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“Black Boxes” For City Vehicles To Improve Safety & Efficiency


In an effort to improve the safety and efficiency of the many city-owned vehicles moving throughout the streets of San Francisco every day, city officials are looking at installing “black boxes” which would track where, when, and how city vehicles are driving.

Officials hope that installing these devices could encourage the drivers of city vehicles to give a second thought to bad behavior.

Next City reports:

“‘It would tell how you’re driving, where you are driving and when you’re driving. It’s in many ways a preventive measure. People would be a little more cautious about how they do things,’ [Supervisor Norman] Yee said.”

As cyclists well know, city-owned vehicles can be some of the worst offenders of breaking rules that affect the safety and efficiency of cyclists; even police cars can regularly be seen blocking bike lanes.

Worse than inconvenience, city vehicles are not immune from crashing into cyclists due to negligence of the rules and distracted driving.

Could tracking these vehicles help cut down on the problems they cause for cyclists around the city?

“The ordinance would require city departments to monitor data in real time, rather than sending it out to a private company. The city administrator and department heads would also be required to review the aggregated data in order to find potential efficiencies. Yee pointed to a 2015 report by the budget and legislative analyst’s office that cites numerous benefits of tracking city vehicles this way, including ‘the potential to improve safety, reduce operating costs, reduce vehicle emissions and identify potential waste and fraud.’”

San Francisco isn’t the first city to consider collecting safety and travel data on their city vehicles. In fact, it has been implemented in other major cities — including Boston — as well as nearby cities in California.

“Nearby, Yolo County began collecting similar data in 2012 to discourage sheriff’s deputies from driving above 90 miles per hour unnecessarily. Within a year of installing the system, unwarranted speeding dropped by 91 percent. San Francisco could also benefit from reducing the amount of money spent settling claims involving city-owned vehicles. Between 2010 and 2015, the city spent $76.9 million on settlements and judgments from claims and litigation related to its vehicles, according to that 2015 report.”

Of significant note is the amount of money that can be saved from avoiding settling claims involving city-owned vehicles; not only does this mean that there would likely be fewer crashes involving city vehicles that would need to be paid, but it would also free up significant money (possibly millions of dollars) to continue improving infrastructure and make the streets even more accommodating to cyclist and pedestrian traffic.

Of course, many departments whose vehicles would be added to the tracking system have pushed back. They say there could be security risks with city officials routes being tracked and monitored, if that information were to fall into the wrong hands.

However, having data on most city vehicles seems like it could only be a good thing. The more accountability there is for the people whose responsibility this city is, the better. When we take our roads seriously, we save lives.

What do you think of “black box” tools being installed in city vehicles? Let us know on the Facebook page!