Truck GPS Tracking: Big Brother or Big Advantage?

Truck drivers are a pretty independent lot; it’s why they choose this field as a career. So how do they feel about GPS tracking for fleets? Does it smack of Big Brother? Is it intrusive or does it actually provide benefits that positively impact a driver’s livelihood?

It’s pretty clear why fleet managers and owners like GPS tracking. Far different from the personal GPS used in cars, these telematics solutions do more than simply provide directions to a destination. Yes, they calculate truck routes; although since they must search through truck-specific mapping data, which encompasses more than 700,000 miles of truck restricted roads, they take a bit longer than the traditional car GPS. It’s the additional data collected and communicated that really results in the benefits that so many fleet owners prize. The latest telematics systems offer a wide array of trackable real-time information, including, but not limited to:

  • Truck route calculation
  • 24/7 vehicle location
  • Performance control problems
  • Routine maintenance alerts
  • Automated driver log reports
  • Excessive idling time
  • Speed information (acceleration and deceleration)

All of this data results in fleet optimization, from better fuel efficiency to monitoring driver behavior. It allows for better communications with clients by being able to pinpoint exactly where a shipment is at any given time. And all of these benefits go right to the bottom line and a positive ROI.

That’s fine for management; what about the driver?

So how does this technology benefit the driver? Is it acceptable that management can track a driver’s actions and whereabouts when he or she is on the road, 24/7? Let’s dissect the different issues.

Calculating Truck Routes – This has been a boon for commercial drivers, especially when navigating new areas or new routes they may not have traveled before. Obstacles and problems can exist anywhere. We’re only too aware of the accidents that have occurred when trucks are driven where they’re not permitted.  The most well publicized incidents have occurred on New York’s parkways, which do not allow commercial trucks. These narrow, winding roads have multiple overpasses under which only passenger vehicles can drive.  Yet, since 2005, more than 200 trucks have crashed into those overpasses every year. New York’s senator, Chuck Schumer, blames 80 percent of those accidents on GPS devices sending drivers where they are not permitted. That’s the very reason why truck-specific GPS systems were developed, and why automobile GPS systems should never be used by commercial truckers. One other thing that every driver knows; GPS is not automatic pilot. A driver’s eyes, ears, and common sense should always be on the alert for any sudden changes.

24/7 Vehicle Location – This may not seem to be desirable at first glance; however, consider the following circumstances. You arrive at your destination right on time; however the distribution center staff is running behind, so you have to wait until your cargo is unloaded. The client complains that their goods are not being delivered in a timely fashion, but the GPS makes it abundantly clear that you were exactly where you were supposed to be, when you were supposed to be there. Or, you’ve broken down on a deserted road and need to get assistance. Since the GPS communicates directly to an office location, the dispatcher can pinpoint exactly where you are and get you the necessary help you need.  In a real misfortune, where you’ve suddenly gotten sick or are unresponsive, the dispatcher can notify emergency responders. So this feature can not only save your reputation and your job, it can also save your life.

Performance Control Problems – Many of the new GPS systems have a Performance Control Module that’s tied directly to the vehicle’s ECM (Electronic Control Module). If the unit detects a default code that indicates something is wrong in the engine, or if it detects a low fuel alert, that information is communicated directly back to the office. This gives the office time to notify you and get you off the highway and to a maintenance facility before a breakdown might occur. That increases road safety for you and other vehicles; on a more practical point, it also saves towing costs and avoids late deliveries.

Routine Maintenance Alert – Knowing that a vehicle is due for maintenance means that vehicle can get the service it needs before an emergency occurs. That early notification and action on the part of the company also helps to ensure compliance. Plus, it gives enough notification for the dispatcher to put in an alternative vehicle, keeping shipments on time and drivers on the road. Downtime is bad news for everyone: the driver, the company, and the client.

Automated Driver Log Reports – Not just the driver logs, but the State Trip Reports, are also automated. That means a lot less paperwork for you, and a lot less downtime at DOT roadside checks. That’s because when authorities see these electronic logs, they can automatically know if the vehicle is in compliance, thus avoiding costly delays that occur when manual checks are required.

Speed Information and Excessive Idling – This may seem to be the most intrusive aspect of the system, and to a certain extent, it is. But the reality is that bad driver behavior, though rare, impacts all commercial drivers. You don’t want to be painted with a broad brush, but that is what occurs. So this is an opportunity for a company to recognize and reward the good, safe, compliant drivers, and offer corrective counseling to help eliminate bad habits of the drivers who are less compliant.  In fact, using the data gathered from the GPS Tracking system, some companies can actually have developed bonus programs, and have found that rewards based on truck tracking data can actually increase driver morale.

Ultimately whatever is good for your company financially is good for you as well. A company that increases profitability and productivity will continue to do business. That translates into job security, something every driver (and every employee in any business) truly appreciates.  And GPS tracking can actually add to that job security rather than take it away.

About the Author: David Beaudry is Director of Logistics Engineering and Consulting for AmeriQuest Transportation Services.  He brings 25 years’ experience to AmeriQuest in surface transportation, logistics engineering, and consulting.

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