By ERIN GAZICA, a freelance writer living in Pottstown, Pa.
Communicating on a big rig has gotten a little more sophisticated since "Smokey and the Bandit." Not that squawking over a crackling CB radio, "Watch the pavement," "Keep your rubber down and your metal up," "Truck 'em easy"--all trucker slang for "drive safely"--will ever get old.
Schneider National Inc., the Green Bay, Wis.-based trucking giant and winner of the certificate of merit in the for-profit category in this year's Theodore Roosevelt Workers' Comp and Disability Management Award competition, will soon begin retrofitting its entire fleet of about 14,000 tractors with a new in-cab communications technology.
The installation of Qualcomm's Mobile Computing Platform 200 Series is expected to begin in the fourth quarter and take about one year to complete. The MCP200 will add in-cab video training, Internet access and multimode capability--effectively transforming Schneider's cabs into mobile operation centers.
Operations that are crucial to efficiency and customer service, which have previously been confined to a corporate office, field service center or driver kiosk, will be performed conveniently inside the truck. Schneider National hopes the system will enhance in-cab productivity and enable drivers to provide better customer service--all of which will help increase revenue.
Janet Bonkowski, spokeswoman for Schneider National, said the navigation system in the MCP200 series is an important element in accident prevention.
"The GPS-enabled directions will be much more clear and easy to follow," she said."They will provide turn-by-turn voice directions resulting in drivers getting lost less frequently. When drivers get lost, they are more likely to have accidents as they try to get back on their route."
Bonkowski said the MCP200 system will encompass most of a driver's daily functions. Recording equipment inspections, reviewing logs and work assignments, keeping an accurate drive time record for regulatory compliance, and monitoring arrival and departure information automatically are all tasks that the new technology will make easier.
Drivers will also become more self-sufficient and make more productive use of their nondriving time with the help of the MCP200 system. Off hours can be spent surfing the Internet or e-mailing friends and family. The company hopes driver satisfaction, as well as customer satisfaction, will improve after the system is installed.
Having an in-cab technology will also manage the driver's distractions inside the vehicle, she said. Distraction--always a hot topic in the trucking industry because it is a frequent contributing factor to accidents--will be minimized by utilizing a text-to-voice format to read turn-by-turn directions or important messages sent to the driver by the back office.
Schneider National will also be able to keep a closer watch on its drivers' performance. The system regularly sends GPS location information to managers so that they can make sure a driver isn't veering off course. Driving activity is constantly monitored, and if any critical events such as hard braking, collision warning or roll stability are encountered, the information is sent to the company's back office for safety management personnel to review.
Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety, said the company has chosen not to reduce the financial resources or manpower dedicated to its safety program, even during an economic decline. And while the in-cab technology has many benefits aside from enhancing safety, the investment serves as an example of Schneider National's commitment to safety despite feeling the pinch of financial pressures.
"This is a very costly initiative for us and a decision we made even in this economic climate to say, 'We want to invest in programs that are going to enhance safety,' " he said. "I wouldn't say this economic situation has negatively impacted safety. To the contrary, I'd say it's improved."
November 1, 2009
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