Training helps maximize tech potential

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There was a time, not too many years ago, when trucks essentially vanished from view after pulling out of a fleet yard. Updates about an ongoing trip were limited to calls from payphones in truck stops, or maybe the reports from passing motorists who responded to a sticker which asked, “How’s my driving?”

An ever-growing list of available technology has changed this forever, offering fleet managers insight that once would have been the exclusive domain of those sitting in the cab. Cell phones, satellite tracking and Global Positioning Systems can certainly help to locate a load at any moment in time. And reports about fuel economy and idling are regularly downloaded from engine electronics to support commitments to fuel-efficiency.

As valuable as this information is, many fleets have yet to scratch the surface of what available data can accomplish – proving that even the most advanced technology still needs to be supported by related training in how to use it.

It’s in the data

Those who recognize the need to monitor a truck’s number of hard-braking events or hard lateral moves can spot high-risk drivers who are too aggressive behind the wheel and might benefit from some added guidance to help prevent collisions.

And the reports which match vehicle speeds and selected gears tell another story.

A driver who regularly allows engine speeds to run up to the governor could be shortening equipment life; someone who travels at highway speeds while in neutral is likely missing gears when heading down large hills.

Sometimes the added insight comes from knowing how to look at the same data in a different way.

For example, the same system which tracks a shipment can be used to sound an alarm when a vehicle strays too far from its scheduled route.

This “geofencing” has been used to track stolen equipment, but one Customs officer also showed me how a driver who repeatedly strays into a crime-ridden neighbourhood might actually be involved in an illegal activity. Matching the vehicle location to police data about known sources of drugs could certainly raise a few questions.

Drivers who see such technology as an invasion of privacy – complaining that Big Brother is watching them – would benefit from training that shows how the data protects their interests, too.

The electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) which track compliance with hours-of-service rules will certainly discourage operations teams who always offer a dismissive “see what you can do” while available hours tick away.

And dash-mounted cameras can prove a driver was right as easily as it can spot a mistake.

The view through the windshield will prove without a doubt that someone cut in front of the truck just seconds before a crash, or even give insurers the information they need to settle claims more quickly and cheaply than ever before.

Like every other piece of technology, however, the quality of the tool can make a difference.

High-definition cameras are needed to catch the letters and numbers on licence plates, which will be crucial when investigating a collision. The systems equipped with two-way cameras – filming drivers and roadways alike – also give safety teams a way to prove someone was focused on the road rather than dozing behind the wheel.

Benefits of automation

But the need for technology-related training hardly ends with data-storing devices.

An automatic transmission offers a good example of how vehicle technology can be maximized by a skilled user. These transmissions allow a driver to keep both hands on the wheel whenever a gear needs to be changed in the middle of an intersection.

But the equipment has also been known to change gears when a truck is heading down a hill.

Drivers who are trained in the related features will know how to select a manual mode that will hold a gear while maintaining control down a long grade.

Adaptive cruise controls, which automatically maintain specific following distances, could also give under-trained drivers a false sense of confidence when they should be reducing speeds in bad weather.

And as helpful as blind spot detectors may be, the drivers who have them will be safest when they realize the blind spots that still remain and use the detectors as simply another tool at their disposal.

Fleets that embrace emerging technologies will always have the chance to enhance operations and build a competitive edge.

But the gains will always be maximized when those technologies are put in the hands of trained professionals.

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