Task-specific telematics

Trucking is a business of critical details, most of them secured in place with regulations designed to keep important things from shifting or falling, like tying down cargo on a flatbed trailer. Take vehicle pre-and post-trip inspections, for instance. No matter how urgent the delivery or how important the customer, a driver is required by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to make sure that

Trucking is a business of critical details, most of them secured in place with regulations designed to keep important things from shifting or falling, like tying down cargo on a flatbed trailer. Take vehicle pre-and post-trip inspections, for instance. No matter how urgent the delivery or how important the customer, a driver is required by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to make sure that the vehicle is in good working order before starting out. Drivers are required to complete another inspection and file a report on their return, too.

Even though so much rides on doing these inspections correctly, fleets just can't look over the shoulders of all their drivers every day to make sure they understand the process and are doing it right, time after time. It is logistically impossible, or at least it was until now. Thanks to a Seattle-based company called Zonar Systems (www.zonarsystems.com), fleets will be able to not only guide even their newest drivers through the inspection process step-by-step, but be able to document when they did an inspection and how long they spent at each inspection point besides. Drivers should like the new, easy-to-use, paperless system, too, which automates the reporting process and virtually assures compliance.

Here is how the patented Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report (EVIR) system works: A series of self-adhesive, half-dollar sized RFID tags are positioned around the vehicle at critical inspection zones. Each tag contains location-specific information about all the components and systems to be inspected at that station — tires, brakes, lights, etc. When the driver holds a handheld reader within four inches of a tag, it transmits that data along with the vehicle ID number, time and date.

An on-screen menu prompts the driver to record the condition of each item on that zone's inspection list by pushing a button. Pushing the green button records a no-problem condition. Pushing the red button reports a problem and pulls up a menu of system-specific issues from which to choose. There is even a handy light at the end of the reader.

When the driver has completed the entire inspection, the date, time and inspection observations are permanently recorded. Placing the reader back into its mounting in the cab instantly transmits the data to Zonar's secure servers. The reader stays with the vehicle to provide law enforcement officers and others access to the inspection history. Pretty slick.

“We believe in common sense, in keeping things simple,” says Brett Brinton, general manager of Zonar and one of the founders of the company. “Technology has to work for people. Our goal with this system is to take the vehicle inspection process to a new level, to create a new best practice.” The company is already well on the way to achieving that goal in the school bus market, where Zonar's inspection system for school buses is in use on thousands of buses nationwide.

For the trucking industry, the vehicle inspection system is the cornerstone of a suite of fleet telematics solutions that also includes optional tools for vehicle routing, tracking and workforce management, each developed to be as straight-forward and user-friendly as EVIR. The “ZAlert” application, for instance, provides real-time notification of skipped or noncompliant inspections. The entire suite is designed to integrate with existing fleet maintenance or management systems, too, thanks to the company's open-architecture philosophy.

“I suppose we are an amalgam of old-fashioned values and new technologies,” reflects Brinton. And I suppose that is about as good a blend as you can get for the trucking industry. Welcome.

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