Under the provisions of Section 5117 of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21 st Century of 1998 (TEA-21), Congress authorized the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to:
...conduct research on the deployment of a system of advanced sensors and signal processors in trucks and tractor trailers to determine axle and wheel alignment, monitor collision alarm, check tire pressure and tire balance conditions, measure and detect load distribution in the vehicle, and adjust automatic braking systems.
As a result of a comprehensive technology scan-as well as numerous interviews with key industry stakeholders such as truck manufacturers, fleet operators, suppliers, and regulators-a variety of research areas were identified including an assessment of the potential for developing cost-effective VDR solutions for various applications.
By observing and analyzing vehicle performance parameters, driver inputs, and vehicle responses, manufacturers and operators of commercial motor vehicles can extract the maximum utility, achieve new levels of safety and security, and have at their disposal a wealth of new information to help them learn from vehicle events. Coupled with recent innovations in telematics that provide dramatic increases in bandwidth and data transmission rates, these technologies offer new opportunities for improving vehicle safety, reliability, and profitability. Such real-time monitoring and data-logging opportunities include improved vehicle interaction, driver training and oversight, occupant-protection systems, and collision-avoidance systems.
Systems that record specific vehicle inputs, component conditions, and dynamic responses from the period immediately preceding a crash, through the actual event, offer safety agencies and vehicle manufacturers additional opportunities to gain knowledge that can be used to reduce the likelihood of future crashes.
Early in this project, it was decided to explore both of these potential benefit scenarios. In consultation with the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "vehicle data recorder" (VDR) was settled on as a collective term for technologies that perform one or both of these functions.
The primary objective of the project was to explore the potential for the development of cost-effective VDR solutions tailored to varied applications or market segments. Through a combination of technical research and analysis, including business-related cost-benefit assessment, potential VDR configurations ranging from fundamental to comprehensive were explored.
Overview of Approach
Work on this project consisted of the following subtasks:
- Capture the available results of this research and synthesize information from the commercial vehicle user, OEM, equipment supplier, and recorder manufacturer communities. The results of this formed the foundation for the development of VDR alternative concepts, and the evaluation of potential benefits and costs. The focus was not to serve as a liaison for sharing of information among third parties, but rather as a means of gathering information necessary to complete the project.
- Conduct a comprehensive literature search and review of documents published by public, quasi-public (e.g., Associations, Committees, Coalitions, Institute, etc.), and private companies that have conducted VDR-related research and development. These institutions and companies included the various public-private partnerships and consortia that have formed under the provisions of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and TEA-21 legislation.
- Identify specific VDR features and capabilities available and incorporated in commercially available VDRs, estimate the costs associated with those features, and develop an understanding of the cost drivers for VDR design.
- Profile high-level VDR functional requirements extracted from industry and government findings (NHTSA, FHWA, TRB, ATA/TMC), survey and interview key industry stakeholders, and assess end-user needs and expectations regarding VDR capabilities and required data parameters.
- Develop several VDR concepts with different levels of VDR sophistication. VDR concepts were formulated and targeted in the following end-use applications:
- Accident reconstruction and crash causation
- Operational efficiency
- Driver monitoring
- Develop technical and performance descriptions for each VDR concept to assist in the analysis of the costs associated with their development and manufacture.
- Profile and analyze advanced VDR technologies that could be added to any of the concepts developed.
- Identify and estimate the costs and benefits for each of the VDR concepts developed. Costs (including those for engineering development, application programming, and hardware) were developed for each concept based on the technical and performance requirements developed. An overview of the business-case justification that typical fleets use in purchasing VDRs and the likely benefits of these systems was also developed.
Alternative VDR Concepts
Using industry and government findings from NHTSA, FHWA, and the American Trucking Associations' Technology & Maintenance Council (ATA/TMC), along with surveys and interviews with key industry stakeholders, the contractor team profiled end-user needs and expectations regarding VDR capabilities and required data parameters. Several industry and government organizations have released findings related to the specific data parameters that VDRs should record. These data parameters were then categorized into five data sets based on qualitative rankings and applicability to the three main VDR functions as follows:
- Accident Reconstruction and Crash Causation Core Data Set - Core data parameters necessary for performing accident reconstruction and crash causation analysis. These parameters are typified by the data recorded in an EDR.
- Accident Reconstruction and Crash Causation Advanced Data Set - Data parameters that would complement the core data parameters in group 1, but some of which would likely require the installation of sensors at various locations around the vehicle. This dataset includes all of the core accident reconstruction and crash causation data parameters in group 1.
