New vehicle innovations can potentially lead to risk & an exposed fleet
by Michael Alberico
June 13, 2016

Two major trends are currently reshaping the construction industry. First, contractors are taking on an expanded role in project design. Second, they are embracing digital technology for both project modeling and daily operations. As a result of these trends, the liability exposures that contractors often face have significantly increased.

Simply building to plan is a thing of the past. These days, projects consist of much more. Many contractors also serve as architects and engineers, acting as consultants in the design phase, overseeing projects and working with owners using nonstandard project delivery methods.

As cultivated software tools become more accessible, contractors are becoming early adopters. Embracing building information modeling (BIM) systems and laser scanning to speed up project delivery is becoming second nature. Contractors use technology daily to store large amounts of confidential and personal information, from building plans to financial data.

Technology is now advancing to automobiles, with autonomous vehicles, anti-rollover systems and brake technologies on the forefront of the tech trend. These seem like major conveniences for the consumer, but these new technologies used in commercial settings can potentially lead to liabilities. The technology and data that these automobiles can store leaves hackers tempted and companies wary. Automobiles have the capability to store all of the driver's personal information. That can include a social security number, a driver's license number, hours of service requirements and global positioning system (GPS) work routes. As convenient as it would be for a driver to have all of his/her information in one place, is compromising his/her identity worth the risk?

GPS fleet monitoring started out as a tool in other industries, but the technology has proven valuable to any business that operates its own fleet. A major cyber issue for construction companies would be having the GPS signals for its fleet scrambled or having someone tamper with electronic shipment documents. GPS and electronic reporting are also used to track fleet operations. Hackers can disrupt the loss-control systems of trucking lines, causing management to lose a fleet's locations altogether.

Before this technology is fully embraced, companies need to ensure that they have proper safeguards in place. It is essential that firewalls and anti-hacker software are in place and up to date. This may mean hiring an additional person to manage your company's cybersecurity.

Fleet tracking can have several positive results for businesses. Using the information reported from the GPS devices can help eliminate inefficiencies and save time and money. Workers can get to more jobsites per day, increase productivity and, in turn, impact your company's bottom line.

Expanding such abilities of new technology in automobiles simultaneously to a fleet has yet to be accomplished. "It could be possible to hack into one or another vehicle, but there is nothing that can stop the whole fleet at the same time," said Mark Brooks, senior research engineer at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas.

New technology in automobiles does not stop at storing information and automated vehicle breaking. Technology is headed toward autonomous vehicles. Auto industry executives plan to offer systems that can robotically pilot cars at speeds of up to nearly 40 miles per hour within the next 4 years. If you are driving down the road at 40 plus miles per hour, there is no time to reboot the vehicle if a glitch were to occur.

There is a true concern for the safety of drivers to reduce risk of technology in automobiles that increases danger by decreasing responsibility and accountability. Businesses are beginning to ask, "If there were any problems, whose fault would it be? The company? The carmaker? The navigation OEM? The software company? The driver?\'94 It is imperative to go through all the required training and testing before introducing this new technology to your employees and your fleet.

New ways of working and new technology bring a wider range of risks. In the past, general contractors had little to no professional liability exposure. That is no longer the case. Contractor exposures have evolved from standard commercial general liability (CGL), auto liability and builder's risk.

Contractors are now susceptible to vulnerability of management and design of work, cyberexposures arising from modeling software and the confidential project, customer and employee data they store on their own. It is extremely important for companies that have embraced new technologies to work with a consultant who can guide them through potential liabilities and ensure they are properly prepared.