FMCSA study backs tracking

After completing a three-month test of Qualcomm's OmniTRACS system, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has given the thumbs-up to untethered trailer tracking (UTT) technology as a way to improve security. The technology was installed on 25 tractor-trailers in each of three operations: a regional hazmat carrier, a truckload dry van carrier, and a TL carrier hauling high-value clothing

After completing a three-month test of Qualcomm's OmniTRACS system, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has given the thumbs-up to untethered trailer tracking (UTT) technology as a way to improve security. The technology was installed on 25 tractor-trailers in each of three operations: a regional hazmat carrier, a truckload dry van carrier, and a TL carrier hauling high-value clothing and electronics.

In a published report on the test, “Untethered Trailer Tracking Control System,” FMCSA concluded that current UTT technology is reliable, “with few recorded failures.” The agency said that UTT has the potential to close security gaps, as well as improve operational efficiency and also boost safety by reducing unproductive miles.

“Essentially [the study] proved that using this technology brings benefits both on the efficiency and the security side,” Ian Grossman, FMCSA director of communications, told FLEET OWNER.

According to FMCSA, the Qualcomm TrailerTRACS UTT system included the following features:

  • near real-time trailer ID;

  • accurate time as to when a trailer is tethered or untethered;

  • trailer location and mapping;

  • geo-fencing;

  • unscheduled movement notification;

  • remote sensing of loaded or empty trailer;

  • cargo and door sensors;

  • alerts.



FMCSA worked with a review team from the Dept. of Homeland Security and the Dept. of Transportation, as well as Landstar, J.B. Hunt, Geologic Solutions and Skybitz to help analyze the data.

“The great thing about the study is that it confirmed that trailer tracking can help identify areas in trailer fleets for improvement,” Roni Taylor, executive vp- SkyBitz marketing and corporate communications, told FLEET OWNER.

The report stated that only 2% of the 2.5- to 3-million dry van trailers in the U.S. have UTT systems. And with the trucking industry using one tractor for every three trailers, that leaves large numbers of trailers exposed to security risks.

According to carriers participating in the study, trailers are most vulnerable to theft at truckstops and parking lots where they're often dropped or disconnected from their tractors.

One motor carrier reported that using the system in daily operations resulted in a 50% reduction in theft losses. Experts point out, however, that the technology alone cannot ensure the security of shipments. Fleets must also have well-developed and well-managed security programs run by reliable, well-trained employees.

As a non-asset-based company, “we don't own trucks,” said Jay Folladori, Landstar vp-trailer operations and management. “But we do own, lease and rent trailers for use by our business capacity owners [owner-operators]. We own, rent or lease about 9,000 to 10,000 trailers.

“All [trailer tracking] companies offer a suite of options based upon how much you want to invest in the product,” Folladori said. “Then you have to have systems management to be able to handle it; it's a pretty intense technology.”

The widespread use of UTT technology will ultimately depend on whether individual trucking companies are able to justify an investment in it, FMCSA said. “Certainly what's [available] is working reliably and working well,” Grossman said. “[In terms of the maturity of UTT], the difference is between the technology itself and the users adopting it. All technologies go through that lifecycle; once it's created there are early adopters and it either catches on or it dies off. The cost-benefit question is a decision that only each company can make. Certainly we can confirm the technology brings the benefit.”

FMCSA said that it is unclear at this point whether the federal government will require the use of UTT systems in the trucking industry. “In terms of mandates, it falls more to Homeland Security officials with how they use this information to make their rulemakings,” Grossman said. “Generally speaking, it's too early to speculate what's down the road.”

To see the full FMCSA study, go to www.fmcsa.dot.gov/facts-research/research-technology/report/untethered-dec05/index.htm.

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