What's Happening?

Robo Cop



Technology has reached a state where it can make noticeable changes in the levels of crime that South African motorists, business owners, suppliers and fleet managers have to deal with. This telematics technology comes with choices. If you’ve bought a car or truck that comes with a pre-installed telematics system, you might wonder if it’s worth getting another console installed. Then there are the value-add products. Is the dash cam worth it when you already have a telematics system?


A demand to counter crime

Today’s telematics technology has its roots in necessity. It started in South Africa during the 1990s as a response to rising hijacking statistics.

“Thirty years ago, crime was on the increase,” explains Cliff de Witt, Chief Technology Officer at Netstar. “Specifically, vehicle crime, hijacking and vehicle theft, among others.” In those days, basic car security systems weren’t a deterrent to an ever-rising criminal threat, he says.

“It created an opportunity for technology providers to step in and provide after-market technology that would allow the tracking of vehicles, so you could recover a stolen vehicle,” explains De Witt.


Enter the prototype

The early systems were based on radio frequency technology, he explains. “These devices were dormant in the vehicle and activated once the vehicle was reported stolen,” notes De Witt. “Ground crews or helicopters would then go out with a direction-finding antenna and try to pinpoint the vehicle and recover it,” he continues.

It seems primitive in hindsight, but that early technology laid the foundation for the development of the technology we see today. Insurers eventually warmed up to the possibilities of tech-aided vehicle recovery. “The technology was rudimentary, but it worked, and the insurance industry embraced it,” says De Witt. These insurers began offering premium discounts to customers who had telematics consoles fitted in their vehicles, and they started mandating it in certain high-risk vehicles,” he says. “I think we can all agree that those early systems could hardly be considered vehicle telematics,” De Witt says. However, it marked the beginning of an essential element of doing business in South Africa, today.


The arrival of GSM

Towards the end of the decade, mobile technology began to take over. “I think the real game changer was when the GSM network started to roll out the data on their networks,” De Witt says.

GPS was hot on its heels. Then these technological systems were fused, they revolutionised vehicle tracking and truly kickstarted telematics development. “At about the same time, the global satellite positioning technology became more affordable and accessible to consumer devices,” De Witt says. Merging tech was a breakthrough in telematics; combining GSM data with the GPS technology into a device coupled with sensors.

Of these sensors, the most significant is the accelerometer. This allows you to measure harsh events, from heavy acceleration to sudden breaking.


From safety to stakeholders

The combination of all these advancements in mobile technology led to what we now call telematics. It opened the development of many game-changing services, not only stolen vehicle recovery but services in general to various stakeholders.

The obvious parties benefiting from this technology include vehicle owners, commercial fleets and, ultimately, insurers. De Witt notes that the install rate of vehicle telematics in commercial fleets is already sitting at 63%, but the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are taking note.

The proof is in the numbers. A new research report from Berg Insight sees active fleet management telematics systems in South Africa growing by 12.6% and reaching 3.6 million by 2026.


Manufacturers catching on

De Witt points to the emergence of this technology in the Japanese automotive giant Toyota. “For the last three years, Toyota has been fitting telematics into every single vehicle that comes out of their factory in South Africa,” he says. And every imported vehicle offloaded at the dock is also fitted with telematics. “Not only does the device have the telematics capability, but it actually creates a Wi-Fi hotspot in the vehicle so you can have internet services in the vehicle,” he adds.


In crime-focused South Africa, we tend to think of telematics as simply a security measure, but it’s also crucial in maintaining a vehicle’s longevity. It can help owners keep to a vehicle’s maintenance schedule. “Telematics is now being used to help customers schedule vehicle maintenance in a timely manner, avoiding expensive repairs later,” says De Witt.


The benefits of a backup

Charles Morgan, Operations Executive at Netstar, says it’s good to have these pre-installed systems that come with a new car but it’s not necessarily a silver bullet.

“OEM-installed telematics are generally installed to provide value-added services to their customers, and are not specifically designed for stolen vehicle recovery,” Morgan points out.

