2020 technology trends to cushion the bottom line and minimize risk

Truck driver using camera monitoring system to assist driving

By April 2018, commercial trucks on U.S. roads had to begin complying with the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, requiring drivers to move away from paper logs and record hours of service electronically. The shift generated some anxiety and resistance among a sizable fraction of fleets worried that the influx of automation would compromise driver privacy and autonomy.

But now, with rising insurance costs, fleet managers and logistics providers are opening their minds to more technologies that help fleets minimize risk, increase safety and keep healthy margins.

Using data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the SONAR chart below shows the insurance expenses (blue) increasing 10% year-over-year, while unsafe driving violations (purple) decreased 2% in that same time period. It would seem that insurance costs would go down in response to fewer incidents, but even with a lower number of incidents overall, carriers are paying massive sums because of nuclear verdicts – jury awards of over $10 million. 

“Outside the trucking transportation community, there’s not an abundance of sympathy for truck drivers, so the cases that end up in the courtroom don’t fare well for commercial carriers,” said Zach Strickland, FreightWaves director of freight market intelligence. “The impact of these nuclear verdicts, as well as higher insurance costs, could send more carriers out of business. Safety, however, should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, since the cost of life is immeasurable.”

2020 is the decade to shift attitudes towards freight tech, and these tech trends stand out in the march to minimize risk and protect the bottom line.

1. Dashcams can exonerate drivers, protect assets 

Not only do dashcams provide a crystal-clear view of the road should an accident or legal dispute occur, but the driver-facing camera can detect drowsiness, texting and driver vigilance. In this way, dashcams simultaneously protect the driver and other vehicles on the road. But not all drivers have welcomed the idea of inward facing cameras yet. Some see the feature as one that interferes with driver independence and privacy. 

Tannile Bates, owner of Unity Transport, installed Transflo dashcams in her trucks. The dashcams boast real-time location history using 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi. As a fleet owner, she gets pushback from drivers about the cab-facing cameras, but for her, it’s all about education and safety.

“If they’re driving and swerving, [the camera] is going to start recording,” Bates said. “It’s not always recording, and I’m not going to turn it on just because I want to see what Joe the driver is doing. As long as I feel like I educate drivers at orientations or continuing education, I won’t get as much push back. Getting notifications on speeding and careless driving is good to know and correct before there is an accident or ticket.”

Bates thinks dashcams will help remove the police officers’ guesswork on the scene of an accident, which could knock down the price of insurance and protect drivers from unwarranted nuclear verdicts.

2. Are side mirrors a thing of the past?

Truck drivers could soon be using in-cab video displays instead of side mirrors to gauge their surroundings when changing lanes or reversing. In 2015, Daimler Trucks petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to replace side mirrors with a camera monitor system (CMS), and in October 2019, NHTSA responded by opening a 60-day comment period to gather the necessary data to “determine whether these systems can provide the same level of safety as the rearview mirrors.”

The benefits, according to advocates of CMS, include partially or fully eliminating blind spots and improving the aerodynamic performance of heavy-duty trucks. The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) says these aerodynamic improvements could also boost fuel efficiency by 0.8-2% and save a company 160 to 400 gallons of fuel a year per truck. This is a win not just for the bottom line, but for the environment. Maintenance costs would decrease as well, since according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), fleet owners or owner-operators might spend $100-$200 twice a year repairing mirror issues.

The Stoneridge Inc. CMS features a 12.3-inch screen to the left of the driver and a 15-inch screen to the right, with a third display in the top center of the window. Six cameras are mounted around the truck, feeding video to the display screens. Stoneridge Inc. and Vision Systems North America Inc., two CMS vendors, have been granted five-year exemptions from the current FMCSA rules, allowing them to equip trucks with their systems instead of mirrors.

3. Avoiding weigh-stations with air scales, bypass applications 

When truck drivers approach an open weigh station on the highway, they must pull off and enter the scale, verifying that their trucks weigh less than 80,000 pounds. The break from driving may extend even longer if Department of Transportation (DOT) officers or FMCSA agents flag the truck for further inspections of brakes, tires or fuel tanks. Sometimes a driver must travel miles out of the way to scale a load, and if the truck is overweight, not only is the driver fined, but he or she may have to return to the shipper, losing valuable driving time and money.

To reduce the risk of those fines, technologies are cropping up to give drivers and fleet owners more weight-awareness.

Transflo, a trucking software company out of Tampa, Florida, offers a weigh station bypass feature on its mobile application, powered by Drivewyze, allowing drivers and fleets to bypass over 700 weigh stations across the U.S. and Canada without penalty. Considering that each weigh station stop could cost a driver around $9, not including fines, this app could optimize driving and delivery time. Weigh station bypass is a premium feature available through the  Transflo Mobile+ app. 

Blue Ink Tech, a software company based in Huntington, West Virginia, has created a way for drivers to weigh their vehicles in real-time as trucks are loaded. How it works: The DOT-rated tee fittings easily connect to the air line feeding the air bags, using Bluetooth technology to communicate the current weight through a mobile app. Other companies like Air Weigh, App Weigh and Truck Weight provide similar solutions for weighing the truck remotely to save driving time and avoid fines.

4. Bluetooth cold-cargo trackers help fleet owners get ahead of waste

Food and pharmaceuticals spoiled in-transit are an expensive burden. Roughly $35 billion of food and $15 billion in pharmaceuticals spoil each year. Why? Some food and pharmaceutical products must be maintained at a certain temperature in order to keep their integrity. Pest infestation is also to blame for food spoilage. Even though reefer units can sustain a consistent temperature for units traveling through Minnesota or Texas, doors opening and closing definitely compromise the temperature. Without careful attention to the individual pallets, heat-sensitive cargo is at risk.

Powerfleet has developed Bluetooth technologies to allow a driver or fleet manager to keep a constant check on individual pallets, whether or not they’re in range and safe. If the cargo has degraded in some way, the tracking devices can then help analyze the timing and cause of the temperature deviation. Beyond temperature, the tiny database can track light, humidity and shock, while also using high-resolution imaging.

It’s all about being proactive, rather than reactive, so fleets can get ahead of waste and make smart decisions, said Norm Thomas, general manager at Powerfleet.

5. Freight matching technology: a revolution in time-saving and visibility

Load matching platforms have drastically altered brokerage workflow and expanded carriers’ networks to a broader selection of shippers. Over 60,000 carriers currently use Transflo services – document capturing, invoicing, payment processing, load tendering, and others. Transflo’s Velocity+ solution can be used by freight brokerages of all sizes to automate tasks, communicate better with carriers, and receive documents faster and easier. It can also be integrated into most transportation management systems (TMS).

“Freight matching technology will help speed up the time it takes to get a load covered by a carrier, allowing for more loads to be booked by brokers, at an optimal carrier rate, while lowering operating costs,” said Donny Gilbert, Freightwaves market expert.

Freight brokers that optimize the features of a platform like Velocity+ can help carriers reduce deadhead miles by searching for consolidation opportunities. While many companies see this kind of technology as a threat to staffing, it actually allows workers to rid themselves of busywork and focus their attention and time on servicing the customers and thinking more critically about business growth in a volatile industry.