Expert Commentary

Technology Trends and Risk Control

Modern onboard and electronic technology creates a tremendous amount of information that can benefit employers and employees alike—and costs are coming down. This article describes these new devices, including satellite systems, cellular technology/phones, trip recorders, electronic logbooks, collision and rollover warning systems, lane guidance systems, fatigue detectors, and antitheft technology.

Auto Risk Management
September 2000

"Technology enables man to gain control over everything—except technology"—Unknown

The utilization of technology for commercial vehicles and particularly for motor carriers is becoming more pervasive. Modern onboard and electronic technology creates a tremendous amount of information that can benefit employers and employees alike. In addition, the relative cost of this technology is becoming more affordable and, as a result, more employers are able to effectively utilize it.

Many motor carriers claim that the use of technology enhances their service levels to the point where they can successfully pursue the more sought-after customers. Much of the technology can lead to higher on-time delivery rates. The following discussion focuses on some of the latest technology in use by motor carriers and how this technology can assist the risk manager in the loss control process.

Satellite Systems

Onboard communication systems can gather data via satellites and are used by numerous motor carriers. These systems allow supervisors and dispatchers to keep track of drivers and trucks on a continuous basis and can keep track of the following types of data.

  • Hours of service, which can help verify compliance with Department of Transportation (DOT) hours-of-service requirements
  • Precise speed at any given moment, including the exact time of an accident
  • Vehicle performance, providing data on brake applications (indicative of possible tailgating), tire pressures, gear shifting, and engine temperature
  • Exact location at any time, which may be helpful in refuting contentions that a motor carrier's driver drove recklessly, caused an accident, and then left the scene
  • Route deviation, which can alert the supervisor if the driver alters the planned route

Cellular Technology and Cell Phones

Cellular technology is less costly than satellite systems and more prevalent in its use. Cellular systems, which are user-friendly compared to satellite systems, are comparable to cellular telephones and send data through the use of a ground-based tower system. They provide much the same type of information as satellite systems but are not as effective in parts of the country where there is limited cellular activity.

Many carriers issue cell phones to each driver. These cell phones are the lifelines between the truck driver and the outside world. By using cell phones, drivers can relay information about a truck's location, necessary repairs, the status of a load, and emergency situations. As with satellite communication technology, common sense should dictate use. Cell phones should not be used while driving.

Trip Recorders

These types of onboard recorders have been in place for many years and are often referred to as "black boxes." For many motor carriers, these may eventually replace the notoriously unreliable paper logbooks now used to enforce the law. (Even when a motor carrier utilizes the new technology, it is still required to maintain manual paper log books; however, this may change in the near future.)

Like the satellite systems, onboard recorders collect a wide range of information. The information stays with the vehicle, usually on some type of tape device, and it is delivered or given to the supervisor or dispatcher at the end of a trip or on a particular schedule. The information recorded can aid in the reconstruction of an accident. Many experts believe that these "black boxes" will become required safety equipment on all heavy trucks in the near future.

Electronnic Logbook Systems

These software packages also are replacing the traditional logbooks used by truckers. They keep track of drivers' hours and miles driven to assist in following DOT laws concerning hours of service. They also can schedule routes and verify drivers' compliance with company and DOT regulations. This type of information can be loaded into logbook programs through cellular, satellite, or optical scanning.

Collision Warning Systems

This is a new technology in which radar-activated flashing lights warn a driver when he or she is advancing too quickly on another vehicle or is about to veer into a car hidden in the truck's blind spot. One motor carrier has reported that its front-end crash incidents have decreased 75 percent since it installed the devices in half of its trucks.

Collision warning systems are frequently integrated with existing onboard computer technology, such as trip recorders, to capture driver and truck performance data including acceleration, lane deviation, and load shift.

Anti-Rollover Systems

Anti-rollover systems are a new technology that warns drivers of a potential rollover and slows the engine when the danger becomes imminent. It uses sensors in the vehicle's antilock brake system to track lateral acceleration and the exact speed of the wheel. By processing this information, the system predicts the possibility of a rollover accident. (According to a DOT study, approximately half of the fatalities in trucking accidents involve rollovers.)

When the possibility of a rollover is detected, the device sends messages to a display on the dash. These messages require the driver's acknowledgment and recommend a slower speed. The highest-level warning involves an audible alert. The control part of this device decreases engine power and applies the engine brake when a rollover is imminent.

Lane Guidance Systems

This new technology utilizes an auditory device (rumble-strip sound) to warn drivers when they drift out of a lane without using their turn signal. This device utilizes a windshield-mounted camera to monitor the road and a computer to determine when a truck comes too close to lane markings. The warning sound is released from speakers mounted on both sides of the driver, depending on which side the drift is occurring.

Fatigue Detectors

The National Transportation Safety Board recently estimated that 30 percent of truck wrecks are caused by driver fatigue. Research is being performed on the causes and prevention of driver fatigue, primarily by the federal government. Fatigue detectors are currently being developed; the goal is to measure driver drowsiness behind the wheel. The most promising appears to be sensors that register the percentage of eyelid closure over the pupil—or "droopiness"—and warn drivers when they are drowsy.

Brake Technology

New braking systems are being developed that can last up to 500,000 miles before having to be relined and that will make relining easier as well. These brakes have an internal adjuster that keeps them in proper adjustment and requires little or no maintenance. The result is fewer defective brakes, which is a common cause of trucking accidents.

Antitheft Technology

New technology can be utilized to reduce trucks and cargo theft. Antitheft cameras are being developed that can be mounted on trucks and trailers. This system involves a number of strategically placed, miniaturized cameras capable of capturing images during the day or night. The software can be individually configured to recognize a theft condition, snap images, and transmit them via satellite to a monitoring locale. It can also be programmed to emit powerful, high-intensity strobe lights when preset conditions occur. There are also global tracking satellite systems that pinpoint a vehicle's exact location to more easily locate stolen vehicles and cargo.


A key point to make on the new available automobile technology is that companies should verify that this technology is used wisely. Many companies have purchased this expensive equipment but have not taken advantage of the information it supplies. It is essential that companies act expeditiously on the information generated by this new technology to improve the safety environment. In addition, the system should also be consistently monitored for necessary changes, improvements, adjustments, and repairs.

Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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