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Is the UK Controversy Over Driver Privacy a Prelude of What's to Come in the USA?

February 4, 2001

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The key point of contention is that the ADT Fire & Security, as of press time, has opposed the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union's request to have the devices switched off when the vehicles are driven during non-work hours. Personal use of company vehicles by the union members is guaranteed by the union's labor contract with ADT. "This is a gross invasion of our members' privacy. It's Big Brother gone crazy," AEEU General Secretary Sir Ken Jackson was recently quoted as saying. "Our members have rights in their employment contract and under the law. We will fight to make sure they are properly respected." The union has consulted with its legal advisers and has threatened to seek a high court injunction to stop the installation of the tracking devices under the terms of the UK's Human Rights Act of 1998. Backing this challenge are civil liberties organizations asserting that if the devices are used to collect information, it could be a violation of the country's Data Protection Act, which became law on March 1, 2000. Could this happen in the U.S.? A lot of U.S. fleet managers think it is a definite possibility. And, with the forthcoming increase in OEM-installed telematic devices in fleet vehicles, such a possibility may increase the likelihood to a probability. Here's What U.S. Fleet Managers Think "This is (or will become) a thorny issue," says Tom Sours of State Farm. "My personal view, from a fleet manager's perspective, is that there is a possibility of opening a huge can of worms with the addition of telematics to vehicles. Legal issues, such as privacy for business and personal use, will, in my opinion, provide fertile fields for plaintiff's attorneys in the years to come unless new privacy laws are put in place. As vehicles become even more sophisticated, these questions will take on more importance." Agreeing with Sours is Mike Buffi of MetLife. "Yes, I believe it can become an issue in the U.S. Perhaps we need to think of a way to turn off the tracking devices at certain times or at the driver's discretion after working hours. However, the problem with this solution is that the driver could disconnect the tracking device during work hours." Offering another alternative is Brad Plunkett of Garst Seed Co. "My feeling is that if drivers do not want the company to track where they are going, they can leave the vehicle at the office. I am a little harsh on this, but I feel that it is a privilege to have a company vehicle and a person should treat it as one." Companies whose drivers are unionized are already sensitive to these issues. "We don't use tracking devices and I don't think we ever will. I could see a number of potential problems," says Ellie Walsh of ABM Industries. "We have had a difficult time getting permission to perform MVRs. One of the unions representing one of our divisions initially took exception to its members having to sign a consent form to run MVRs on them. We have since come to an agreement, but I can see where this privacy issue could also be a problem with tracking devices." Sal Giacchi, president of the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA), also believes that driver privacy could become an issue in the U.S. "This is a complex issue, as well as a sensitive issue." However, Giacchi says a company provides a vehicle as a tool for employees to accomplish their juob function. "In that light, the company should have the sole right to track where the company vehicle is during business hours." He says that some companies may decide to take away personal use if they are confronted by a legal challenge. Agreeing is Al Cavalli, a former NAFA president and retired fleet manager. "Vehicle ownership lies with the company, which gives it the right to track the usage of its property. Also, personal use represents a privilege granted to the driver by the company; one which drivers have an opportunity to decline if they consider vehicle tracking an invasion of their privacy." Charles Bowen of Rollins also agrees. "Because the vehicle belongs to the employer, it has every right (legal or otherwise) to know exactly what is happening with the vehicle at all times -- 24/7," says Bowen. "I personally don't think that most companies install tracking devices to 'invade' someone's privacy." Bob Brown of Xerox brings up another point. "If the driver is not doing anything wrong, then why should this be a problem?" Brown instead believes fleet managers should focus on the advantages of telematic devices to drivers. "The key element in getting driver acceptance is to show them there is an advantage to them. It is not Big Brother watching, but a tool to help the company better manage the fleet." Bowen agrees. He cites the benefits of route scheduling and the ability to expose speeders. "Companies take the position that they have every right to require their vehicles to be operated safely and within the limits of the law at all times," he said. "Tracking devices should lower accident rates that, in turn, should help to drive down annual insurance premiums. If drivers know they're being monitored, in most cases, it affects their driving habits in a positive way." David Fern of Textron Golf and Turf also believes that tracking devices can help promote driver safety with its ability to locate someone who may be missing or identify the location of a stolen vehicle. "However, as with anything along this line, the rights of the individual should come first and they should not be abused by management or even the government," says Fern. Let me know what you think.

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AUTHOR BIO

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich has been covering the fleet management and vehicle remarketing markets for more than 20 years. During this period, Mike has written or edited more than 4,600 articles on the subjects of fleet management, manufacturer fleet activities, the fleet leasing industry, and vehicle remarketing. He was inducted in the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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