The world of trucking fleets is changing as transport owners turn to telematics to reduce costs in an industry where overheads are rising and profit margins are being squeezed, financial services provider Standard Bank vehicle and asset finance executive head Toni Fritz reports.
Telematics is the technology of sending, receiving and storing information to keep track of your vehicles remotely through telecommunication devices, she explains.
The benefits are being felt in the optimisation of fleets and rebates in services such as insurance, she notes. Such mechanisms provide a sense of comfort to banks when advancing loans for trucks, as these measures indicate good management of assets, which ultimately lead to better residual values for future trade-ins or sales.
“With telematics covering virtually every aspect of a vehicle’s operations and security, trucks are becoming safer, driver behaviour is improving and accidents are being brought under control – all to the benefit of owners who are seeing advantages when dealing with insurance and financial services providers,” Fritz states.
Concurring with Fritz, fleet management and insurance telematics solutions provider Ctrack Fleet Management Solutions MD Hein Jordt says telematics has changed dramatically since the days when the control of vehicles was limited to the use of paper-based tachographs that had to be analysed by owners. This process was not only tedious and absorbed administration time, but was also unable to immediately address concerns regarding misuse of vehicles by drivers.
“Increasingly, the insurance industry is turning to telematics to assess the use of vehicles and the behaviour of drivers through devices that can record and report on up to 32 inputs simultaneously. The advantage is that these inputs can be managed and inspected from a central point by fleet managers. In addition, instructions can be sent from a remote site to a vehicle anywhere in the country by a supervisor who can then control certain responses of the vehicle,” Jordt highlights.
Advances in communication and information technology has seen telematics being transformed from a ‘grudge’ insurance product to a service that has become an ally for fleet operators wishing to maximise their operations and keep a tight rein on costs. In times when costs, particularly fuel costs, are rising and margins are coming under pressure, some fleet owners try to cut corners where vehicle maintenance is concerned.
“Operators using telematics are seeing the benefits. Their trucks are constantly monitored and assessed, so these precautions are being rewarded with reductions in their insurance costs. In addition, as these systems help schedule and monitor routes, telematics users have been able to reduce the number of vehicles in their fleets without compromising service,” Jordt adds.
Top of the range telematics systems installed in heavy commercial and mining vehicles now enable devices such as driver-behaviour indicators to show in real-time how a driver is behaving in the cab of a truck. Linked to voice, this means that a driver can be cautioned immediately if he is speeding, braking too harshly, taking corners too fast or leaving the vehicle to idle for long periods.
Linking the results delivered by these services has also enabled owners to take corrective action through the use of driver training. Drivers with bad habits are now often referred to academies for refresher courses where they can improve their vehicle handling skills. This ensures that drivers remain aware, the quality of driving is enhanced and road safety is improved for all road users.
While the driver is being monitored, systems can also control routing and scheduling options that can integrate with warehousing facilities and weighbridges. The progress of a vehicle along a pre-ordained route, its distance from a warehouse and estimated time of arrival allow for better logistics and turnaround benefits.
Live activity-dashboards enable owners to log in at any time and obtain information on where exactly vehicles are, how many are on the road and how many are parked. The emphasis is on supplying information that allows clients to have the hindsight, insight and foresight to plan for fleet optimisation.
Jordt states that telematics services can typically begin monitoring a vehicle even before it has left its allotted parking bay at a depot. Driver identification tools enable a fleet manager to see exactly which driver is at the wheel of each vehicle in the fleet. A driver unauthorised to use a vehicle will be stopped from doing so as the vehicle system will not recognise the driver’s ‘terminal pin’. Seatbelt and open-door sensors make sure that basic safety functions are adhered to before a vehicle gets under way.
Truck hijacking remains a problem especially on isolated roads. Devices such as panic buttons can relay a vehicle’s exact position to response teams. A control room operator can then remotely slow down the vehicle, activate hooters and set lights flashing, to draw attention to the truck. These actions have proven to be massive deterrents to potential hijackers.
“Trucks today represent a massive investment with operators often spending more than R1-million on a single horse and trailer unit. It, therefore, makes sense to take the necessary steps to safeguard vehicles, make the driver’s task an easy one and also ensure the safety of others on our highways and byways,” Jordt highlights.
“Fleet managers often experience operational redundancies, a spiralling workload and high costs, but telematics can help to increase your efficiency and bring down costs. When the fleet is fitted with telematics systems, companies can save on fleet insurance costs. Investing in telematics can also be useful in the case of an accident, as data collected during accidents can help with the process of increasing the speed and accuracy with which insurance claims are managed,” Fritz concludes.