By Mike Antich
Increasingly, drivers are relying on personal GPS devices for route directions; however, this can be potentially dangerous and expensive for truck fleets. For example, fleet managers are reporting drivers increasingly are driving on truck-prohibited roads because GPS devices meant for personal vehicles direct them there. A car GPS device maps out the quickest and shortest routes, but doesn't identify truck-restricted routes or roads with weight, height, and hazardous cargo restrictions.
When a company does not provide a GPS system, many fleet truck drivers utilize the same GPS device used in their personal car. But this can be dangerous since they rely on systems that have inadequate truck route mapping. Truck drivers following car GPS instructions can be inadvertently directed onto parkways that prohibit trucks. Often these parkways are crossed by bridges lower than an average truck box height. Occasionally, the roof of a truck gets sheared off or a truck gets wedged beneath an underpass.
"If a truck driver is going to use a GPS system, it should be a truck GPS system," said Clayton Boyce, vice president of public affairs and press secretary for the American Trucking Associations (ATA). "The slightly lower cost for a car GPS system will be far outweighed by a single traffic citation or crash caused by a car GPS sending a truck onto a road on which trucks are banned."
Increased citations are becoming a growing problem as many local governments rely on traffic fine revenues to balance budgets and supplement law enforcement budgets. These jurisdictions are seeking to improve this revenue stream with more aggressive enforcement of traffic violations. One example is that local police departments have become more aggressive in ticketing truck drivers violating road weight restrictions. Errant drivers defend themselves by saying they were simply following GPS directions.
Routing to Avoid Truck-Restricted Roads
Truck GPS units differ from a car GPS system by the truck-specific mapping data they contain. As many as 700,000 miles of truck-restricted roads are featured in these units. One negative is truck GPS systems do not calculate truck routes as quickly as a car GPS due to this additional data. A car GPS doesn't have to search through the multitude of restrictions to calculate a route.
Some of the GPS devices on the market today that are designed for the commercial trucks include the Garmin 465T Truck GPS, Rand McNally Intelliroute TND 500, CoPilot Truck Laptop 11 system, CoPilot PC*Miler Truck GPS, WorldNav Truck GPS, and Cobra7700 Pro Truck GPS. Some systems are preloaded with the National Truck and Trailer Services Breakdown Directory, which supports different routing options in the lower 48 states based on weight, width, height, length, and hazardous content.
Some truck OEMs have also adopted specific truck GPS solutions. For instance, Kenworth NavPlus offers truck-optimized navigation routes from Garmin customized to a specific truck and load. The system navigates routes based on truck type, load, height, weight, length, and hazardous load restrictions. A driver would enter dimensions and load restrictions, or multiple-point routing to identify the most efficient route between multiple stops along a trip. Drivers receive voice-prompted turn-by-turn directions, up-to-the-minute alerts on traffic conditions, plus a comprehensive guide to Kenworth dealerships in the U.S. and Canada.
Other advantages to a GPS system are a reduction in fuel spend by optimizing routing, increased driver accountability that helps deter speeding and excessive idling, the ability to track hours of service and overtime, and prevent unauthorized usage.
"In addition, GPS tracking takes away the 'I got lost' excuse, which is frequently heard when drivers take their time between jobs or getting back, racking up costly overtime," said Robert Donat of GPS Insight.
There is, however, an unresolved regulatory compliance issue with GPS devices. If the device records where the truck was, and when, then the data recorded in the device becomes enforcement data that carriers are required by FMCSA regulation to retain, protect and to provide to police, highway safety officials and the US DOT itself upon demand. "Just what records, and for how long, has not been stated by the FMCSA, despite promises to do so for years.," said Boyce. "Because of that, ATA filed a lawsuit this year asking a judge to require FMCSA to issue this guidance. The state of the lawsuit, at this point, is that we are holding it in abeyance while FMCSA attempts to come up with the guidance, or a plan to do so, that would lead us to drop the lawsuit."
Finding the Right GPS Solution for Your Fleet
There are many truck GPS systems available on the market today. To select the right system for your fleet, first establish your company's needs. Do you want an in-dash system or an aftermarket product? Do you need alerts of deviation, delay, or vehicle trouble? Do you want the system to record the vehicle's history to download later or do you prefer an automatic wireless system that automatically downloads the information when the vehicle approaches? Knowing the features you require will help determine the model and budget.
With a GPS truck tracking system, you not only save your company money by optimizing routing, but you also enhance the safety of your drivers and truck assets.
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