Amazon delivery drivers say new cameras inside their vans can encourage safer driving.
One driver who initially bristled at the cameras told Insider that he now sees them as an "insurance policy."
AI surveillance cameras are becoming more common across the delivery industry.
Some Amazon delivery drivers are chafing at a new camera system that watches them inside their vans. But the driver-facing cameras are becoming more common across the industry - and drivers also say there are some key advantages to the new monitoring system.
Insider spoke with five drivers who described what it's like working under the watchful eye of the cameras. They said they felt "micromanaged" and slowed down by the cameras, which ding them for infractions like speeding or distracted driving.
But workers also highlighted several benefits, saying the cameras encourage safer driving and could protect them - as well as protect Amazon and the companies it hires to make package deliveries - in cases of traffic accidents or other dangerous situations. Many of the drivers asked that their names be withheld for fear that their jobs would be affected, but Insider verified their identities.
A representative for Amazon told Insider that the cameras are used to keep "drivers and the communities where we deliver safe."
"Don't believe the self-interested critics who claim these cameras are intended for anything other than safety," a representative said in a statement.
Drivers say that the cameras can improve safety and provide a record of traffic accidents
The camera system, called Driveri, was created by a transportation company called Netradyne, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor drivers.
Amazon told Insider that it saw improvements in driver safety during a pilot test of the Netradyne cameras from April to October 2020: Accidents decreased 48%, stop-sign violations decreased 20%, incidents of workers driving without a seatbelt decreased 60%, and distracted driving decreased 45%.
Some drivers who spoke with Insider said they agreed that the cameras could improve safety on the road. Bronwyn Brigham, a driver based in Houston, told Insider that the cameras could provide critical evidence in dangerous situations.
"If someone has an accident or somebody comes up to the van, that's the only upsides I can see - if somebody tries to rob the van," she said.
A California driver told Insider that the cameras encourage workers to focus more on safe driving.
"They do force the drivers to think more about safety and traffic laws because they will be called out for violations," the driver said. "No more 'secret sin' so to speak."
Drivers also said the cameras could be helpful in the case of traffic accidents. A driver who delivers near the Twin Cities told Insider that he could see how the cameras could prove beneficial in cases where another vehicle hits his van, because he would have the camera footage to prove that the collision wasn't his fault.
An Oklahoma-based driver echoed that the cameras offer a level of protection for drivers if there's an accident.
"You can prove to them, 'Yes, I was paying attention and I just got hit.' And, conversely, if you're screwing around, it's going to prove that too," he said.
Drivers have also criticized the cameras
The camera system is mounted on the inside of the delivery vehicle windshield and contains four cameras: a road-facing camera, two side-facing cameras, and one camera that faces inward toward the driver.
The cameras record 100% of the time when the ignition is turned on, but only upload footage when they detect one of 16 issues, such as hard braking or a seatbelt lapse, Karolina Haraldsdottir, a senior manager for last-mile safety at Amazon, said in a training video about the cameras.
The system began rolling out to drivers nationwide last month, and initially sparked a backlash among some drivers. A driver named Vic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the cameras were the final straw, leading him to quit his job.
A driver named Angel Rajal told Insider last month that he thought the new cameras were "annoying" and made him feel as if he were always being watched.
In interviews with Insider, five drivers whose vans have the cameras installed highlighted a slew of concerns over the devices, including a lack of privacy, an obstructed view due to the system's placement on the windshield, "rage-inducing" verbal alerts when drivers make a misstep, and a negative impact on their efficiency.
Companies are increasingly using cameras to monitor drivers
Matt Camden, a senior research associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, recently told Insider that in-vehicle alerts like the ones the Driveri system provides help address risky driving behavior. But he also noted that Amazon may have to make a trade-off when it comes to efficiency.
"If a fleet wants to reduce risky driving behaviors, it's critical to look at why the drivers are doing that in the first place, and usually, it's because there's other consequences that are driving that behavior," which could include "unrealistic delivery times," Camden said.
The most effective approach, he said, is for delivery fleets to build a strong "safety culture" that doesn't pressure employees to keep going if they feel tired or have to use the bathroom.
While the cameras are new for Amazon delivery drivers, they're becoming more common across the industry. Last fall, UPS installed a similar AI surveillance system called Lytx Drivecam inside vans in Texas and Oklahoma. FedEx and Walmart have also started installing Lytx driver-facing cameras in recent years. (Lytx confirmed to Insider that Walmart is a client and the brand is a vendor for FedEx VEDR, saying in a statement that the "service is used by fleets to improve everything from driver safety to vehicle location, compliance, and fuel management.")
One truck driver who hauls Amazon trailers told Insider that - after initial resistance - he now feels that driver-facing cameras are in drivers' and employers' best interest.
"I told myself I would never work for anyone with a camera in my truck," he said. "But … people drive with such disregard, it's almost like an insurance policy."
When he first started working for an Amazon contractor, the driver said he would wave at the camera, saying "Hey, Jeff Bezos, here you go," in a reference to Amazon's chief executive. Now, he said he has become oblivious to the camera.
If more companies are going to require driver-facing cameras throughout the supply chain, the driver said, he is willing to tolerate the surveillance. According to the driver, high-tech tracking has become an inescapable part of the job.
"It's a sign of the times," the driver said.
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