Trucking industry innovates to improve driver safety, efficiency

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 313 views 

The most important aspect of being innovative in the trucking industry is making the commitment to innovate, and being open minded will allow the culture of innovation to grow, a trucking executive said.

In a recent Transport Topics webinar, trucking and technology executives discussed innovation and technology in the industry. When asked about the state of innovation in the trucking industry, Ryan Rogers, chief transformation officer at Covenant Transport, said it’s the most exciting time he’s seen.

“We’ve got more people and it seems like more money being thrown at this market than we’ve ever seen,” said Rogers, pointing to carriers, from small to large, that have established e-commerce final-mile delivery businesses.

Hayden Cardiff, founder and CEO of trucking software company Idelic, explained his company was started to improve carrier safety. Idelic was spun out of carrier Pitt Ohio after it developed a software to track drivers, determine which ones were more at-risk for crashes and to coach those drivers before a crash. This was the model for the Idelic software which has improved from a 21% accuracy of knowing which drivers would be involved in crashes to a more than 90% accuracy, Cardiff said. One of the focuses of the company has been to take the abundance of data and use it to make good decisions and gain insights from it.

Cardiff said there’s a lot of excitement from carriers about new technology, but the issue has been that they need to know the return on investment. The company’s ability to address driver turnover and crash reduction and prevention has led carriers respond to and welcome the technology company.

In the first quarter, driver turnover at large carriers rose six percentage points to 94%, from the previous quarter, according to trade organization American Trucking Associations. The turnover rate increased 20 percentage points, from the first quarter of 2017.

“Turnover is not a measure of the driver shortage but rather of demand for drivers,” said ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello. “We know that as freight demand continues to rise, demand for drivers to move those goods will also rise, which often results in more driver churn or turnover. Finding enough qualified drivers remains a tremendous challenge for the trucking industry and one that if not solved will threaten the entire supply chain.”

With drivers being at a premium as a result of the shortage, the negotiating power has shifted to their side, but they lack a means to stand out from other drivers, as there’s not a lot that distinguishes a safe driver from an average driver, Cardiff said. But his company offers drivers the ability to track their safety score, which is based on driving history, and they can take it from fleet to fleet, allowing drivers to promote themselves. He explained it as a win-win as fleets can also use the data to help drivers who might otherwise go without the training they need.

Also in the webinar, transportation consultant Brittain Ladd discussed ways to improve industry efficiency by addressing its constraints. He suggested establishing a consortium of larger carriers and to allow drivers to become contractors paid by the hour, instead of the mile. Drivers could operate any truck or trailer within the consortium, and they would switch out of a truck as needed, ensuring that a driver would always be operating the truck. Using the methodology, fleets could ship the same amount of freight with 33% fewer trucks, he said.

Ladd has spoken to hundreds of drivers who liked the idea. But some liked being able to drive the same truck, and others were curious as to what the executives would think. So far, he said, he’s not had an executive say they wouldn’t try it.

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