[Guide] How to Make Your Company Fleet More Sustainable

There’s an increasing awareness, nationally and globally, of the impact humanity has had over the past centuries on the environment. Everything is coming under scrutiny, from petroleum production to cargo ships to farming to the clothing we wear. It’s no surprise that one of the biggest targets is worldwide logistics, shipping, and fleets.

Any company operating a fleet should strive to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Why? There are many benefits.

  • You can take part in proactive methods to reduce climate change and environmental damage.
  • You can market that you take those proactive actions and win public support.
  • There are often grants from governments and third parties for proactive climate actions.
  • You can bid and win contracts that are only available to sustainable logistics companies.
  • An increasing number of places are being designated “Clean Air Zones” where a less green fleet may be prohibited from entering.
  • Many green and sustainable changes are also benefits to cost-effective operation and efficiency.

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword. It’s a series of tangible, effective business practices that can boost operations, reduce expenses, and have a serious beneficial impact both locally and globally. The only question is, how can your fleet push to be more sustainable in 2024 and beyond?

Step 1: Assess Your Current State and Set SMART Goals

The first thing you need to do is set tangible goals to work towards. You can’t just say you want to “be more sustainable” without having any idea what that means. By setting goals, you can then develop a plan and a timeline to reach them.

Goals should be SMART. SMART is an acronym that helps define the goals you set for your business.

  • Specific. A goal should have a specific metric that seeks to reach a specific target.
  • Measurable. A goal should follow some specific metric that can be monitored to watch progress and benchmark actions you take.
  • Achievable. A goal should be something reasonable to achieve rather than pie-in-the-sky goals you’d have no way of actually living up to.
  • Relevant. The other elements of the goal need to be relevant and important to the overall goal.
  • Timely. The goal needs to have a timeline for achieving it or milestones towards reaching it.

For a sustainable fleet, a SMART goal might be to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030, to be net zero by the same date, or even something as comparatively simple as switching to all-electric vehicles by the end of the year.

Setting SMART Goals

In order to set SMART goals, you need to know what the current state of your fleet is in terms of emissions, efficiencies, and operations. Some of this data is likely already available and perhaps already utilized in your fleet management platform. Other data might need to be identified and harvested or derived and calculated in order to establish a baseline. If you don’t know where you are, it’s hard to plan a route to get where you’re going, right?

So, learn where you are and what your current situation is. Set goals and timelines to reach those goals. Then, break down those goals into specific milestones you can reach along the way. Once you have that plan, you can start to develop the specific strategies and changes you can make to achieve those goals and milestones.

Now, let’s get into more specifics about what you can change and do to help make your fleet more sustainable. We’ve broken these tips into specific categories based on where the change needs to originate and what it affects.

Driver Behavior Adjustments for Sustainability

Driver behavior can be a significant source of climate impact. While it might not seem like a single driver being slightly inefficient with their habits is going to have a huge impact, when you consider all of those “minor” factors adding up across the whole of a fleet across an entire year of operations, you can see how changes to baseline habits can make a difference.

A Truck Driver Inspecting His Vehicle

Changes drivers can make to be more efficient and climate-friendly include:

  • Reducing idling: The more time a truck is running, the more emissions it puts out.
  • Slower maximum speeds. The optimal speed for logistics trucks is around 60 MPH; the faster you go above that, the more inefficient your fuel usage.
  • Avoiding harsh speed changes. Harsh acceleration burns more fuel than a slower, more gradual acceleration; similarly, harsh braking wastes more energy and puts more wear on brakes and tires, which shed particles that can damage the environment as well.
  • Encourage more proactive inspection and maintenance. Even something as simple as proper tire inflation can have a surprisingly outsized impact on overall vehicle efficiency.

All of this can have a surprisingly immediate impact and requires nothing more than some driver training, coupled with monitoring from your telematics (but more on that later.)

One thing to note here is that you can’t rely on self-driving vehicles to save you here. For one thing, self-driving or autonomous trucks are still a number of years out before they’ll be adoptable and more before they’re affordable for most fleets. Second, they tend to work best only for long-haul trips like highway journeys, and even then, only in ideal conditions. If you operate in tricky areas, urban areas, last-mile deliveries, or inclement weather, you’ll have a much harder time using the technology. Don’t rely on future advancements to jump you to your goals without putting in the work.

