With thousands of vehicles on the road, NFI Industries shoulders a huge responsibility to reduce risk for its drivers. Vice President Lee Robledo recently sat down with us to talk about NFI’s approach to safety and how they are using new technology (including artificial intelligence (AI) leveraging tools to coach, manage reams of data, and get drivers to buy in.
Lytx: Welcome, Lee. Tell us a little about yourself, your role, and NFI?
Lee Robledo (LR): I’m Lee Robledo, and I’m the Vice President of Safety for NFI Transportation. I am involved in the innovation and technology aspects of NFI’s safety program. I also work with our compliance group and occupational health and safety teams. NFI is a third-party logistics, transportation, and distribution company that operates across America and Canada.
Currently, we have almost 4,000 power units and close to 10,000 trailers. We are 15th overall on the Top 100 for-hire carriers by Transport Topics.
Lytx: How do you think technology helps drivers be more attentive to their surroundings?
LR: AI and machine vision are currently – and are going to be – very important in identifying hazards on the road. For years, we've always left that to the driver, telling them aim high and know your surroundings. But the technology that's being worked on now will be able to identify pedestrians on the roadways and in our yards. That's becoming another important aspect of the technology—seeing the pedestrians and alerting our operators, whether it’s on private property or public roadways.
Technology will soon be able to help by identifying and alerting the operator that someone is in their “halo zone.” Once a person or an object enters their halo zone, the driver will stop the vehicle, look at the surroundings, identify where the hazard is, and make sure the zone is clear before he or she proceeds.
Lytx: How have Lytx’s Video Safety and Video Telematics applications affected your operations?
LR: The Lytx system is continually evolving, which is great. This year, we completed our installation of the SF300s, transitioning from our legacy devices. We also added side cameras to our vehicles, which benefited us with an exoneration within the first couple of months of installing them.
Lytx: When you think about the future of safety, where do you think it's going in the next five years?
LR: One of the journeys that we're on right now is behavior-based safety. Whether it's for our transportation group or distribution group.
It's more about changing behavior and giving people the tools to be able to act on something if they see it. The app and the video events we now have, can be pushed out to drivers. We’re using these as coaching and learning tools rather than compliance tools. We give the driver more of that information on a proactive basis, and they can then take action to avoid collisions and avoid being injured on the roadway. And as the technology evolves, it gets better at identifying hazards with the side cameras and the 360-view around the truck on the highway. We see technology as helping us be smarter, giving our people more of the tools they need so that they can prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace.
Lytx: From what you said, we have to respect drivers as professionals who have skills, and who can take evasive action if they're given the right information to act upon. Is that how NFI approaches its drivers?
LR: Yes, but we do continually train our drivers. We treat it almost like a football or baseball team. Like athletes, we need to continually practice and understand any new tool or equipment.
One of the things we're trying to get better at is making sure that we train our drivers on what the trucks can do as those vehicles get smarter. New trucks will come in and we don't know some of the bells and whistles they have. The OEMs or our drivers will tell us they’re getting an alert that makes them think something is wrong, but then we find out it's just the lane departure warning or the collision mitigation feature that prevents them from making a lane change because there’s a vehicle in their blind spot. We have to continually educate our drivers about the new tools we have. And once they learn about them, they use them well and know more than we do because they use them every day.
Lytx: Does NFI have in-cab cameras?
LR: We were one of the first carriers to have inward-facing cameras. We went with inward-facing cameras almost since day one and still have them.
Lytx: What’s your experience with the inward-facing triggers?
LR: Right now, we're using the inward triggers as learning tools to show the driver what happened, ask why they engaged in that behavior, and talk about what we can do next time to not respond in that way.
Our next phase, which is possible now that we completed the implementation of the SF300s, is examining how we use the artificial intelligence. One of the focus areas is distracted driving because it’s one of our major concerns. We won’t turn on all the AI capabilities but want to see some of the driver’s behaviors.
That's where we see the triggers going. We’re going to start testing and get feedback from our drivers on how it’s working and whether they think these triggers can be turned on across the whole fleet.
Lytx: Your next phase seems like it's more proactive and driver-centered. Is that what you're going after?
LR: Yes. Again, we’ve been reactive for so many years. Even with the legacy Lytx DriveCam® device, you were being reactive. But the technology now allows us to be proactive and give those real-time alerts. That's the exciting thing about machine vision and AI.
Lytx: How well do you think Lytx manages that data for you and surfaces the things that you really want to take care of?
LR: Lytx has done a very good job handling all that data over the years as we've grown, and as the industry's grown and more carriers have adopted the cameras and event recorders. Lytx has worked well with us when we needed to change our process.
It's a continual process because understanding what is important to address today is like finding the precious few among the trivial many. That's something that we're constantly working with Lytx on.
Lytx likes to look at how they can help the whole industry, but when a carrier needs a specific process or something done, Lytx will work with you to do it. Because what helps NFI might also help another carrier.
We've also found that when we go to Lytx and say we want to do something differently, [they] will often ask us to try a pilot just completed with another carrier. We've found that very comforting.
Lytx: Thinking about all the changes happening in 2023, and your top three priorities—safety, efficiency, and driver retention and recruitment—how does Lytx help you manage everything?
LR: Lytx is really helping us with the safety aspects. And safety bleeds into the other aspects of the business, which we’re seeing many other partners speak about. When you are operating safely, that means people are not getting hurt. They're working, you don't have downtime, and you're being more efficient.
Again, that means you're going to be more productive, more efficient, and see your revenue grow. You’re not losing people because they’re injured and taking days off. So, safety is key.
Interested in learning more about how Lytx can help advance your fleet and keep your drivers safe? Learn more today