What is telematics (and how does it work)? 

The term “telematics” is widely used to describe the technology used to record, receive, store and remotely send information from a data source, via a connected device to a location that can convert the data into usable information.

Media Matters·5 min read
What is telematics (and how does it work)? 

Despite the term first being used in 1978 to describe the connectivity of computers, it’s common use has evolved and is now frequently associated with vehicle telematics, which is essentially the recording of vehicle activity and data in a “black box” that is combined with GPS location and communicated via a GPRS communications module. Access to the data collected via vehicle telematics, enables fleet managers and business owners to monitor and manage information including driver behaviour, vehicle utilisation, safety, and compliance.

How does telematics work? 

Most people are familiar with the term “black box”. This is how many businesses refer to the device fitted to a vehicle to capture and transmit its data using telematics. Once fitted to a vehicle or asset, the telematics system collects GPS data, as well as a range of specified vehicle information and transmits it over the local GPRS network. Using software to translate the data recorded into usable information, businesses can access information such as location, vehicle speed, harsh breaking and accelerating, idling time, fuel used and vehicle diagnostics. This information is typically available to users via a live mapping interface and customisable reports. 

When was telematics introduced and how has it evolved? 

The term telematics was first introduced in the late 1970’s by Simon Nora and Alain Minc. It was used to refer to the connectivity of computers to share information. Since then, it has changed and evolved to how we know it today. It still involves the recording and sharing of data, but its possibilities have broadened and any vehicle or powered asset that has the ability to connect to a networked device can share data remotely.  

GPS vs Telematics 

In the late 90s, the term vehicle telematics became synonymous with GPS tracking. The technology was often criticised due to the perception that it was a “spy in the cab”, but as fleet management has evolved, the reliance on data collected using a fleet telematics system has become common place and the technology is widely accepted by operators and drivers alike. Vehicle telematics has advanced beyond simple GPS tracking and it now enables operators to receive information about driver behaviour, fuel consumption, carbon emissions, vehicle diagnostics and much more. 

The benefits of telematics for vehicle fleets 

In order to run and manage a fleet of vehicles, fleet managers and business owners need information. The introduction of telematics has given the ability to understand how a vehicle is being driven, where it’s located, where it has been and enables managers to plan where it goes next. This information has revolutionised fleet management. Prior to this technology, there was far more reliance on written and verbal communication. Transport managers would have to call their drivers to find out where they were, and how far away they were from the destination. Customer enquiries about delivery times would have required a call to the driver and drivers were expected to keep manual recorded of their driving time and mileage. Remote access to real time location now means that this can all be managed via the telematics system – reducing paperwork and streamlining processes. 

What data can telematics systems record and provide? 

The data that can be recorded via a telematic system depends on the vehicle in question. GPS location, speed and historic journey reporting is available for all vehicles. However, driver behaviour data is dependent on vehicle type, as is the data associated with vehicle diagnostics.  

Are all vehicles suited to telematics systems? 

Regardless of the amount, or the complexity of data that can be recorded and shared from the vehicle using a vehicle Telematic system, it will always benefit fleet management activities. For a vehicle that simply records GPS location, the Telematic system could prevent vehicle theft or help with vehicle recovery. Motorbikes, off-road vehicles and plant are often fitted with GPS tracking devices, but help businesses managed a real time location every day. For larger vehicle categories, such as HGV haulage vehicles, vehicle telematics can be integrated with the digital tachograph; helping businesses to manage vehicle and driver utilisation in accordance with legal compliance. 

The installation of telematics systems  

Vehicle telematics systems have become simpler to install over the years, as the technology has evolved. Many telematics devices, require a simple three wire installation in order to bring back information about vehicle location and driver behaviour. Installation of ABAX telematics systems can take as little as 20 minutes and as soon as the device is connected, real time data is being collected. Typically, fleet telematics devices are fitted in discreet locations, such as inside the dash panel and a GPS antenna is included in the installation, which mustn’t be obscured by metal, to ensure reliable location data.  

The role of telematics in insurance 

“Black box” technology is widely used by insurance companies. For vehicles fitted with a telematics device, insurance companies can understand more about how the vehicle has been driven, including mileage covered and the times of day it was active. In the event of an accident, data can be collected leading up to and during, to better understand the circumstances, rule out fault or ascertain blame. Insurance companies can also use the data to set customer premiums in accordance with driving habits. For example, drivers who use their vehicles daily in peak traffic times, are statistically more likely to have an accident, compared to occasional drivers who drive when the roads are quieter. All new fleets that want to take advantage of usage-based insurance from Zego will utilise ABAX devices within their vehicles to provide their usage data to Zego.  


In summary, vehicle telematics has revolutionised fleet management and it is helping businesses to streamline their processes, reduce costs, reduce admin, and improve planning. The data collected can be used independently, or in conjunction with other fleet management and operational tools, to create powerful management information. Although once tarnished with a reputation for spying on drivers, it’s now more commonly seen in a positive light, for the benefits it provides drivers and operators alike.

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