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Technology that pays

TORONTO, Ont. - Claude Robert, owner of Robert Transport is well-known as a fleet owner who loves technology. His company is willing to try just about anything that promises to improve safety or effic...

TORONTO, Ont. –Claude Robert, owner of Robert Transport is well-known as a fleet owner who loves technology. His company is willing to try just about anything that promises to improve safety or efficiency.

His willingness to experiment with new technology is driven by three things, Robert explained at the Ontario Trucking Association’s (OTA’s) annual convention: the need to provide customers with realtime information; the need to track driver performance; and the need to track vehicle performance.

Robert, and several other technologically- driven fleets were on-hand at the convention to share some of their findings.

Reducing fatigue

Robert is one of the most proactive Canadian fleets when it comes to addressing driver fatigue. Robert relayed a story of a driver who died just an hour into his trip, the accident serving as the catalyst for action.

Now the company has 17 of its trucks equipped with fatigue detection systems that use small cameras to monitor driver behaviour and then sound an alarm when the driver shows tell-tale signs of fatigue.

The driver must then pull over. Usually a coffee or a short walk outside is enough to restore his energy to levels where it’s safe to resume the trip, Robert explained. The technology can even reduce horsepower to the vehicle to the point the driver has no choice but to stop. The systems are being used on the Montreal-Toronto lane. They cost about $8,000 a piece but Robert said the technology “is going to be an evolution.”

Robert is working closely with the proprietors of the system, which will be commercially available within the next few years.

“The industry should be following this very closely,” Robert said. He even said the technology has the potential to replace hours-of-service regulations altogether.

Electronic logs

Robert is also on the forefront of electronically monitoring logbooks. Drivers must enter their hours of work into the company’s on-board satellite communication system and those are compared to the driver’s paper logs.

“It has helped us measure the quality of our logbooks,” Robert said.

South of the border, Werner Enterprises has taken it a step further. Werner is the only North American carrier with permission from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to operate solely with electronic logs.

Della Sanders, vice-president of safety and compliance with Werner, said the company has seen its driver out-of-service rate plummet from 10% to 1.4% since implementing the system in 1998. Drivers can enter their duty status by simply clicking a button on their in-cab computer. Information such as location and odometer reading are automatically gleaned from the truck’s computer. When a driver pulls into an inspection station, they can either show their records to an inspector on-screen or fax them to the station’s fax machine to produce a paper copy. Sanders said the system has not only improved compliance, but also allowed for improved route planning.

“We’ve integrated the system into our load assignment process so they can see right then and there if the driver is projected to be on-time,” said Sanders.

Werner now audits its hours-of- service compliance 24/7, Sanders explained. Naturally, not all the drivers were initially pleased with what could be perceived as a technological invasion.

“When we put this in, we were sure every driver was going to leave our fleet,” Sanders joked. “That changed once they saw the benefits of the technology.”

She said the fleet is now able to maximize its drivers’ productivity through improved load assigning.

“We can keep them more productive because we can project in realtime their second and third trips,” she explained. “Drivers did not make less money.”

Sanders admitted the system is not perfect; there are still some problems with enforcement, particularly in Canada where officers are not always familiar with the technology, she said. For Werner, it was a costly program to initiate. Sanders said it cost the fleet about $1 million to develop the necessary software. However, she said there are now third-party vendors offering comparable systems so in the future fleets should be able to make the transition to e-logs much more affordably.

A simulating experience

Bob Halfyard of Challenger Motor Freight said his company has reduced the cost of losses by about 300%, largely due to its investment in a full-scale simulator. He stressed, however, that the improvements were not immediate and that the technology must be used properly to realize a cost savings.

“Initially, we experienced a negative,” he admitted, adding it took two years to begin seeing an improvement in accident rates. “But the problem wasn’t the technology, it was the way we were utilizing the technology. When we started, we thought we could run (drivers) through the simulator and that would be great. The idea is not to teach the driver how to drive, they already know that. We want to see how they react to a situation.”

Halfyard explained the sim allows Challenger to safely monitor how a driver reacts to adverse conditions. Everything from erratic four-wheeler behaviour to icy road conditions can be simulated. The simulator is so customizable, that Challenger can basically recreate its own real-world accidents.

“We can force a crash,” explained Halfyard. “That’s where we’ve had our success.”

One of the benefits of the program is that the simulator allows for the “unbiased” assessment of driver skills. It’s difficult to measure a payback on the simulator, but Halfyard is aware of at least six potential accidents that were avoided as a direct result of simulator training.

So far, Challenger has put 1,500 of its drivers through simulator training. It has been well-received, particularly among the younger drivers, Halfyard said. About 10% of drivers experienced motion sickness, however, and he admitted a few old-school drivers suggested it should be a ride at Disneyland.

“The simulator is not a magic pill, it’s one piece of the puzzle,” Halfyard admitted.

Smile, you’re on camera

Ram Contract Carriers has implemented a new technology that acts as a constant witness to driver behaviour. The Lookout system from Viewnyx consists of a cab-mounted camera that constantly monitors driver behaviour. In the event of an accident, unsignalled lane departure, horn application or hard braking situation, the camera notifies management and saves the video that immediately preceded the event.

Management can then review the incident with the driver and address any driver error that occurred.

Bryan Miller, operations manager, admitted it was initially difficult to get driver buy-in, especially since Ram is a 100% owner/operator fleet. However, he said in some cases the video has vindicated drivers of blame and now some operators have requested to have the technology installed in their trucks.

Ram currently has 15 units, which it rotates through the fleet.

“The system has prevented accidents,” Miller stressed. In one case, he said a driver faced the prospect of a $1,000 insurance deductible and immediate termination after being blamed for an accident. Reviewing the video, however, allowed the company to determine the accident was caused by a four-wheeler. The driver’s deductible -and his job – were saved as a result.

In another instance, a four-wheeler accused a Ram driver of rear-ending him on the highway. The video clearly showed, however, that the truck stopped short of contacting the car. So far, Ram has only had to dismiss one driver from its fleet since implementing the technology a year ago. It has provided additional training for many other drivers and Miller said the system has improved the overall safety of the fleet.

The fleets in attendance agreed that technology can help them become safer and more efficient. Provided that technology is used properly. The next biggest challenge is to convince vendors to integrate t
heir various systems, added Robert.

“None of these things is being integrated,” Robert complained. “When you buy a car, everything is in it. You don’t go to Canadian Tire and buy all the parts.” •

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