Transportation inefficiencies

Nov. 1, 2008
For the Larger common carriers and private fleets, wireless technologies have helped to streamline operations, leading to higher profitability. Along

For the Larger common carriers and private fleets, wireless technologies have helped to streamline operations, leading to higher profitability. Along with offering improvements in efficiency, such technology investments often serve to enhance operational safety and security. This results in safer trucks, safer roadways, increased freight mobility, and improvements in the environment, economy, and transportation efficiency.

There are, however, opportunities to further improve safety and operating efficiencies by more widespread application of sophisticated technologies. That is the conclusion of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)'s Motor Carrier Efficiency Study.

The study identified inefficiencies and evaluated safety, productivity, and reduced cost improvements that may be achieved through more widespread use of wireless technologies. Among the key areas considered were fuel monitoring and operations management systems, electronic manifest systems, cargo theft prevention and security, and roadside safety inspection systems.


As reported in the study, “significant industry inefficiencies that represent systemic problems” include:

  • Equipment/asset utilization, underutilization
    • Detention/demurrage time — Waiting at the shippers, receivers, and inspection facilities.
    • Empty/non-revenue miles — Empty vehicle miles and equipment misallocation.
    • Lack of 24/7 operations — Shipper or receiver hours of operation, union rules, non-team driver operations, and hours-of-service regulations.
    • Lack of optimized routing — Poor routing and scheduling, and out-of-route miles.
    • Unauthorized equipment use — Use of vehicles by drivers to haul cargo for payment outside of employment/lease/for-hire contract, and use of trailers and containers for unauthorized cargo storage.
  • Fuel economy, fuel waste
    • Excessive speed — Driver behavior such as exceeding speed limits, tampering with the governed throttle, and tampering with other engine components.
    • Unnecessary idling.
    • Transmission management — Poor shifting techniques.
    • Preventive maintenance practices — Excessive fuel consumption rates attributable to poor engine or drivetrain performance due to sub-optimal preventive maintenance.
    • Fuel purchase and mileage data recording — Manual recording or data input that introduces errors and omissions, and is more vulnerable to falsification and reporting delays from the driver to the motor carrier, or from the carrier to regulatory agencies. Fuel consumption rates are also indicators of vehicle engine and drivetrain performance, vehicle maintenance status, and driver behavior.
  • Loss and theft
    • Stolen cargo/pilferage — Theft of part of the cargo at the shipper, receiver, or en route.
    • Damage claims — Damage to cargo due to mishandling during loading/unloading, improper load securing techniques, inadequate packaging or packing, or improper driving techniques.
    • Stolen and hijacked equipment.
  • Safety and Maintenance
    • Crashes and collisions.
    • Lack of or improper routine maintenance practices.
    • Driver equipment neglect.
    • Detention of driver or equipment due to problems or defects with credentials (for motor carrier, driver, or equipment) or condition (driver or equipment).
    • Tire failures.
    • Other equipment and component failure.


Among the wireless technologies explored by the FMCSA study for improving truck transportation efficiency and safety:

  • Radio frequency identification (RFID) — Low powered radio transmitters to read data stored in a transponder (tag). Application: weight station bypass programs, port operations, international border crossing systems, asset management and tracking, security, wireless keys, and cargo/container security.
  • Digital cellular — Wireless network of transmission cells providing digital data communications capabilities. Application: Personal telephone communications, on-board computer and communications systems, remote vehicle monitoring systems, and remote financial transactions.
  • WLAN/Wi-Fi — Wireless network technologies for local area network and Internet access. Application: Wireless local area network (WLAN) applications, yard/dock operations, service facility hot spots, and fuel facility operations.
  • WiMAX — Wireless network technology for metropolitan area networks. Application: Fleet management and monitoring.
  • Bluetooth — Short-range radio frequency (RF) communications technology for enabled devices in close proximity. Application: Very short range device-to-device communications, data exchange, and inter-vehicle communications.
  • Satellite — Global satellite-based telecommunications network and global positioning system (GPS) network. Application: GPS, satellite telephone systems, and fleet management and monitoring systems.
  • Ultra-wideband — Short range, high data rate RF communications. Application: RFID tags, radar detection and imaging, precision geolocation systems, collision avoidance sensors, and high-speed wireless personal area networks (WPAN).
  • Free space optics (FSO)/infrared (IrDA) — Wireless infrared telecommunications technology for point-to-point data transmission. Application: Primarily hand-held device communications and high bandwidth access to fiber optic networks.
  • Two-way radio — Push to talk, half-duplex radio technologies that transmit and receive signals. Application: Dispatch operations, large organization (public or private) two-way communications applications (law enforcement, utility fleets, and emergency responders), and citizens band (CB) radio.
  • Zigbee — Short range radio frequency standard for monitoring and control in mesh networks. A mesh network is a local area network (LAN) that uses at least of two connection arrangements.) Application: Possible in-vehicle applications for convenience controls similar to home automation and consumer electronics applications, industrial automation (intelligent sensor networks), active RFID asset tracking (local inventory systems), and security applications (sensor networks for intrusion detection).


The next phase of the study involves actual field testing of wireless technology to access potential benefits and costs.

Funding to examine the application of wireless technology to improve the safety and efficiency of trucking operations in the US was set aside by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The FMCSA was assigned the responsibility for administering the Motor Carrier Efficiency Study.

This was done, in part, because “a significant fraction” of the trucking industry is made up of owner-operators,” said FMCSA officials. “These small business owners, many of whom are tasked with managing all aspects of their businesses and driving their trucks historically, have not had the resources to invest in sophisticated technologies. As a result, they struggle to remain competitive.”

The challenge, the officials said, is “to identify and exploit these opportunities to ensure that all segments of the carrier industry can benefit. Larger carriers would then be able to continue to reduce operating costs, and smaller carriers — who perform critically important services — could share in the promise of these advancements.”

About the Author

David Kolman

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