Vehicle and Equipment Changes for Sustainability

Replacing fleet vehicles is always an immense expense, and given the relatively tight margins upon which many fleets operate, it can be a tall order to make the switch. However, switching to vehicles that can run on greener alternative fuels – or even switching to entirely electric trucks – can go a long way towards helping to make your fleet more sustainable.

Switching to entirely electric vehicles is a tall order. In many cases, you may be better off investing in conversions or new vehicles that split the difference. Hybrid vehicles, or even just vehicles that use alternative, more efficient, or sustainable fuel sources, can be a good middle-of-the-road step, especially if you don’t have the electric vehicle infrastructure in your area necessary to support operations. Unfortunately, all-electric may not be accessible until your region catches up with infrastructure investment.

Vehicle and Equipment Changes

All of that said, electric trucks, in particular, can be an excellent way to make your fleet more sustainable. While there’s still the question of where the electricity comes from, an increasing amount of electricity is generated through sustainable and renewable sources like wind, solar, and hydroelectric. As an added bonus, if you have the real estate for it, you can potentially even set up your own solar charging stations in your home base to offset some of the charging needs and costs of operating an electric fleet.

This may involve some calculation. Identify what the cost would be to invest in and keep an electric truck in operation and monitor the cost of operating and repairing a petrofuel vehicle; when the cost of maintaining the older vehicle exceeds your threshold, upgrade to an electric vehicle and ditch the run-down truck. This can be a rolling improvement, but each new investment has an immediate and tangible impact on your fleet’s sustainability.

If possible, consider timing your purchases. Oftentimes, governments and some third-party interest groups provide grants or rebates on electric and sustainable vehicles and infrastructure investment, but these can also be eaten up and run out in the first quarter of the year. You may be able to plan your improvements to be timed so that you qualify for those grants to ease the burden and improve your investment.

Fleet Management Changes for Sustainability

First up, you need to implement and use a robust tracking and telematics system for your fleet. Use Active GPS so you always have robust location information for your vehicles. Make sure your telematics harvests as much data as you can and feeds it directly into your fleet management platform. This way, you have as much data as possible to use to optimize your fleet company-wide. This does two things.

  1. It allows you to figure out where the biggest strategies you can implement for the biggest immediate change would be; in other words, it helps you identify the low-hanging fruit to focus your efforts on.
  2. It allows you to see the direct and tangible impact of any changes you make, so you have the data to use in the (M)easurable part of your SMART goals. After all, how do you know any of your efforts bear fruit if you aren’t monitoring the harvest?

This may involve fleet-wide expenses as you upgrade and configure your telematics and tracking systems. Unfortunately, that’s just the cost of participation in the proactive changes you want to make. Our best advice is to put serious thought and research into the systems you use and be as future-proofed as possible. The cheaper you are with your telematics, the less useful the data will be, and the sooner you will need to upgrade again to keep up.

Don’t forget, as well, that sustainability in operations can go beyond just your fleet. There may be many cases where your company still uses paper where digital solutions are readily available. The transition can be time-consuming, but paperless systems are often more reliable, free of human error, faster, and much more sustainable. You need to think about not just your fleet itself but the whole of your company’s operations.

Fleet Management Changes

Another fleet management option you have is optimizing your fleet utilization and routing. Most logistics companies have some idea of what routes they need vehicles to handle on what days; optimizing which vehicles start and end where and when is a complex problem, but modern fleet management platforms can help significantly with this optimization. For more on-demand fleet usage, optimizing anything from specific routes across the city to which people are called for which jobs can be very significant and can even be invisible to the drivers, adding no additional burden to your employees.

A potentially more extreme option you have available to you is fleet right-sizing. Some fleets have excess vehicles in operation, which means drivers get fewer hours, vehicles spend more time idle, and inefficiencies add up. Conversely, some fleets have too few drivers and vehicles, meaning some are kept on the road far more than they should, and it encourages inefficient and dangerous driver habits to meet deadlines and quotas. Figure out how many vehicles you should have, and either add more or remove some from your fleet to meet that ideal size.

Note: Remember that the right size is not necessarily the bare minimum. Insulating yourself from catastrophe is a big part of proper right-sizing. If one vehicle is taken out of service by a highway collision, that shouldn’t devastate your company.

