FMCSA study backs trailer tracking

FMCSA study backs trailer tracking

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has given the thumbs-up to untethered trailer tracking (UTT) technology to improve security in trucking and hazardous material transport operations

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has given the thumbs-up to untethered trailer tracking (UTT) technology to improve security in trucking and hazardous material transport operations.

The report 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 FleetOwner.

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

  • near real-time trailer identification
  • accurate time as to when a trailer is tethered or untethered
  • location and mapping of trailers
  • geo-fencing
  • unscheduled movement notofication
  • remote sensing of loaded or empty trailer
  • cargo and door sensors
  • alerts

    FMCSA worked with a review team comprised of participants from transportation officials within the Dept. of Homeland Security and Dept. of Transportation, as well as Landstar, J.B. Hunt, Geologic Solutions and Skybitz.

    “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 FleetOwner. “We’ve been in this market for three years and that’s what we’ve been telling our clients.”

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

    “If your trailer is sitting in a yard, one of your competitors could take your trailer as its own,” said Taylor.

    According to participating motor carriers, trailers are most vulnerable to theft at truckstops and parking lots where trailers are dropped or disconnected from tractors. Cargo theft usually involves the cooperation of an “insider” directly involved with the shipment by providing information on the cargo or a driver allowing thieves to access the trailer, motor carriers said.

    One motor carrier reported that using the system in daily operations resulted in a 50% reduction in theft losses. However, experts said that the technology alone cannot ensure the security of shipments. Rather, a combination of the technology with a well-developed and managed security program executed by reliable and trained employees is needed.

    Landstar is an example of a trucking company that has installed the technology on its trailers.

    “Landstar is a nonasset-based company--we don’t own trucks,” Jay Folladori, Landstar vp of trailer operations and management, told FleetOwner. “But we do own, lease and rent trailers for use of our business capacity owners (owner-operators). We own, rent or lease about nine to 10 thousand trailers. Landstar began installing trailer tracking devices in 2002.

    “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.”

    However, the costs of thefts were relatively small compared to revenue, participants added. “Security is never the number-one reason, but one of the top three reasons they buy [trailer tracking products],” said Skybitz’s Taylor.

    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,” FMCSA’s 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.”

    “There’s a lot of discussion about [mandating the use of UTT systems],” Skybitz’s Taylor said. “We have a number of customers that haul hazmat and munitions and I think they feel it’s important for them to stay ahead of the game, and that’s why they decided to buy Skybitz.”

    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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