From Cbs To Cellular
by Richard Pitnick
Thursday, February 10, 2000
Given the critical importance of the trucking industry to the national economy, it should come as no surprise that computers and cutting-edge communications technologies have become an integral part of the business.
"The Internet and computers have totally changed the face of trucking," says Don Nielsen, owner of a Salinas-based freight company. "It used to be that it was strictly up to the driver to check gauges and detect defects, which meant a driver could run a $10,000 engine right into the ground. Now you have engines costing $20,000 that are all computerized that won't allow the driver to get the engine hot or run out of oil. You can also set the computer to limit the top-end speed."
With safety issues being a significant concern to the industry, computer and electronic braking and stability-control systems have done a lot to improve truck safety.
"You get maximum ability out of the equipment," says Nielsen. "Computer-monitored engines are more efficient and burn cleaner, and have almost doubled mileage from a pre-'85 range of 3-5 miles a gallon to 6-7 miles per gallon."
Cell phones, faxes and global positioning have completely revolutionized trucking, allowing instant communication between the trucker and freight company. With truck thefts totaling up to $12 billion a year, freight companies are installing sophisticated tracking devices to monitor valuable cargo.
Laptops and cell phones have enabled truckers and freight companies to better track the progress of deliveries and increase driver productivity by maximizing the time they're are allowed to drive.
"The number of drivers that have laptops is going up to around 50 percent of long-haul truckers," says Andrew Ryder, editor of Heavy Duty Trucking magazine. "And we think truckers will adopt the Internet quickly. If you look at the demographic profiles, a trucker wouldn't be a techie kind of guy. But many who have been info-starved are aggressively trying to get info--to own their own destiny and empower them find their own loads."