Throughout all of this, it’s important to keep an eye on your milestones and goals. Which ones do you reach or exceed, and which ones do you meet faster than expected? Which ones do you struggle to reach? Your goals should be iterative, moving targets. Always strive for improvement. Standards will change, technology will improve, and what may be in the top 10% of sustainable fleets today might not even be in the top 50% in a few years. Always work towards improvement.

Proactive Maintenance

Finally, it can be extremely beneficial to invest in proactive maintenance. Keeping your vehicles in tip-top shape does a lot to keep you more sustainable. Clean and efficient engines burn less fuel and emit fewer traffic-related pollution particles, smoother operation is safer operation, and you have fewer cases of a vehicle taken out of service, leaving the rest of your fleet to inefficiently pick up the slack.

Fortunately, we can help with this. Our nationwide network of service providers is an excellent way for you to link your company up to easy, proactive maintenance. All you need to do is find a service provider (which you can do right here on our website), and you’re ready to get started.

How to Prepare Your Commercial Fleet for Vehicle Inspections

In the world of fleet management, inspections can mean two different things.

The first is the maintenance and review checklist you create for your service centers. This is a list of details to check about each vehicle in your commercial fleet to verify that the vehicle is in good working order to continue until the next inspection, service, or repair.

The second is the outside inspections. These are the inspections performed by Department of Transportation agents, usually at weigh stations, but also periodically to certify that a vehicle is in proper working order to continue safely on the roads.

“A DOT inspection can happen at the carrier’s location, weigh stations, truck stops, or on the road. Drivers should act professionally and comply with the evaluator throughout the process and stay prepared at all times. This will ensure you pass inspections and avoid any fines.” – Intellishift.

Truthfully, both of these go hand-in-hand. DOT inspections cover many of the same bases as your own maintenance checklists, and if you keep your vehicles in good working order on a day-to-day basis, they’ll pass DOT inspections easily.

So, how do you ensure that you’re going to pass inspections of both kinds? Read on for more advice.

Knowing the DOT Inspection Standards

DOT inspections aren’t actually just a single kind of inspection. There are, actually, seven different levels of inspection that might apply to your vehicles. What are they?

Level 1: North American Standard Inspection

A Level 1 DOT inspection, also referred to as the “North American Standard Inspection,” is the most thorough and frequently conducted of the six DOT inspection levels. This comprehensive inspection encompasses a detailed 37-step procedure, rigorously examining both the truck and its driver, along with any cargo to ensure there are no illegal items.

This is among the most common kinds of inspections to take place for commercial vehicles and ensures that those commercial vehicles meet the minimum standards necessary to be considered safe to operate on American roadways and highways. Despite being the first level, this is actually one of the most stringent and thorough assessments.

North American Standard Inspection

The North American Standard Inspection will look at a lot of different details of a given vehicle. These include seatbelts, brakes, lights, tires, batteries, coupling devices, the fuel system, steering, suspension, windshield wipers, and how appropriately the cargo is secured in the trailer.

An interesting fact is that, as more and more trucks take to the roads and fewer people are working for the Department of Transportation, some of these inspections can be performed remotely. By using telemetry from an onboard computer that monitors these various components, a report can be compiled and forwarded to the DOT at the time of an inspection, shortcutting the physical, in-person presence necessary to validate a vehicle.

Level 2: The Walk-Around Inspection

This is a simple inspection of the exterior of a vehicle, the paperwork certifying the vehicle and the driver, and other elements of the vehicle and its operation. It’s performed by a dedicated safety officer performing a visual inspection walking around a truck and is generally pretty superficial.

The Walk-Around Inspection

The officer won’t crawl under a truck or dig into the engine but will check other elements of the truck that are easily accessible.

Level 3: Driver Inspections

The third tier of inspections is driver inspections. While they don’t involve preparing the vehicle at all, they’re still an important part of keeping a vehicle on the road.

A Driver Inspection

Specifically, these inspections will examine driver paperwork and performance, including the status of their license, the data on any logging devices, the hours of operation and service, the driver inspection report, and even medical examiner certificates and more. After all, we can make trucks as safe as possible, but an unsafe driver is still a danger.

Level 4: Special Inspections

These are inspections of specific components and are usually only done in specific cases.

A Special Inspection

For example, if a given fleet of trucks is equipped with a particular part, and there’s a suspicion that this part may be faulty, a special inspection order can be issued to review these parts for signs of early or undue failure.

