Amazon says driver cameras cut crashes

Would you let a computer judge your driving to make it safer?

Online retail giant Amazon has revealed surveillance of its drivers has cut road accidents by almost half over two years, as well as reducing risky behaviour including speeding and failing to wear a seatbelt.

The company, which has rolled out the technology in the US and UK, also claimed real-time alerts warning drivers about their behaviour had made their driving safer.

But the approach has attracted criticism from privacy experts, who claim it's 'distrustful' and intrusive.

Amazon revealed new insights from its "in-vehicle camera safety technology" trial at its Driving the Future event in Boston.

The company's Last-mile vice-president Mai Le said cameras, sensors and machine-learning technology had been deployed to some US vehicles in 2020 to identify potentially risky behaviour on the roads.

Four cameras record video of the driver as well as footage of the front and sides of the vehicle.

"We have learned that the best way to reduce driver control of safety incidents is to address unsafe behaviour in real time," she said.

"This technology is a game-changer. We've seen a 48 per cent collision rate reduction in our test group since installing this technology, and improvements across the board."

Ms Le said the technology assessed drivers for 16 safety infractions and behaviours using artificial intelligence.

Its alerts had reduced the number of drivers failing to wear a seatbelt, she said, as well as drivers following vehicles too closely, driving while distracted, speeding, and failing to use a vehicle's indicators.

"This is a huge opportunity that we didn't even know about when we started," she said. "We just wanted to make it safer for drivers.

"What the drivers also like is we tell them while they're still on the road so they don't get a ticket, they don't get into an accident, they don't damage the vehicles or hurt anybody in the community."

Earlier this year, Amazon launched the technology in its vehicles in the UK and with third-party delivery service providers in the US to expand its reach.

Ms Le said the company planned to expand the program and "experiment with computer vision, machine learning and... augmented reality," with the latter potentially showing warnings on a car's windscreen.

But not everyone is a fan of the company's technology-led approach to road safety.

While Amazon in-vehicle cameras do not capture sound and access to footage is restricted, privacy advocates and unions have expressed concern at its use.

Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo called the surveillance of drivers "creepy" and said it sent the wrong message to drivers.

"This intrusive, constant monitoring of employees creates an oppressive, distrustful and disempowering work environment that completely undermines workers' rights," she said.

Courier companies included UPS and DHL have also trialled in-vehicle cameras to monitor driver behaviour.

The author travelled to Boston as a guest of Amazon.