With a rich 100-year history, the trucking industry has been the lifeblood of our nation's economy. And as technological advances continue to evolve, so have the tools that make the jobs of fleet executives, managers and drivers easier.
The early years: The beginning of regulation
With the advent of the modern trucking industry in the 1910s and 1920s, truckers focused on one thing: getting their deliveries from Point A to Point B, often driving long hours on poor roads.
To make conditions safer, commercial truck drivers, beginning in the 1930s, were required to track every hour of every day. Originally, they used pens and rulers to complete paper logs. The process was tedious and time-consuming for drivers, many of whom resented having to record how they spent each 15-minute chunk of their time.
In the 1950s, with the construction of the Interstate Highway System, larger trucks were able to travel at higher speeds through rural and urban areas. With this came the first federal maximum gross vehicle limits for trucks, thus adding one more regulation to comply with—and report on.
The 1970s: Technology enters the cab
In the 1970s, truckers used CB radios as their primary form of communication, relaying information to each other about police officers, transportation authorities, road construction, detours and more.
The tachograph, a device that combines the functions of a clock and a speedometer, also became important during this time.
Mounted in the cab, the tachograph's mechanical stylus recorded the truck's speed and whether it was moving or stationary. The information was displayed on a circular piece of paper that rotated throughout the day. Every 24 hours the driver put in a new sheet and turned in the marked-up sheet.
For the first time, drivers were truly held accountable for how they spent their time.
The 1980s and 1990s: Electronics enter the cab
Then, in the early 1980s, came deregulation, which dramatically increased the number of trucking companies in operation—and the competition among them. Those that survived were the ones able to make a profit delivering on time at a competitive price.
Thus was ushered in the trucking industry's performance-driven culture, a culture based on improving all aspects of performance, including:
- Driver performance
- Speed Idle time
- On-time deliveries
- On-time deliveries
- Electronic driver logs
- Fuel tax records
- Vehicle inspections
- State-line crossings
Gathering, let alone organizing this data, used to be difficult and time consuming. But by 1988, advances in technology made it possible—and affordable—to install onboard computers in trucks.
These computers were focused on collecting individual driver, vehicle and compliance data. Each driver actually pulled the data from his truck with a piece of data-storage hardware and then uploaded it to a PC, generally located in the company's transportation office.
Once uploaded, the information was available for analysis. For the first time, fleet managers had access to driver and vehicle performance data. And because the onboard computers made it easy for drivers to complete and submit their logs, they were no longer paper pushers. Instead, they were free to do what they'd been hired to do: drive and deliver.
And because fleet managers had real-time data, they could better work with drivers to reduce idle time, increase miles per gallon and narrow delivery windows.
The 2000s: Customer satisfaction takes the front seat
In the 2000s, with advancing mobile communications technology, such as cell phone tower communications, satellite-based relays and WiFi, the trucking industry realized two important advances that dramatically improved customer satisfaction:
- Vehicle location. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) made routing and scheduling easy. If a truck needed to make 15 deliveries in a day, GPS could help applications instantly develop the most efficient route, thus saving both time and fuel. GPS has also made it possible to track the real-time status and location of every truck.
- Messaging. Information from trucks and drivers became more integrated with back-office operations. For instance, a driver could instantly alert his dispatcher of a traffic jam that was going to delay a delivery. Dispatchers could also alert drivers to last-minute pick-up changes.
And with the advent of SaaS, fleet optimization software became more affordable and reliable than ever. Here's why:
- Low initial costs - Companies no longer have to invest in developing their own IT infrastructure. Instead, they pay a low, monthly subscription fee and receive on-demand access to real-time data. No unexpected costs, no hidden fees.
- Automatic updates - With SaaS, companies get automatic application updates, ensuring that their software remains state of the art.
- Fewer headaches - No longer responsible for installing and maintaining the software, companies can now concentrate on managing costs, increasing compliance and optimizing safety.
2010 and beyond: Sophisticated analysis drives bottom-line results
With continuing technological advances, companies are now seeing that their fleets can help them collect valuable business insight that can be used to drive decisions, improve performance throughout their organizations and provide a competitive advantage.
The four main advances driving trucking-related business insight are:
- Routing - Real-time location and delivery status through geographic mapping.
- Dispatch - Pinpoints each truck's location and tracks departures, stops, arrivals, deliveries, missed deliveries, and more.
- Proof of delivery - Near real-time communication of deliveries, missing or damaged items, requisite signatures, new orders and more, all while eliminating driver paperwork.
- Trailer automation - Integrated trailer support extends real-time reach to the trailer, providing such crucial information as door status, temperature probe readings and cargo sensors.
In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) initiative and its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on electronic onboard recording devices means more industry change is on the way.
While it's too early to know exactly what to expect, one thing is clear: Private and for-hire fleets that install electronic driver logs now will be in the driver's seat when it comes to both compliance and performance.