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M.S. Carriers Inc., Memphis, Tenn.OPERATION:Nationwide truckload carrier, fielding fleet of 3,500 company tractors plus 975 owner-operator unitsMike Reaves, senior vp of driver servicesPROBLEM: What extra step can a truckload carrier take to help ensure that some of its most valuable assets -- truck drivers -- stay around for the long haul?Like other big truckload fleets contending with today's driver

M.S. Carriers Inc., Memphis, Tenn.

OPERATION:Nationwide truckload carrier, fielding fleet of 3,500 company tractors plus 975 owner-operator units

Mike Reaves, senior vp of driver services

PROBLEM: What extra step can a truckload carrier take to help ensure that some of its most valuable assets -- truck drivers -- stay around for the long haul?

Like other big truckload fleets contending with today's driver shortage, M.S. Carriers keeps a sharp eye out for any industry development that could help close the revolving door on driver turnover.

As its competitors do, M.S. Carriers outfits its drivers with handsomely spec'd tractors and aims to treat them as the valued employees they are.

"M.S. Carriers is a family-oriented company," says Mike Reaves, senior vp of driver services. "We support any method we can use to help our drivers communicate in a more timely and direct manner with family and friends."

Unfortunately for drivers out on the road, phoning home or making other personal calls usually means racking up expensive bills while calling from pay phones alongside busy highways or inside noisy truckstops.

And without devising elaborate plans in advance, it's just about impossible for people outside the fleet to reach a longhaul driver while on duty.

This may not sound like much of an issue -- just one of those things that come with the job. "Like it or lump it" might be a perfectly adequate response to this complaint in some other lines of work.

But it's been shown time and again that when longhaul truckers don't like something, they do lump it -- right down the road to the next fleet offering a better deal or more enlightened treatment.

That's why even when the driver's pumping phones with his or her own dimes, those personal calls can get awfully expensive for fleet managers, too.

SOLUTION: Acting on its personal desire to help drivers maintain contact, M.S. Carriers recently elected to make Qualcomm's CabCard personal-communications system available to its more than 2,000 company drivers.

Introduced last October, CabCard is a prepaid service that provides drivers with discounted long-distance phone rates as well as voice-mail, e-mail and P/E Mail (preprogrammed e-mail) capabilities.

The system allows e-mail messages to be sent to and from the cab via the Internet, using the Qualcomm OmniTRACS mobi-comm terminals installed in M.S. Carriers' trucks.

"I cannot stress enough the importance of the real-time aspect of the messages," Reaves points out. "Should an emergency arise, family members can now contact the trucks immediately -- and our drivers have a greater comfort level, knowing they are easily accessible.

"We especially like the P/E Mail feature," he continues. "Without using a personal computer, it allows a preprogrammed e-mail message to be sent to the driver from a touchtone phone."

The "Internet connectivity" that makes the CabCard's e-mail function possible is afforded to Qualcomm by Transcommunications Inc., a provider of advanced telecommunications services.

All together, according to Reaves, the system makes it easier and less expensive for the fleet's drivers to stay in touch with their personal lives anywhere their work takes them -- and without having to leave their cabs.

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