….or – Everything you need to know if you are thinking about equipping your fleet with cameras.
Functionality and jargon. What does it all mean?
As usual, technology products create technical jargon. It’s a fact of life.
Megabytes, Megapixels, FPS’s, decibels and flux capacitors all play a part (apart from flux capacitors but you spotted that, I hope?)
Specifications and Features
Most cameras that you will see will flaunt specifications and features galore to try and tempt you. However, unless you enjoy reading the ‘tech specs’, ignore them and make yourself familiar with the following and that should be all you need to consider.
- High Definition
Everyone says that their cameras are High-Definition. Don’t see this phrase and think that it actually means anything, it rarely does. The higher the definition (resolution) of an image, the more storage space it takes up and the more processor speed it needs to create and write video files. Inevitably this leads to a compromise between picture quality and performance so the best way to determine the quality of a camera is to ask to see some footage and decide yourself if it is good enough. For example, can you see a registration plate clear enough to read it when the vehicle is stationery at traffic lights? If so, that’s about all you need. (Don’t necessarily expect to be able to read all number plates when the vehicle is moving, that does require a high-quality, high frame rate camera and is generally not necessary when determining liability).
- Frame Rate
In addition to the resolution, the frame rate is also important but from a data volume perspective rather than picture quality. A video is simply a number of still images viewed one after the other that tricks the eye into seeing motion. The more images (called ‘frames’), the smoother the video. A low frame per second (FPS) rate will show a more jerky picture but that might not be an issue. Do you really need to see more than 5 frames every second to prove liability for example? Most cameras will record video at a minimum of 10 fps. The point is that a 20 fps video has twice as many images as a 10fps video so the resulting video file is twice the size, – so it takes up twice the space on your SD card and so you are halving your recording time for any SD card. – Just so you know.
- Camera viewing angle
This determines the field of view of the camera. It is expressed in degrees and anything over 110 should be fine. Again, ask to see a video clip, if it is installed in the centre of the windscreen does it have a wide-enough field of view so that you can see both sides of the road for a reasonable distance in front of the vehicle? There’s no point having a camera if it doesn’t show you the deer running out in front of the van that caused the accident.
Probably an obvious one but Uncle Bob (see article 1) probably wouldn’t realise that a 12v camera isn’t going to last long in a 24v truck!
- SD Card
Done to death in article 2 but make sure that you get at least one card included with the camera, and that it is of high enough capacity to record a decent amount of footage before it starts overwriting your video. Ensure that the camera itself can use at least a 32Gb capacity card (some can’t).
Oh, and bear in mind about frame rate and resolution above. Your supplier should be able to tell you how best to setup the camera to maximise the SD card space without diminishing the video quality too much.
Audio is an interesting one. Whether it is something you feel you need is entirely up to you. Some of our customers swear by it (or rather they like to hear who swore first during a road-rage incident). It also lets them hear if a driver was on his phone immediately prior to an accident. However, there is a data protection issue here. If you have a camera with audio capability, and it records constantly, then you are eavesdropping on everything that is said in the vehicle such as private conversations, phone calls etc. As long as your contracts of employment allow this, and you are comfortable that you comply with the data protection issues (which I don’t intend to cover here) then you may decide this is a feature that you want.
- Panic button
A panic button allows the driver or passenger to activate a video recording. The camera will then treat this like a harsh incident and store the footage with other priority events. This is useful if a driver feels threatened, for example in a road-rage incident, or they want to record a memo event of something that didn’t trigger the camera. This is a great feature that benefits the driver so I would recommend going for a camera with this option if possible.
- Additional Camera(s)
Some cameras come with integral dual lenses so that you can record video of not only the road ahead, but also provide a simultaneous video of the driver. Some business owners like this feature as it allows them to see the actions of the driver prior to an incident. They are certainly a huge advantage in determining responsibility for an incident but be aware of contractual and data protection issues. (see Audio section above).
It is also common to find higher-end cameras with the facility to add wired and wireless remote cameras that can monitor other areas up to a full 360 degree exterior view with side, reversing cameras and in-cab monitor. However, once you get more than two cameras on this type of equipment you are looking at a more complex, more expensive setup that requires different storage options such as high-capacity solid state memory or hard disc drives so I am considering them outside the scope of this article. – Maybe one for another day.
Neither a specification nor a feature I suppose but important nevertheless. Make sure that you understand the terms of any warranty. Is it return to base (ie you need to remove the camera yourself and return it), is a call out included in the warranty or does it just cover the equipment?
If you are buying a remote access camera with a service contract, does the warranty cover the whole contract? (Some cover just the first 12 months).
No answers for you here, just making you aware of the need to be aware.
Harsh Events and why they are as important as accident information.
There is one technical aspect I haven’t covered yet which is very relevant so here is as good a place as any.
What triggers a harsh event and is there any benefit recording more of them?
I briefly touched upon this in an earlier article but it is worth a little consideration, especially as we are going to cover benefits and Return On Investment next.
Each camera incorporates an accelerometer that measures g-Force. When you put your foot to the floor in a car and feel yourself being pushed back in your seat, that’s the force I’m talking about. The harshness of the event determines the severity of the g-force which is measured front to back (acceleration and braking) and side to side (cornering).
Therefore, in order to trigger the camera to record an event, a threshold for the minimum g-forces for acceleration, braking and side to side (cornering) are set and it is only when these are exceeded that a harsh event is recorded. (Although most cameras will, as explained above, continue a rolling recording).
If a cameras sole purpose is to be an accident camera, then these thresholds will be set relatively high so that only a sudden impact, usually a very severe deceleration, i.e. an accident will trigger the camera.
However, in a fleet environment, it is not just accidents that are important for you to be aware of. If a driver has multiple near-misses then you should probably also know about them as well, as the chances of this driver having an actual accident is probably much higher than one who generates few harsh events.
In order to distinguish between accidents and events of different severities, many fleet cameras have variable thresholds so that they can be set appropriately depending on what you want to get from your system. For example they may have a ‘High’ threshold to determine an accident event, a ‘Medium’ threshold to determine a very harsh manoeuvre and a ‘Low’ threshold to determine harsh but not necessarily dangerous or severe manoeuvres, just poor roadscraft.
In this way the camera can provide not only high priority event information, such as accident notification, but also provide driver behaviour analysis.
I talked in a previous article about the different types of camera systems and those that send data remotely can also provide this type of driver behaviour information, which is similar to that provided by a telematics/tracking system. These camera systems may also provide you with driver behaviour performance comparison tables so that you can see which drivers perform more safely than others. This is invaluable if you are looking to drive a true return on investment from your system as it will pay for its cost of and provide other intangible benefits and this is the topic of the next article.
So, hopefully you now have even more food for thought. You should now understand what cameras can do, how they do it, how they store it and the type and specification of camera system that you need.
Next time we will discuss the benefits of these cameras, Return On Investment and how to quantify it so you can determine what is right for you.
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