It’s nice to have your car come with it, but it’s not as effective without the rest of the benefits of an inclusive telematics package. “It is recommended that an additional unit is installed for this purpose,” Morgan adds.

So, what’s the point of installing another telematics device? It comes down to safety, the reason why telematics took off in South Africa in the first place.

“Vehicle security is still a big issue in this country,” explains De Witt. “We’ll be obliged to fit a secondary or a backup device because the OEMs fit the device in a known location in the vehicle. Thieves will quickly figure out where the device is, and they will compromise the device which will make the vehicle recovery very difficult,” he says.


A demand for dashcams

Dashcams are important in reducing hijackings and fraud, explains Morgan. “Dashcams provide visual evidence at the time of a specific event, allowing for details of the claim to be validated,” he says.

According to a recent report by Grand View Research, demand for dashcams is booming.

In 2021, the international dashboard camera market size was valued at $3.38 billion, and demand is increasing. It is anticipated to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.5% from 2022 to 2030.

What’s driving this growth? It comes down to rising concerns about vehicle safety, a demand for quicker claims processing, and protection against rising hijackings.

Dashboard cameras have personal and commercial uses and, notably, are also used by police forces in several countries. News footage from unrest in the United States in recent years shows how this technology is implemented in policing duties, from riot scenarios to everyday patrolling.

Reports show an increase in insurance companies promoting the adoption of dashboard cameras by providing discounts on insurance premiums, with the aim to combat insurance fraud. Manufacturers are also manufacturing technology that’s easier to use. Personal vehicle users are the main focus, which is why most dashcams today are budget-friendly and easy to install.


Fighting fraud

Often overshadowed by an emphasis on vehicle theft, fraud is ever-present in logistics and can be greatly reduced by an effective telematics system.

One of several factors driving the demand for dashcams is the rise of fraudulent insurance claims, and claims for medical compensation after falsified or exaggerated vehicle accidents.

Reports show that insurers globally are encouraging the use of dashboard cameras in vehicles to resolve insurance claims more accurately, but also to make the processing of claims more efficient. Data collected by Grand View Research shows a rise in the demand for this technology in developing countries like South Africa, India, and Brazil.

Dashcam manufacturers are seeing this as an opportunity as the growing demand for protective measures against car theft is expected to fuel the demand for two-channel dashboard cameras. Because of this, both individuals and commercial fleet operators are replacing their low-resolution tech with higher-resolution cameras, thereby driving the demand for better technology.

“Telematics provide location, speed and impact information, allowing details of the claim to be validated,” says Morgan.

Normally, a lack of eye-witness accounts increases the scope for fraud, but this is negated with a telematics console and a sophisticated support team behind it.

Speed and impact information seem obvious, but gathering accurate data about a vehicle’s location is especially useful. It’s not only about where the vehicle is going when the driver is on the clock, as Morgan explains. “Another example is to validate the stated locations where the vehicle is parked night and day, as well as utilisation during the day for business purposes.” In this way, telematics keeps an eye on both your vehicles and your employees’ responsibilities after hours.

Location is key, considering the socio-geographical nature of South Africa, where the difference between a high-risk zone or a safe area, in terms of road safety and crime, can be a few kilometres.


Feedback to the fleet manager

One of telematics technology’s drawcards is the real-time feedback provided to insurers, but can you count on a driver in a fleet changing their behaviour or route given these forewarnings and reminders?

While data processing, from locations to driving style, is important for the driver, it’s important that deviations are communicated up the chain of command. Considering this, alerts can be set up in the fleet software to route selected alarms directly to the fleet manager, explains Morgan.

This is the difference between using a pre-installed telematics setup versus having a comprehensive telematics package and a supporting team. And its supporting team, including an emergency control room, is essential.

Thanks to the ingenuity of initial telematics systems and the exponential improvement in the following decades, road-users can now drive safer, prolong the lifespan of their vehicles, and pay less on their insurance premiums. But to use this technological aid against theft and fraud, it needs to be packaged in the right system and with the right support team behind it.