Fleets Online: Paying for safety

COMPANY: H.T. Hackney Co., Knoxville, TN

OPERATION: Wholesale grocer, furniture and bottled water distributor

PROBLEM: Ed Meyer, director of transportation, will tell you that finding ways to improve his fleet’s safety profile has been and remains an overarching goal within H.T. Hackney.

As a result, that philosophy convinced the company to start installing in-cab computer systems from Qualcomm nine years ago in all of its trucks. To date, 550 of its 700-plus tractors now feature either a Qualcomm FleetAdvisor or Mobile Computing Platform that electronically records daily logbook information and monitors vehicle speed, along with a variety of other data aimed at helping Hackney track its fleet’s safety progress.

Aside from the challenges Meyer and his team faced convincing Hackney’s drivers, warehouse personnel, and fleet management team to accept the changes, he faced a separate and perhaps even more ticklish one: how to pay for it.

“My boss is concerned about our drivers being as a safe as possible on the road, because we believe that’s the most important thing we can do as a fleet,” Meyer explains. “But it’s not just all about making us safer; there had to be a payback on our investment, too.”

SOLUTION: For starters, Hackney tied its excessive speed policy to the home state speed limits of its warehouses. “For example, in Tennessee, that’s 70 mph; but in Georgia it’s different,” Meyer explains. “Obviously, excessive speed is both a safety and fuel-economy issue, but we wanted to make sure our speed limit conformed to where our drivers operated.

“Once a driver exceeds the speed limit, they get a warning bell and 15 seconds to get back below it,” Meyer said. “We decided making exceptions—such as going downhill, trying to pass, etc.—would just make it more complicated and confusing; besides, they get to go fast enough. Drivers are also allowed only three speeding ‘events’ per year.”

The company uses data gleaned via its Qualcomm devices to track hard-braking events, compile fuel tax data, and serve as an “electronic logbook.” “It just makes things more efficient for the drivers and our fleet to record logbook information,” Meyer explains, noting that the company’s hours-of-service (HOS) violation rate is a measly 0.2% per 4,800 trips per month.

Yet the real fuel-economy savings—and how Hackney pays for the Qualcomm device—comes from reducing engine idling within the fleet. “When we started [in 2003] we were idling 42% of the time. Some of our drivers backed up to a warehouse dock and idled the engine for one to two hours while loading,” he says.

Now Hackney only allows 15 minutes of idling per day at start-up and shutdown and as a result reduced idling for its entire fleet, including sleepers, to 11%.

He stressed that fierce competition between Hackney’s warehouses is what really drove that reduction in idling. “We made the data available to everyone— drivers and warehouse personnel alike—and we found it [to be very effective].

Our warehouses became very competitive with one another as no one wanted to be on the bottom of the pile,” he says. “In fact, we had some warehouses keep idling below 1% for months at a time.”

And the fuel savings alone from reduced idling helped pay for Hackney’s investment in Qualcomm’s in-cab technology. “One of our warehouses paid it off in 16 months via the savings from less idling and improved efficiency,” Meyer notes.

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