- Operational Efficiency Core Data Set - Core data parameters that could be used to improve a fleet's operational efficiency. These parameters are typical of the kinds of information recorded by vehicle data loggers. The information collected is used to improve maintenance efficiency, detect and prevent possible on-road breakdowns, monitor driver performance, track goods movement, and manage fleet logistics. The parameters identified as the "core" operational data set would be commonly available on new model tractors and would generally not require installation of additional equipment or sensors. It should be noted that to maximize operational efficiency benefits, a VDR would most likely be equipped to record geographic position using global positioning system (GPS) or similar technology. However, as GPS and similar technologies could benefit all of the five concepts but are not necessarily required, it has been included in the discussion of advanced VDR technologies in Chapter 3.
- Operational Efficiency Advanced Data Set - Other data parameters that a fleet could use to further improve and monitor the efficiency of a fleet. Some of these parameters may require installation of additional sensors. This dataset includes all of the core operational efficiency data parameters in group 3.
- Driver Monitoring Data Set - Data parameters that could be used to monitor driver behavior for regulation enforcement, fleet safe-driver incentives, or insurance policy changes.
Unique (distinct) concepts were developed to represent practical combinations of features and capabilities that would address requirements for differing market segments. Specifically, the following VDR and event data recorder (EDR) concepts were developed:
- A low-cost event-triggered data recorder for recording baseline accident data
- A more advanced event-triggered data recorder that incorporates advanced sensor technologies
- A baseline continuous vehicle data recorder that records maintenance and operational data meant to improve fleet operations
- An advanced continuous data recorder that includes additional driver monitoring parameters
- A "full-featured" VDR that might include both accident data and operational efficiency data.
Each of these five concepts was mapped to the data sets developed from industry and government findings, as shown in Exhibit ES.1.
Exhibit ES.1 - Capabilities of Concept Vehicle Data Recorders
Vehicle Data Recorders
Crash Pulse Recording (high data rate before/after crash event trigger)
Continuous and Histogram Operational Data Recording (low data rate)
Accident Reconstruction Core Data Set
Accident Reconstruction/Causation Advanced Data Set
Operational Efficiency Core Data Set
Operational Efficiency Advanced Data Set
Driver Monitoring Data Set
Advanced VDR Technologies
In addition to the VDR "baseline" concepts, a listing of advanced VDR technologies that could be added to any of the five concepts was developed. These include:
- Additional internal memory storage (i.e., a storage upgrade to record more event data)
- Removable storage media (e.g., magnetic, optical, solid-state memory)
- Onboard vehicle network communication and downloading (e.g., CAN, IDB, serial)
- Vehicle location, direction of travel, and absolute time (e.g., GPS)
- Digital imaging (e.g., video)
- Sensor for determining the relative location of nearby vehicles (e.g., radar, ultrasonic)
- Short-range wireless communications (e.g., infrared, Bluetooth, WiFi 802.11)
- Long-range wireless communications (e.g., satellite, cellular)
- Driver performance (e.g., attentive driver monitoring, drowsy driver warning)
- Tractor-to-trailer communications
The following questions were addressed in detail for each technology or feature:
- Technology Overview
- How does the system function?
- What components are required?
- Are there different levels of implementation for this technology? (Is there an advanced or full-featured version? Is there a basic version?)
- Where is this technology currently used?
- What information will it provide to the VDR? How could this information be used for accident reconstruction, operational management, driver training, or emergency personnel?
- What are the current and near-term commercially available systems?
- Are any long-term development projects underway that might impact the integration of the technology with a VDR?
- VDR Implementation Issues
- How might this technology be implemented into an event data record (EDR) on a heavy-duty vehicle?
- What additional hardware will be required on the vehicle or VDR to use this technology (e.g., additional sensors, receiving and/or transmitting antennas, or databuses required)?
- What are some of the disadvantages of using this technology over other similar technologies (e.g., removable media versus short-range wireless versus long-range wireless)?
- Infrastructure Requirements (if applicable)
- What kind of infrastructure is necessary for this technology to operate (e.g., cellular service, satellites, road markings, WiFi "hot spots")?
- Is this infrastructure currently available? What is the timeframe for development?
- Who is likely to develop this infrastructure?
- Technology Implementation Cost
- What is the range of costs, per vehicle, for the hardware required to implement the technology?
- How might these costs decrease as the technology becomes more popular?
Chapter 3 presents a detailed discussion of the nature and extent of the data compiled on each of these advanced VDR technologies.
To better understand the benefits associated with various configurations and concepts, benefits were addressed for devices that: (1) could be used to record event data, and (2) could be used to record operational data. To understand the costs and benefits associated with single-purpose accident EDR, Concept 1 was analyzed. To understand the costs and benefits of VDRs targeted at improving operational efficiency (including driver and vehicle monitoring, vehicle tracking, and maintenance management), Concept 3 was analyzed. Concept 5 was also profiled in order to develop a cost-benefit analysis for a "full-featured" VDR that would record both accident event as well as provide more traditional operational data used by fleets.
In general, both VDR and EDR devices will benefit the commercial vehicle industry and society as a whole, but these benefits will likely be spread across three primary stakeholder groups: (1) benefits to fleets, (2) benefits to OEMs, and (3) benefits to the public sector.
