In 2019, Anheuser Busch InBev's fleet covered 1.5 billion kilometers, or 934 million miles, according to Joshua Girard, global director of safety at AB InBev. That's the distance between the sun and the planet Saturn.
With so many miles traveled and so many hours spent on the road, safety is at the forefront of the beverage giant's agenda. The company is a member of Together for Safer Roads (TSR), a coalition of private-sector businesses and public sector leaders who are collaborating on global road safety initiatives such as Truck of the Future. The project aims to "create scalable and lasting change" through the exploration of new technologies."
"It’s a really exciting opportunity to collaborate with companies that have similar scope and challenges but even more exciting to work with people that share a common sense of responsibility and drive to make a difference in the world," he says.
Each member company brings its own industry expertise to TSR, allowing key players to share knowledge and take action. Girard admits that it's "refreshing" to have the outlet to brainstorm together with other companies to identify common needs and find solutions.
The Truck of the Future initiative, he says, is an opportunity to look at a "bigger picture" - go beyond the day-to-day routines and 2020's pandemic management - and "get back to something that I think we are all passionate about."
In a three-part series, Waste360 discusses the intersection of road safety and technology with TSR and member companies Republic Services and AB InBev.
Waste360: What unique challenges has your company experienced in terms of road safety?
Joshua Girard: I think that the most important challenge, although probably not unique - is eliminating unsafe driver behaviors and incident precursors while on the road. We put a lot of effort in proactively managing behaviors and conditions that could lead to severe incidents or fatalities so that we can take action and proactively change behavior – for road safety we use vehicle telemetry to identify those behaviors. The challenge is that effectively changing behavior heavily relies on intervention and coaching. Making sure that coaching is happening at that level, the quality coaching is consistent, and driver behavior is actually improving is difficult, especially to do consistently around the world. The other challenge is that telemetry data is lagging in nature – we can only coach after the behavior has occurred, and because of high risk related to driving – just one unsafe behavior could have catastrophic results.
There are essentially two ways we can address these challenges, by constant auditing, follow-up, additional monitoring, etc., or by looking at the conditions that lead to unsafe behaviors and preventing them from occurring in the first place. If we could implement solutions to help driver proactively manage their behavior in real-time – tools that can assist them in identifying vulnerable road users before they cause an accident, tools that can help them better manage following distance, or increase visibility in the cab– we can actively assist in eliminating potential unsafe behaviors before they even happen.
Waste360: How have these challenges evolved during the pandemic?
Girard: The challenge of changing behavior through coaching has become more prevalent during the pandemic because effective coaching relies heavily on face-to-face interactions. ABI has implemented robust protocols throughout the world to make sure the workplace is safe and that our workers, customers, their families, and the general public are minimizing the risk of spreading the virus. Unfortunately, a part of those protocols is eliminating face-to-face interactions through social distancing and doing more virtual communications via, text, emails, etc.
Coaching still has to be done, however, it becomes much less impactful without that direct feedback or conversation and can very quickly revert back to more disciplinary action or exception reporting than proactive management, coaching conversations, or reinforcement of positive behaviors.
I think this is why it's so important for us to look at technology solutions that don’t rely on constant coaching and oversite to drive behavior improvement. Eventually, the pandemic will subside, but I think many of the changes we have implemented around prevention including limiting our interactions with people will be around for a long-time. We need to be able to adapt to those changes and still be effective in improving safety behavior. Ultimately, it's aligned with our goal of proactive safety management anyway – it will just help us get there faster.
Waste360: Can you please touch on or explain your company’s commitment to safety and its goals with the Truck of the Future project?
Girard: AB InBev is a global company, but the strength of our business comes for our local communities; after all, beer is mostly brewed, sold and enjoyed locally. With operations in more than 50 countries, we rely on vast systems of roads to get our products and our people to the places they need to be. In fact, we are one of the largest fleet operators in the world. Last year our trucks traveled 1.5 billion kilometers, which is the equivalent of going to the moon and back 2,000 times.
This means that our exposure to the risks related to road safety is significant. But it also means that the way we drive our trucks, the incentives and training we give to our drivers, the specifications we use to buy our vehicles, and many more small and large decisions have an impact on the safety of our people and communities.
In order for our company to continue to grow for years to come, we have to make sure that these communities are safe and that they thrive. We need to make sure that our roads become safer for all.
Waste360: What opportunities do you hope to open up with the new innovations that come from the project?
Girard: In this project, we started with a high-level goal to identify innovation needs in road safety and search for solutions in the market that are effective and scalable. That being said, there are just so many challenges to improve road safety globally and even the solutions identified today are going to continue to evolve over time – Truck of the Future is more of a long-term concept and commitment to continuous improvement in road safety and a way to prioritize these improvements to make change together.
In this round of collaboration, we identified a number of innovation needs and then used a voting system to determine the main priorities. The first areas of innovation that we are working on are related to a lack of real-time 360 visibility for tractor/trailer setups or across the entire fleet, having fully unobstructed views on all sides of the trucks. The second area we are addressing are systems that can better anticipate and understand vulnerable road user behavior (including pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, etc) to prevent injuries and fatalities. We are currently working with our Beer garage innovation lab to source companies that can provide this solution at scale and then we will determine pilot locations to kick-off next year.
Waste360: What technologies or innovations have helped your fleet remain safe on the roads?
Girard: We have implemented a number of technologies over the years to improve our fleet safety, from fleet management and maintenance practices, telemetry, 360 camera systems, seatbelt monitoring, fatigue management, and distracted driving prevention – the challenge is around the availability of this technology globally – and unfortunately, the areas where this technology is not always available is in the markets that need it the most. We do a lot of best practice sharing internally, our zones will identify and pilot technologies, gather feedback, and then in global, we take action to scale and implement across our fleet. In most cases, we are able to find a way scale, but sometimes the capabilities of the technology will be different, and you can lose some of the effectiveness of the solution. For large scale global companies similar to ABI, this is a challenge that can be overcome in most cases – but for local operators or smaller operations, either the technology is not available, or it may not be feasible to implement. Unfortunately, when it comes to road safety, without similar adoption of safety technology throughout the entire area and in all vehicles, there is still going to be a significant risk to vulnerable road users.
Waste360: Where do you see the intersection of road safety and technology in the next 5-10 years?
Girard: Road safety technology is developing at an incredible rate – autonomous vehicles use to just be a dream, but it’s become clear that this technology IS the future of road safety. Although the tech is here, full adoption will be needed to make the roads 100% safe for all road users and having the opportunity to travel the world in my current role, it's clear that we have a tremendous amount of work to do globally in this area – the vehicle safety standards and road infrastructure has not even caught up to today's standards in many parts of the world and autonomous vehicles are even further away. In the meantime, 1.35 million people are being killed each year in road traffic accidents. It's clear that we need to find innovative, scalable solutions that can be applied in a cost-effective way to make roads safer right now but will also help bridge the gap to the future. I think this innovation lab, a collaborative effort with TSR and member companies, with a “Truck of the Future” mindset, can help us do just that.
Other stories in this series: