Rush hour. Construction. Accidents. Inching along in snarled up traffic isn’t great for anyone’s stress level, but when a truck driver is stuck in traffic, it’s not just a matter of annoyance. According to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), traffic congestion cost the trucking industry a stunning $74.5 billion in additional operating costs in 2016 — up from $60 billion in 2015. On top of that, driver delays in 2016 totaled nearly 1.2 billion hours — up from 996 million hours in 2015.
In response to figures like these, companies have taken drastic measures to avoid or at least minimize encounters with traffic congestion. According to the new ATRI report, 91 percent of all slowdowns take place in metropolitan areas. The very nature of trucking requires most fleets to operate frequently in and around densely populated urban areas, on crowded interstates, and other major highways between population centers — all inherently prone to congestion.
Altering operations to avoid traffic
So, how can trucking companies significantly lower their exposure to highway congestion? Some companies have changed their locations, moving their production facilities or warehouses outside of the congested urban centers. While many deliveries still need to be made within cities, of course, removing even part of the time spent dealing with their traffic can cut down significantly on wasted time and money.
Another strategy embraced by some trucking companies has been to adjust their operating hours to avoid the worst traffic each morning and evening while still making it to facilities within their hours of operation. It’s a tight balancing act, but worth the trouble for the time and money it saves.
Some trucking companies have even worked to change their shipment size and configuration, reasoning that if they have to contend with traffic, the smartest way to do so is to consolidate freight into as few shipments as possible to minimize the effects of delays.
Promoting safe driving habits
An obvious step would be to promote better, safer driving habits among truck drivers as well as the general public. According to a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, the number of police-reported traffic accidents in 2015 rose nearly four percent over 2014. That jump was one of the biggest contributors to a surprisingly large increase in highway congestion.
The reality is that the trucking industry has little control over how well private motorists perform behind the wheel — and car drivers are usually the ones causing the accidents. Statistics from auto advocate AAA show that car drivers were to blame in 75 percent of accidents and the American Trucking Associations has reported cars at fault 80 percent of the time.
Because the trucking industry cannot control the behaviors of private motorists, most of its efforts toward reducing congestion costs are focused on technology-driven solutions aimed at helping truck drivers avoid congestion whenever possible. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that equipping large trucks with advanced safety technologies has the potential to prevent up to 63,000 truck-related crashes per year. Many fleets install in-cab video solutions to increase car driver accountability when these accidents inevitably happen.
Better route planning to avoid congested areas
Other ways fleets can avoid congestion are with technology solutions designed to better plan routes to avoid common choke points, alert drivers of slowdowns ahead, integrate customer delivery demands into the fleet and daily operations planning process, and accurately track trucks and loads to keep clients up-to-date on their deliveries. But, there are dozens of technology providers offering systems that do one, two, or many of those functions for trucking operations that compete in regional and national markets and in all specialty categories.
Some provide route planning and congestion warning services to small operators or even to one-truck companies operating on shoestring budgets. Others provide sophisticated systems that track highway construction data bases, police radio activity, and even entire fleets for tell-tale signs of unexpected slowdowns and clogged highways.
When many trucks in the same area are moving at unusually slow speeds, using their brakes heavily, or significantly behind schedule, it’s likely that some unexpected bottlenecking has occurred. Such real-time knowledge can then be used to guide trucks headed in the same direction around the bottleneck(s) or, at the very least, through the bottlenecks with the least amount of schedule disruption possible.
Such technology systems also produce, almost as a by-product of their tracking and warning functions, a massive amount of data. Trucking firms can use this data to create highly optimized route plans that can reduce the average truck’s daily schedule by five to 15 percent, even on days when they encounter no major bottlenecks.
Based on that $74.5 billion in congestion costs in 2016, eliminating just 15 percent of that time lost to congestion would produce over $11 billion in economic savings. Cutting a more challenging 25 percent of congestion-driven costs would put $18.6 billion back into the pockets of trucking companies.
So, the question is not whether trucking companies should be employing technologies to reduce their exposure to traffic congestion. Of course they should. Rather, the real question is why trucking companies aren’t doing even more today to learn, in advance, where congestion will likely be encountered and how they can best steer their drivers and rigs around those profit-sapping, driver-maddening, and customer-disappointing bottlenecks? The team at Omnitracs can help you employ these technologies. Learn more here.