Trucking goes high-tech

A semi-truck is bearing down on your lane and you get that eerie feeling as you wonder if they can see you. Imagine that truck braking to avoid a collision regardless of what the driver is aware of.

Halvor Lines in Superior is currently testing the functionality of collision mitigation braking systems on some of their trucks. Not a new technology, pre-crash systems with autonomous braking are, however gaining popularity in the trucking industry and other new technology is already being implemented as well.

A transport services company with more than 400 tractors, Halvor has recently outfitted its fleet with Driveria vision-based driver recognition safety program by Netradyne. “Driver eye” technology records high-definition video from forward and side-facing cameras.

Halvor ran a pilot program using two camera systems last spring with Netradyne’s system coming out on top.

“We noticed Netradyne’s clarity of picture and the fact that it’s a smart camera with artificial intelligence that identifies speed limit signs, stop signs, and stop lamps with amazing accuracy,” said Adam Lang, Halvor’s chief risk officer.

Recent experience spurred Halvor to take action with the pilot following an incident early in 2018 where one of its trucks had a collision with another vehicle. Had that truck not had a driver-owned dash cam on board the results would have been very different.

“Multiple people got hurt and there was a lot of property damage with the other driver uninsured, but the camera showed the liability was clearly on the other driver,” Lang said.

That incident, he noted, is similar to many in the industry that end up being a major problem when blame is incorrectly placed on the commercial operator.

“That kind of large claim can have an impact on the life of a driver that could end his career,  so these cameras help protect drivers and the company,” Lang stated.

Lang said since Netradyne cameras have been installed in the company’s rigs drivers have been exonerated from any fault in six accidents with no liability. In addition to liability protection, he said it also had an impact on vehicle insurance premiums. 

Previously using inertia-based event recorders, sensors picked up hard braking and rapid acceleration. Halvor’s office would receive an email of such an event and they would contact the driver who would explain the situation.

“This is so much better,  (because) we can see the event and talk about what really happened to improve safety and performance,” Lang said.

Choosing not to use audio recordings for the Netradyne system, Halvor has also capped a fourth rear-facing camera for driver privacy.

Training is an area the trucking industry grapples with to keep drivers safe, equipment intact and insurance rates down. With a traveling workforce training is often notoriously difficult. That’s why Lang is enthusiastic about CarriersEdge, software implemented two years ago at Halvor allowing efficient training while on the move.

“CarriersEdge has completely changed the way we look at training our mobile workforce, it’s productive and impactful,” he said.

Drivers access CarriersEdge through any electronic device via a mobile app for training modules aimed at a spectrum of proficiencies in the trucking industry. Not just a click-through, CarriersEdge requires interaction ensuring quality training on new equipment, safety training and state requirements.

With legislation now requiring electronic logging to monitor drive/rest time for drivers, Kivi Brothers Trucking, headquartered in Duluth,  just added e-logs in the last year with the addition of PeopleNet fleet management software and computer screens in each of its 400 cabs.

“Some drivers don’t like the switch from paper log books to e-logs, with the biggest complaint being when the allowed 14 hours of service hits you have to shut down for 11 hours, even if you are almost at your destination,” said John Russell, Kivi’s recruiting manager. 

While overall safety and avoidance of fatigued driving is the goal, Russell says the new system pressures some drivers to push too hard to beat the clock running out.

His opinion about the future of self-driving tractor-trailers? Not in his lifetime.

“I  don’t think self-driving is going to happen with trucks, computers can malfunction and you have got to have a human being behind the wheel to make sure accidents don’t happen,” he said.

According to Russell, any hesitancy by Kivi drivers to adopt the technology of e-logs has little to do with age or low-tech flip-phone lovers, and more to do with a system that doesn’t mesh with driver expectations.

“The e-log is pretty easy to navigate, it’s mostly the change and the hours of service when you hit that 14 hours, legally you have to shut down,” Russell stated

With most of their drivers already opting to install personal dash cams on their trucks, Kivi has no plans to add more cameras to the fleet. However, Russell admits the prevalence of dash cams is helpful to the company.

“I hired a guy recently with an accident on his license because he was able to show me a dash cam video of the accident where it was clear the other driver had cut in front of him too suddenly,” Russell said.

Bonnie Ramsay, Halvor’s chief information officer, has been immersed in the tech side of trucking for the last 24 years and has seen a lot of change in that time, with sensors now on virtually every trucks and trailer.

While some emerging technologies fall under what Ramsay calls the “gadgety” category, she noted the industry is constantly assessing the economic benefits of new tech.

“Some new things come into the industry for six months and go away, but we are always trying to find those things bubbling to the surface that will move information electronically,” she said.

That also translates into hanging on to technology that works, such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), a system that has been around since the 1960s.

“Some people turn their noses up at EDI, but it is tried and true with most customers not willing to be a trading partner unless you use EDI and for now hasn’t been replaced with anything better,” Ramsay said.

EDI accounts for about 65 percent of Halvor’s business, allowing computer-to-computer communication of load information between offices and in-cab that would otherwise be conducted via telephone.

However, that hasn’t stopped Halvor from upgrading to state-of-the-art technology like the Transflo app in 2017. Now transitioned into half of its fleet, Transflo is an answer to the DOT requirement for an in-cab electronic logging device (ELD).

An electronic logging device reads what the truck is doing, whether the driver is wearing their seatbelt and a plethora of other operating information, including drive/stop time and much more.

Using an electronic tablet in-cab, or their own personal devices, Halvor drivers can now receive their load information electronically using a Transflo app. This has replaced paper maps with an e-map system, and enabled the ability to scan documents anywhere through a tablet.

“We were cutting edge with this ELD, and are one of the few trucking companies in the states using the app to this extent with it interfaced to other systems and giving us all sorts of statistics that increase efficiencies like miles per gallon and idle times,” Ramsay said.

Collaborating on developing customized software is an area ntegral to Halvor’s success, she noted. 

“CAT Scales Company has been wonderful in coming up with a process we developed together, and now they are taking it out to other trucking companies,” Ramsay said.

Allowing drivers to save about 15 minutes at weigh stations, the CAT Scales app works by having drivers key in codes at scale stops, avoiding the need to go into the building to pay.

“The drivers absolutely love it, and the scale ticket is sent to our document management system where it is automatically indexed to create efficiencies,” said Ramsay.

Anticipating next year’s mandate that the DOT accept electronic copies of trucking permits, Transflo is another tool that drivers can use to for compliance. Beyond ELD, Halvor is optimizing its Transflo software by integrating it into other parts of its systems, including transportation management.

“At first Transflo didn’t have integration into our transportation management system, so we built that together to create access to a page that gives the driver information on their load,” Ramsay said.

Using Transflo information across programs gives drivers grades on performance, including accidents and safety, and the ever important fuel solutions. Fleet compliance with fuel solutions is at 94 percent, a remarkable number that Ramsey credits Transflo with helping to achieve. Every four hours a data-feed from fueling determines the best location to fuel that day depending on price and location.

“Fuel is our second largest spend, and we spend millions of dollars a month on fuel. For a penny a gallon we save $100,000 in a month,” Ramsay noted.

With an average driver age of 51 years old in Halvor’s workforce she cited some struggles with the adoption of new technologies, but she said given time, almost all drivers become convinced that tech improves their jobs.

“It’s stressful for some drivers who are older and may not have adapted to technology, but our oldest driver in his 80s recently came in after getting a new phone for help uploading one of the apps, and he was upset he hadn’t had it for two weeks,” said Ramsay.