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It is time to welcome Big Brother’s watchful gaze

Those who insist that electronic monitors are invading privacy will often refer to Big Brother – the all-seeing evil leader who George Orwell created in the book 1984. In the novel, rulers spy on their citizens to maintain a tight grip on...


Those who insist that electronic monitors are invading privacy will often refer to Big Brother – the all-seeing evil leader who George Orwell created in the book 1984. In the novel, rulers spy on their citizens to maintain a tight grip on power. The information is hardly meant for the greater good.

The monitoring systems on a modern truck deserve a better reputation. And managers who watch over the data should probably be seen as helpful siblings; the kinds of brothers who offer important advice.

Consider the valuable information that would be possible if fleets embraced the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technologies which support the navigation systems in family cars. If these systems were combined with electronic logbooks, truckers could be alerted when they were running out of driving time, told about truck stops that they can reach before running out of hours, or fed directions to a parking area that might otherwise be forgotten on a nearby secondary road.

It is hardly the stuff of a science fiction novel. Many valuable electronic monitoring tools are already available today. And I know of at least one fleet owner who refers to each new piece of technology in the company’s sales tools, showing potential customers exactly how the business will manage and care for every load.

Ultimately, all of the related data can offer the insight to address real-world problems.

Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) can certainly eliminate many of the common paperwork errors that leave unwanted scars on a cross-border fleet’s CSA safety ratings. Some fleets have balked at the idea of mandating these recorders – largely because the tools offer an unflinching look at exactly when a truck was operating, and whether a driver was complying with hours of service rules – but the benefits outweigh any risks.

Today’s electronic monitors could even help to protect loads from theft. The same GPS technology that offers directions can be used to support ‘geofencing’ systems, which will sound an alarm whenever a truck or load strays outside a specific area. This kind of watchful eye can be particularly useful to those who haul high-value cargo like alcohol, electronics and pharmaceuticals. I know of one fleet that uses the systems to inform dispatchers whenever equipment passes through the yard’s gate. Another fleet in Brampton, Ont. gives customers access to the data, making it possible to locate a shipment at any given point in time.

Granted, fleets that offer this kind of access will also need to be transparent and truthful when reporting the location of any load. It is tough to make up an excuse for a late shipment if a customer can see exactly where their freight is sitting.

Electronic monitors are hardly limited to tracking a truck, either. Telematics can be used to feed fleet personnel data about everything from tire pressures to reefer temperatures, no matter where the truck may be.

Real-time data can even make a difference in how equipment performs on the road. The sensors and controls in stability control systems help to keep trucks upright on every off ramp, while the sensors that feed the latest generation of automatic transmissions help to deliver a perfect shift every time – improving fuel economy and allowing drivers to concentrate on making safe turns rather than finding the right gear.

Like any other technology, these transmissions have improved over time. Once drivers lift their foot off the brake pedal, today’s systems will still hold the brakes in place until the drivetrain begins to apply torque. There is no worry about the truck rolling uncontrolled down a hill. Shift points can also be reprogrammed by fleets that switch from heavy loads to lighter commodities, further maximizing their fuel economy.

The search for valuable information doesn’t always require an added investment. At least one monitoring tool is already found on each and every engine. The Electronic Control Module (ECM) offers data that can identify issues like high speeds or hard-braking events, and that is the type of insight which can be used to refine driver training programs.

Like any other tool purchased by a fleet, new monitoring technologies will need to be reviewed to identify the potential return on any investment. But the costs of this equipment can often be offset by the savings that emerge when addressing long-standing challenges, whether problems involve the state of equipment (such as tire pressures), thefts, paperwork errors, or even collisions.

It is the type of support you might expect from a trusted big brother.

– This month’s expert is David Goruk, risk services specialist. David has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit Northbridge’s Web site at
www.nbfc.com.


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