Benefits for fleets will primarily focus on improving operational efficiency and reducing operational costs. Benefits for OEMs will likely come from reducing liability costs and improving vehicle designs and safety. Benefits for public-sector stakeholders-such as transportation agencies, law enforcement, and the general public-will likely include improved vehicle safety; fewer crashes, injuries, and fatalities; and improved inspection capabilities.
Exhibit ES.2 shows the possible benefits to each of these stakeholder groups along with whether or not Concept 1, 3, or 5 will likely lead to a realization of that benefit.
Exhibit ES.2 - Vehicle Data Recorder Benefits
To better understand the likely development and production costs for the concepts, technical and performance descriptions of each concept were shared with a leading suppler of high-volume custom vehicle electronics for commercial heavy-duty vehicles. The supplier went through the standard development and estimation process, working with their engineering team and their sales and pricing team to gain a detailed understanding of the concepts. This supplier then developed an estimated cost analysis for each concept. The team felt that this approach provided a more accurate estimate of the costs broken down into three parts: engineering development costs, application programming costs, and hardware piece costs. In addition, a combined per-unit cost was totaled based upon order quantities of 10,000+ units per year supplied to OEMs for installation as part of new vehicle builds. In developing a cost estimate for this concept, a cost precision of ±15 percent was used.
It should be noted that estimate is from just one vendor and is only intended to provide a preliminary, rough cost estimate for each generalized concept. It is entirely possible that should an OEM choose to source and install such a concept in its vehicles, the costs would vary-perhaps significantly-depending upon quantities, vendor incentives, and manufacturing and component technologies used. In addition, these costs are intended to represent manufacturing and assembly costs, not necessarily retail costs to a customer or fleet. Exhibit ES.3 shows a summary of these costs.
Exhibit ES.3 - VDR Concept Cost Estimate Summary
Estimated Piece Cost ( ±15 %)
One-Time Tooling and Layout Cost
Software Development Cost
Amortized Per Unit Cost (based on 10,000 units)
Concept #1 -
Core Event Data Recorder
$15,000 to $30,000
$265 (assuming $25,000 for SW)
Concept #3 -
Core Vehicle Data Recorder
$15,000 to $30,000
$145 (assuming $25,000 for SW)
Concept #5 - Comprehensive EDR and VDR
$20,000 to $40,000
$460 (assuming $25,000 for SW)
Of course, these costs would be cost per unit as sold by a vendor to a vehicle OEM. It is anticipated that there would be additional costs associated with integrating the unit into the vehicle (e.g., mounting, wire harnesses, service and repair manuals) and adding the product to the line card and assembly line. It is likely that an OEM would add a 30 to 50 percent markup to a fleet to cover these costs and secure a profit.
In conducting this study, it became clear that return-on-investment calculations for VDRs (from the fleet operator's perspective) are challenging for two main reasons. First, benefits are often defined in terms of increased productivity, efficiency, competitiveness and/or improved safety. All of these measures will vary depending on a particular fleet's situation-and even for a specific fleet's situation, they are very difficult to quantify. Second, costs are difficult to obtain from commercial suppliers of VDR equipment and services. The costs are often embedded (or bundled) within a vehicle price, and/or within a larger telematics service offering. More importantly, the market price of some of the products and services reviewed in earlier chapters is not necessarily indicative of cost. The commercial vehicle telematics, communications, and vehicle data recorder industry is in many ways in its infancy. As such, suppliers with innovative ideas that improve a fleet's competitiveness may well be able to command premium prices that are not cost-based.
Although costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, VDRs and related products and services are nevertheless enjoying market success. Although market penetration data is generally not available (or is closely guarded by suppliers), nearly all vendors contacted report consistent increases in annual sales volumes. This includes various satellite- and terrestrial-based tracking services, and upgraded or enhanced recording functionality embedded within the engine control modules. Stand-alone VDRs and/or EDRs, however, do not appear to be enjoying the same level of success. It would appear, at least anecdotally, that the functionality that might typically be available with a VDR is being incorporated directly into satellite and/or terrestrial tracking systems. Alternatively, if a fleet does not wish to use (or cannot afford) such systems (which require a monthly fee), but they still desire some vehicle monitoring capability, then they opt for the functionality that can be provided by the engine OEMs within the engine Electronic Control Unit (ECU) (see Appendix B). The stand-alone VDR/EDR market therefore seems to be waning.
Generally, however the fleet manager's need for information related to the driver, vehicle health, location, and load status continues to grow. Interviews with industry stakeholders suggest that the information provided by "conventional" fleet tracking and management services is now just part of the cost of doing business and staying competitive. As a simple example, some truckload companies cannot calculate a straightforward return-on-investment in their onboard tracking and communications systems, but shippers (their customers) may have become accustomed to knowing the exact status of their shipments-and therefore a trucking company simply needs this capability to be competitive.