DRIVER TRAINING HITS THE CAB

Rolf Lockwood

May 7, 2008 Vol. 4, No. 10
Today’s e-newsletter is going to focus on simple news for a change, though ‘simple’ may not be the right word to use in every case here — there are some really interesting things happening a little bit below the radar screen. Things that could make a difference.

For instance, U.S. Xpress has become the first fleet in North America to begin training drivers on safety and compliance matters by way of computer-based lessons right in the cab. The truckload giant has 7500 tractors all told, and it’s equipped over 4700 of them with DriverTech DT4000 Fleet Management System units, installed with all of Instructional Technologies’ (ITI) Pro-Tread In-Cab interactive lessons. The plan is to equip all 7500 trucks this way.

U.S. Xpress has long been an innovator, quick to look at and test new technologies, and that spirit begins at the top with co-chairman and CEO Max Fuller. He got pretty involved in this project by all accounts, and having his stamp of approval is no small deal. In-cab training began after months of testing and modifications, several of which were recommended by Fuller himself.

The DriverTech units provide high-end communications capabilities as well as the option of training. In fact, they do a lot more, and I expect we’re just scratching the surface of the possibilities here.

The DT4000 is an open, Windows XP-based, onboard computer system providing in-vehicle computing and an intelligent link between the driver and many sources of data — work assignments, mapping and other GPS information, engine data, and more. It’s a true ‘tri-mode’ system using satellite, cellular and Wi-Fi networks connected simultaneously, and the lowest-cost option among those three is automatically chosen to route data. It’s built to military specs and is said to withstand the vibration typical of a moving truck. There’s a suite of DriverTech software but fleets can also use their own applications or, as in the Pro-Tread case, employ third-party options.

With in-cab driver training, lesson completion data is sent back to ITI and is entered into a secure, private, online database for each client. Carriers can monitor and document their drivers’ training records, of course. This documentation can be invaluable in the event of litigation.

Using ITI material, drivers can select from some 50 interactive lessons anywhere/anytime over the Internet, not just via in-cab means. Course subjects include defensive driving, winter driving, backing, accident procedures, hours of service and log books, workplace safety, tanker lessons, and a great deal more.

Have a look at these websites to learn more — www.instructiontech.net, www.drivertech.com, and www.usxpress.com.

PEOPLENET, IT SEEMS, WILL ALSO BE OFFERING ITI Pro-Tread courses by way of its new BLU onboard system. We’re likely to see it in this quarter. But there’s other PeopleNet news as well.

For one, the company is about to add satellite communications to its existing wireless network. This will provide real time accessibility in even the most remote areas of Canada and the U.S., the company says. Subscriber fleets will be able to select the best mix of network options, including satellite, on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis with automatic least-cost routing of all communications. It should be available later this year and will allow PeopleNet to expand into new markets both geographically and vertically.

The new, compact satellite modem will install alongside PeopleNet’s onboard computer, which will only use the satellite communications option when cheaper ground-based wireless is unavailable. Customers will control what kinds of data can be sent when the satellite option is invoked. For example, vehicle location information and messages can be sent via satellite when necessary while more data-heavy transmissions like onboard training videos would be held for wide-band wireless access.

And how about this one? PeopleNet has launched what it calls the MPG Guarantee Program, in response to sharply rising fuel prices. The company says it can help fleets improve fuel economy, based on years of in-depth experience. The program’s goal is to increase fleet fuel economy by 5 to 10%. Whatever the actual result in a given case, PeopleNet guarantees the mpg benefit will exceed the program’s cost within one year or all fees will be refunded.

The program involves a year-long collaboration during which PeopleNet Professional Services will audit customer practices, then develop and implement a plan. Six distinct phases begin with an in-depth analysis of fuel purchasing, maintenance, driver habits, operating efficiency, and equipment specs. The process then establishes measurement benchmarks and a custom, fleet-specific plan to improve fuel efficiency. Training for in-company trainers is also included so as to create a long-term plan that ensures benefits reach beyond that first year.

Hmmm… might be worth checking out www.peoplenetonline.com.

COMPLETELY UNRELATED BUT KINDA COOL, the first International LoneStar tractor to hit Canadian roads in company colors is in the Erb Transport fleet out of New Hamburg, Ont. This is early, because production isn’t due to start for a while yet, but Erb has been an International fleet for quite a while – and is obviously a favored one.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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