By Warren Hoemann, PrePass consultant, former FMCSA deputy administrator
The post-COVID-19 world of trucking could result in new drivers and new management. It could also result in new customers. However, adaptation, already the mantra of the pandemic, will be the guiding force for motor carrier survival and ultimate success.
Adaptation will also extend in another direction, technology. What does the presence of COVID-19 have to do with technology? Plenty.
Consider the changes in the workplace so far:
- Many people now work from home or from remote locations. That calls for a common communication platform and for the secure transmission of voice and data between remote locations and the office.
- With employees exposed, or even potentially exposed, to COVID-19 forced into quarantine, new work-at-home sites must be quickly established. The situation demands portable technology compatible in a remote working environment.
- Today’s sales force no longer enters customer offices. Business is conducted by phone, computer or in the open air. That calls for mobile technologies capable of handling and displaying business documents.
- Speaking of paper, forget it! Transactions are now digital. Signatures are digital or contactless, if required at all.
The trucking industry embraced the technological changes required by the pandemic. For example, new drivers frequently operate alone in the cab without a driver trainer. Technology, such as in-cab cameras focused on the driver and exterior video controlled by the trainer, provide the feedback and documentation required.
As another example, inspectors at weigh stations will try to avoid direct physical contact with drivers. Instead, technology now allows drivers to transfer hours-of-service records from electronic logging devices, as well as copies of inspection reports, images of driver licenses, medical certificates and other documents.
Here are four additional trucking processes where the post-COVID-19 environment calls for a technological response:
Parking and routing. COVID-19 closed or restricted many truck parking locations. Stopping the truck at roadside is not safe and often not legal. New customers mean new routes for truck drivers and unfamiliar parking options. Motor carriers can equip drivers with mobile apps that map safe and legal parking locations for sharing with dispatchers and fellow team members. Common truck routing software can show carriers programs that accept parking and routing input from the carrier.
New drivers and old contact information. Remember changing jobs and forgetting to update your cell phone number and email address? The same thing happens to new truck drivers. The old carrier’s telephone exchange has been shut down. The email address that reads “@xyzcarrier.com” just doesn’t work. It’s a simple technological fix but often overlooked. Make sure all team members have compatible devices, with shared phone numbers and a standard email format.
Pre- and post-trip inspections. Federal regulations require drivers to conduct a pre-trip inspection before operations and a post-trip inspection at the end of the workday. If the post-trip inspection finds a safety defect, the driver must submit a driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR) to the carrier so vehicle repairs can be made. If no defects are found, then drivers don’t need to submit a DVIR. But management still needs to know the inspections were performed – to inform the maintenance department and to assure federal and state investigators, if necessary. COVID-19 means personal contact with the driver to capture that information may not happen. Instead, create and upload a simple “clean inspection” form that captures date, time and location so drivers can do a one-click report.
Make technology part of the company’s safety culture. Technology is just a means to an end. The post-COVID-19 world will require more reliance on technology, but remain focused on the more important end goal. For trucking, that goal must be safety. When introducing these and other technological changes, underscore how the technology makes work easier, more efficient, and always safer.
Warren Hoemann is a former deputy administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, now a PrePass consultant. He previously held executive positions with the American Trucking Associations, the California Trucking Association and Yellow Corp., now YRC Worldwide Inc.