Dreamers vs. Doers

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You have a truck, and your pal has a truck. You both have the same powertrain, the same type of trailer, and the same access to the market.

How much more effective could your pal be than you when it comes to getting freight to its destination? In a low-tech world, the difference would be minimal—like two tribes of primitive hunters scouring the Great Plains with spears and arrows. Maybe a factor of two.

Armed with technology, the variation in what either might accomplish could be enormous. The one with the foresight and imagination to use technology to its best advantage could enhance productivity immensely. To the one lacking such vision, technology could be just a complex and costly hurdle. A company’s success will depend increasingly on its willingness to embrace technology, and on its choices of tools. Consider GPS.

Is a route-planning and navigation system any more effective at getting truckers to destination than a dog-eared copy of a motor carrier atlas? Paper maps served drivers well for decades, and still do, but are they the best choice today? They are certainly cheaper to buy, but are they cheaper to use?

Have you ever calculated the number of off-route miles your fleet runs each week—drivers getting lost, making wrong turns, running into road closures? It could be substantial.

Some estimates suggest fleets can easily chalk up 50 to 100 off-route kilometers per truck per week. In simpler and more prosperous times, 50 km out of 4,000 might not have mattered.

With budgets calculated to the penny, electronic logs tracking driving time to the minute, and the increased exposure to risk, off-route miles really do matter. And don’t overlook the fuel tax implications: you’re paying road tax—and maybe wages—on totally unproductive miles.

The precision of GPS combined with truck-specific mapping can reduce off-route travel substantially, but many of today’s systems also offer route planning and optimization, construction updates, and more. Popular systems such as Garmin, PC Miler, WorldNav, Cobra, ALK, and the newest to hit the market, Rand McNally’s Intelliroute TND (truck navigation device) system, also offer business tools like fuel-tax recording, trip planners, calculators, calendars, and such.  

Route planning, navigation,
and HOS can all be done from
the palm of your han… errr,
we mean, your dash-mounted phone.

Some devices, such as the Intelliroute, PC Miler, and ALK’s Co-Pilot can interface with larger fleet systems, and with telematics, can up and download data, turning the basic GPS navigation device into a small-scale but sophisticated fleet management tool.

All that and turn-by-turn spoken directions, too.

Considering the potential mileage and labor savings, they’d still be a bargain at twice the price.


Of course, there’s more to today’s technology than just providing directions. Communications suites allow drivers to scan and fax or email proof of delivery moments after the freight is off the truck rather than waiting for the driver to return, or dealing with the cost of overnight delivery.

Failing tires can signal operations before the driver is even aware of a problem; and appointments for service can be made in advance of the driver’s arrival, saving loads of downtime.

In-cab cameras can monitor and record actions inside or outside of the cab, providing frame-by-frame visual and audio records of an event. Taking privacy concerns into account, these records can be used in court to defend a driver, and then can be used to improve driver performance.

A 17-week study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2008 using the DriveCam in-cab video system showed that the number of risky driving events could be greatly reduced by such monitoring systems.

Two fleets involved in the study reported reductions in such events of 37 and 52 percent using the DriveCam Driver Risk Management Program.

Passive safety systems can make a huge difference in your safety profile, too. Systems such as lane departure warning, proximity awareness, adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, and even fatigue monitoring, are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and can save your bacon in court.

It’s a sad commentary on our times, but while investing in these technologies for operational and productivity improvements has its own merits, doing so as a measure of protection from hungry civil litigation lawyers is almost a must today.

So let’s take another look at your fleet and your pal’s. He delivers a load, scans and emails the POD to the terminal, who sends it to the broker, who electronically transfers funds upon receipt of the POD. He could have his money before your truck has found a place to fax you the POD. He uses a GPS-based fuel-tax reporting system, while you’re burning the midnight oil filling out your ITFA reports by hand. You’re pouring over paper log sheets ahead of a compliance review, and he’s emailing his driver logs to the DOT in advance of the audit.

Two fleets, two approaches to technology.

Today we’re doing with computers and telematics what we used to do with telephones. And we’ve added a host of functionality that wasn’t previously possible. Adding Internet connectivity to the truck has enabled a lot of functionality we didn’t have just a few years ago. And it probably costs less at the end of the day.

Maybe it’s not technology that separates the successful fleets from the strugglers, but imagination.  

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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and Trucknews.com, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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