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A data-driven approach to reputation management that could help trucking companies counter plaintiffs’ attorneys’ attacks in trials involving crashes is under development, led by an industry veteran known for crafting technological solutions to vexing problems.
“If the trucking industry is adopting all of these amazing technologies, why is it that these trial lawyers are having so much success painting the industry as bad operators?” said Steve Bryan, an industry data expert and founder of safety data firm Vigillo, which later was acquired by SambaSafety. “Then it hit us,” Bryan said. “Oh my gosh, it’s so simple. It’s the reputation of motor carriers.”
Where Vigillo helped companies manage data used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, Bryan’s new venture — Bluewire — aims to build on cutting-edge artificial intelligence software to provide carriers and their insurance partners with a scientific, data-driven methodology for protection against the vulnerabilities that lead to what he called “reputation-damaging false narratives.”
“When I left Samba last fall, I started talking to people and bouncing ideas; it just started snowballing,” Bryan told Transport Topics. “There’s lots of people out there with good services and good products — nobody’s suggesting we can’t keep promoting all the good safety technologies, software and services. But when you put all of this good stuff together, what hit us between the eyes as we started digging in is that the reputation of a motor carrier [is] what the plaintiffs attack.”
The company, headquartered in Government Camp, Ore., should be bringing the first iteration of the service to the market in the first quarter next year, Bryan said. He thinks this is just the beginning of a software platform that likely will grow in sophistication over the next 10 years.
What hit us between the eyes as we started digging in is that the reputation of a motor carrier [is] what the plaintiffs attack.
Bluewire Chairman and CEO Steve Bryan
Bluewire is designed to provide information to carriers that can be used to counter a tactic used by many plaintiff attorneys called the “reptile theory,” a strategy aimed at creating fear and anger in juries. The reptile theory dictates that plaintiff attorneys go beyond the accident, and delve deeply into a carrier’s safety records and procedures to persuade jurors to send a message to the industry with multimillion-dollar verdicts.
“The idea is to be proactive and try to head off carriers’ vulnerabilities, with the ultimate goal of truckers to be able to say to the reptile attorney, ‘I’m glad you asked that question,’ ” said Doug Marcello, a trucking industry attorney who represents Bluewire.
Bryan said Bluewire will feature several levels of data mining to identify a carrier or driver’s reputation. First, it will use traditional methods of gaining information from databases using a modular mining application programming interface. From there, it will conduct more sophisticated “text mining,” extracting raw text data from places such as job board postings, social media posts and other things that are “textual in nature.”
In addition, Bryan said Bluewire will use artificial intelligence to “read” tens of thousands of pages of text and “make them meaningful.”
“That’s what we think is a new ingredient in what we’re doing,” he said, “but it’s just one of the kinds of data mining that we’ll do.”
“We can look for things called ‘sentiment analysis’ so you can see in these volumes of text that people are focused on certain topics — like if they’re being critical of a particular company, or even a particular driver,” Bryan added. “You can glean from this text mining what their attitudes are about that person or company. You could call our service an ongoing audit of motor carrier weaknesses.”
Although the company has not yet made public its pricing structure for prospective clients, Bryan said it will be affordable for large and small motor carriers.
Bluewire’s level of collaboration and communication within the industry on its technology platform largely will be limited to trucking companies, defense attorneys and insurance companies, and other allied partners that will assist in providing potential solutions.
When problems are identified, Bluewire can refer a carrier to one of its partners such as McLeod Software, Drivewyze, Kelly Anderson Group, TranSharpe Solutions, UVeye and others for solutions. “Bluewire and McLeod are excited to explore ways all this available structured and unstructured data can be used within the Bluewire applications and tools to help defend our customers against nuclear verdicts,” McLeod said in a statement.
Bluewire’s directors and advisory board consist of some of the industry’s longtime safety advocates, such as Annette Sandberg, a Davenport, Wash., defense attorney, consultant and former administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Bill Kanasky Jr., senior vice president of litigation psychology for Courtroom Sciences Inc., said, “One of the biggest reasons for nuclear verdicts is that the plaintiff’s bar is extraordinarily well-coordinated, and they communicate really well together. They don’t compete with each other. Whereas, the defense is the complete polar opposite in that regard.”
Kanasky is a member of Bluewire’s advisory board.
“Bluewire is a very secure community where members can come in — we have on the advisory board several experts from various areas of trucking and transportation — and really share solutions and ideas and support each other and increase that communication,” Kanasky said. “That’s really, really important.”
“I think the whole concept is to really get trucking companies more prepared,” Sandberg said. “A lot of companies are doing really good things, but I think they get caught flat-footed when they get handed one of these lawsuits, and suddenly they forget there’s a really good story they could tell.”
“Nuclear verdicts are one of the biggest issues in trucking today,” said Mike Card, president of Combined Transport of Central Point, Ore., and a member of Bluewire’s board of directors. “I could have one minor issue that our driver gets involved with that could put us out of business in the blink of an eye. It’s the single biggest fear I have when I close my eyes at night.
“Probably most important is using the data analytics that Vigillo and Steve Bryan do so well [to] show jurors that this doesn’t deserve a nuclear verdict, that this company is a positive force for society. There are other safety people out there, but this is a different animal.”
Brenda Lantz, a commercial motor vehicle researcher at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute in Fargo, N.D., said, “I have never heard of anybody doing this type of work before.
Lantz has has worked with Bryan for years and, as a strong advocate for truck safety, she joined Bluewire’s advisory board because she thought the work would be “valuable in terms of working with trucking companies and trying to improve safety.”
Said Paul Enos, president of the Nevada Trucking Association and chairman of American Trucking Associations’ Trucking Association Executives Council: “It’s looking at what your vulnerabilities are on the internet and being able to get rid of some of those before you’re in the frying pan.
“But what I really am excited about the company is that it provides a forum for trucking companies, insurance companies, our defense attorneys, and state trucking associations. It’s going to protect us better as an industry.”
Bryan believes Bluewire is a first-of-its-kind service but realizes innovation moves fast.
“You always have to be careful to say we have no competition, because there’s always competition,” he said. “There’s always people that will be waiting in the wings. Once a pioneer approves a concept, we will definitely find competition later on. That’s fine. That’s what makes America great.”
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