The zucchini of trucking

by Sandy Johnson

Spring can’t come too soon, especially if you’re a gardener. My dad, who was an old farmer, couldn’t wait to get out and start scratching at the topsoil as soon as the snow melted.

The planting, the weeding, the watering… It was all easy fun until the zucchini ripened.

Suddenly we had what seemed like thousands of pounds of zucchini, even after we’d given away as much as our friends and neighbors would take.

But the magic of zucchini is its versatility. Just as suddenly, our kitchen was a-flurry with the making of zucchini relish, zucchini chocolate cake, zucchini casseroles, and the ever-popular zucchini bread.

What does this have to do with you? GPS is the zucchini of trucking.

GPS satellites continually ping the receivers in your trucks, collecting an abundance of information that you can turn into something useful later. But not every application requires an uninterrupted stream of GPS data, which only creates a lot of bits and bytes that need to be analyzed and stored.

Again, it’s like zucchini: if you’re baking a bread loaf, you need to measure each ingredient carefully. If you’re making a casserole, you can throw in what you’ve got and not worry about being too precise.

Let me give you some examples to chew on when it comes to how to use the GPS data you collect every day.

Location services
If all you want to know is where a truck is in the morning and again at night, then collecting pings every few minutes will generate way more data than you can use.

But if you need to know how fast someone is going, or want to recreate the moments leading up to a collision, then ping frequency and precision is critical.

An electronic logging device uses GPS points created by the truck’s movement in conjunction with data provided by the driver to produce a record of duty status. For hours-of-service compliance, the FMCSA only cares that the truck “checks in” every 60 minutes. An auditor might want GPS data in order to know a location, a route, or total distance for verifying the driver’s duty status. But he doesn’t care how far you traveled in any particular jurisdiction.

Frequency and precision are important if you use GPS data points to report your IFTA/IRP distance. I believe that collecting GPS data in 15-minute increments is the minimum for this type of application and that every two minutes is better, mostly because of travel between jurisdictions since that is what IFTA and IRP are all about.

Frequency is less of an issue in the west where carriers travel hundreds of miles in a single state or province. However, in the east where jurisdictions are smaller, or in a border city, 15 minutes might not be enough to accurately capture true distance by jurisdiction values.

Once you install GPS devices on your trucks, the data is going to roll in like a zucchini harvest. You have to find a place to store all of the raw GPS data so you can get to it when you need it. Fortunately, you can be ready with a variety of recipes that will put your data to work.

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