malicious reporting, as well as from any issues around speeding tickets. The system logs when a vehicle’s blue lights are turned on, something which generally doesn’t get picked up by speed cameras.”

According to Isherwood, this kind of functionality is becoming increasingly necessary for first-responders, particularly with certain members of the public apparently driving into emergency services vehicles with the aim of achieving an insurance pay-out. This is a – you would imagine, particularly high-risk – subset of a kind of fraud which has become known as ‘crash for cash’.

“Up until now – prior to the roll-out of telematics systems – the police have been largely self-insured,” says Isherwood. “So, when they were involved in crash, it’s been easier to just pay out, which you can completely understand.

“Telematics stops that from happening, because you have access to all the data about the journey as well as any alleged incident. Pay-outs then become less of a risk and easier to manage, which in turn lowers claims, which means insurers will start to insure.”

As with any other telematics system, this aspect of Artemis’s functionality is facilitated through the use of onboard sensors. These are increasingly located within the vehicle as a matter of course – something which Isherwood believes is likely to have a major impact on the industry going forward – as well as bespoke devices fitted by the company itself.

Alongside monitoring driver behaviour, however, these devices are also invaluable when it comes to the crash investigation aspect of the system, particularly in providing what Isherwood refers to as “contextual data”. This is derived from accelerometers (otherwise known as G sensors), as well as sensors corresponding to braking and brake lights, indicators, seat belts, door functionality and so on.

Going into greater detail about the crash investigation functionality, and again, how it relates to the fight against fraud, Isherwood says: “We can rebuild using a collision analysis tool, using information recorded by the sensors positioned around the car. The black box in the vehicle records from multiple data points at 200Hz, which is roughly eight times faster than the human brain can process images.

“We see the vehicle in 3D – how it moved, how it twisted during the crash and so on. If there’s external video, we can obviously cross-reference using that; if not, it will show you how the vehicle moved using Google Street View.”

Regarding the speed and location of the vehicle itself, this is ascertained using global positioning data, the reliability of which also has to be verified, particularly if the information is going to be used in a court of law. This is because the GPS data stream is both subject to interference from the external environment and will also become less trustworthy depending on the number of satellites involved in the ‘trilateration’ process. This, according to Isherwood, is known as “dilution of precision”.

He says: “Our system is able to verify the data by looking at what was received by the satellites, and cross-referencing against a variety of variables. That includes the time at which the system received the information compared to the time given by the atomic clock in the satellite itself, and the strength of the signal at the time as well as after and before the crash.

“What was your velocity and orientation? Did it say that you were travelling in a straight line and you suddenly jumped to the left, and what is the likelihood of that? We’ve essentially taken predictive models which are used in car design, and incorporated them into something which the emergency services would find useful.”

360 degrees of perfected views
Another company carrying out work involving telematics and insurance is ICanProve.IT, which rather than the emergency services, concentrates its business primarily on the haulage sector. Its most recent high-profile project, as reported in Land Mobile, was the roll-out of a solution combining telematics and wired-in video surveillance to fleet operated by major linen and textile company Elis.

The system’s cameras – which were provided by Axis Communications – offer a ‘360-degree’ view of both the interior and exterior of the vehicle in question, linked to information about driver behaviour. According to figures put out by the company, this has led to a 12 per cent increase in fuel efficiency across the fleet, as well as a concurrent 58 per cent decrease in driver-related incidents.

Speaking of the origin of the system, ICanProve.IT managing director Gavin Urtel says: “In 2013, I saw two cars nearly get into a crash. It stuck in my head, and I asked my insurance broker about the number of fraudulent claims, which seemed to be different depending on who you asked. He basically told me that there was no way for the industry to know for sure – at the time it was all estimation.”

He continues: “The idea with the system is essentially to connect the fleets to the office, something which could involve a live view – via broadband – as well as playback, in concert with
the vehicle telematics and onboard tachograph [driving time, speed and distance] information. We partner with TomTom Telematics on this aspect of the solution.

“We now have insurance companies using our system to process the claims without having to involve the customer at all, which essentially short-circuits the whole process. What would have previously been an incredibly lengthy claim now comes down to a matter of days. No matter whose mistake led to the incident, we can resolve it instantly.”

According to Urtel, as well as convenience of information access, the system also has a number of benefits when it comes to security. The most obvious of these, unlike a camera situated on a dashboard, is that it’s not possible to reach in through the window and steal the device. At the same time, a ‘digital fingerprinting’ feature ensures that the footage itself can’t be tampered with through the use of third-party editing software.

Discussing the process through which the information is transported, Urtel says: “Once the checks to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with are complete, we upload it to a web page, inserting other data from other sources to put the journey in context.

“Again, that could include how long the driver had been working for, location and so on. We store and encrypt the data onboard, keeping it on average for around 28 days.”

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the use of telematics is incredibly widespread across the fleet management sector. It is – in the words of APD’s Isherwood – “something which a lot of people do incredibly well”.

With that in mind, you have to wonder where the industry goes from here, not just in terms of technology, but also market share. The fact that commercial vehicle manufacturers are increasingly including telematics functionality on their vehicles as standard will also no doubt have a massive impact as time goes by.

(One obvious example of this is the use of private eCall functionality, which is likewise being rolled out on an ever-increasing basis).

Whatever happens in the future – however niche and sector-specific the required data has to become to create demand – Land Mobile will be there with the story.

Crash and burnt
One of the largest UK ‘crash for cash’ scams took place in South Wales, where more than 77 people were convicted of submitting false claims in June earlier this year.

As reported by the BBC, the scam centred around using vehicles in staged accidents. Many of those involved visited the same doctor – who was not implicated in the case nor part of the criminal proceedings – who diagnosed them with a series of crash-related ailments including whiplash and situational anxiety.

The total number of people involved in the scheme throughout the course of its life was more than 150, with the majority of those convicted between 2011 and 2016. The sheer scale of the fraud could only be revealed once the case was concluded this year.

The centre of ‘crash for cash’ in the UK as of 2017 – again, according to the BBC – is Birmingham. Reporting on a postcode ‘league table’ published by the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) in that year, the news outlet said 10 out of the top 30 locations for the crime could be found in the city.

Director of the IFB Ben Fletcher said: “We don’t know the exact reason Birmingham features so heavily.

“Obviously, this is a nationwide problem and we have investigations from Kent to the North East, but large urban areas tend to be the focal points for this kind of crime.”