Level 5: Vehicle-Only Inspections

Level 5 inspections, defined as Vehicle-Only Inspections, focus exclusively on the vehicle, disregarding the driver’s role. These inspections are conducted with the driver away from the area, ensuring an unbiased and objective assessment. Research indicates that the absence of the driver during these checks leads to more impartial evaluations, free from any potential driver influence.

A Vehicle-Only Inspection

These crucial inspections, which are a key component of truck and trailer safety, are mandated annually by the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA). However, some fleets may require them more frequently. Contrary to Level 5 inspections, during DOT or FAI inspections, the driver’s presence is essential to assist with specific tasks, such as operating lights, applying brakes, and verifying air brake warning systems.

Level 6: NSA Radioactivity Inspections

Let’s be real; most of us aren’t going to have to worry about this kind of inspection. However, for those fleets that do, it’s extremely important.

NSA Radioactivity Inspection

These inspections are conducted by the National Security Administration and are extremely thorough because they are focused entirely on the transportation of route-controlled quantities of radiological material. This can be anything from waste from reactors to medical waste to nuclear material, all of which are tightly controlled. Given how much damage even a single lost radioactive source can cause, it’s no wonder this is taken seriously.

Level 7: Jurisdictional Inspections

This final level is the inspections applied by specific jurisdictions other than national-level requirements and generally apply to specific kinds of vehicles. For example, school buses are subject to specific inspections and standards that they need to meet to operate safely. In general, these inspections are performed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspectors but may be conducted by specific contractors instead.

A Jurisdictional Inspection

So, with all of this in mind, how can you prepare your vehicles to pass any relevant inspections?

Tips for Passing Commercial Vehicle Inspections

Laying the groundwork to pass inspections is the key to actually passing them. These aren’t the kinds of things you can pass with a few last-second adjustments and a fresh wash; you need to be prepared at the ground level.

First, understand the inspections you may be subject to. Out of all of the kinds of inspections above, you should know which ones will apply to your fleet vehicles, how often they will be performed, and what they look for.

Second, know the most common violations. When a violation is common, it means it’s something that is either prone to failure or is often overlooked. Common violations include ELD mandate violations, invalid driver licenses, exceeding hour of service restrictions, missing proof of inspections, improper cargo securement, and faulty lights. Most of these are very easy to avoid.

Third, develop your own inspections. Once you know what inspections you will be subject to, you can build your own checklists on how to pass them. The truth is, none of these inspections are kept secret; everything on each inspection list is public knowledge, specifically because they aren’t meant to be a surprise but rather an incentive to keep your vehicle in good repair.

What should be on your FMSCA DOT checklist?

  • Overt signs of issues. Dripping fluids, leaks, parts dragging or grinding, strange noises; all of these can indicate a deeper problem that needs addressing.
  • Paperwork. Everything from the vehicle certifications to past inspection reports to the driver’s paperwork should be kept in good order and proactively renewed and refreshed as necessary. All of this paperwork should also be organized and ready for an inspector.
  • Proper tire treatment. Tires should be appropriate for the conditions and should be evenly worn, inflated properly, with reasonable tread depth, all lugs in place and properly secured, and nothing embedded in the tires.
  • Safety equipment in good order. Seatbelts, windshield wipers, mirrors, all lights and indicators, and other safety features should all be inspected and in good working condition. Additionally, safety and security items should be in place, like fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
  • Connections between truck and trailer should be inspected and in good working order.
  • Brakes should function properly, with resistance when pressing on the pedal. Check the drums, pads, and rotors for wear, and listen for squeaks, grinds, or other noise when slowing the vehicle, which can be a sign of improper configuration or worn parts.
  • Cargo securement. Ensure cargo is securely fastened and complies with FMCSA standards to prevent shifting or falling during transport.
  • Vehicle identification and markings. Ensure proper markings like USDOT numbers are visible and comply with regulations.
  • Driver qualifications. Check the driver’s qualifications, including a valid CDL, medical certification, and necessary endorsements.
  • Hours of service compliance. Maintain adherence to FMCSA hours of service rules, including accurate logbooks or electronic logging devices (ELDs).
  • Steering mechanism. Examine the steering system for functionality and absence of excessive play.
  • Exhaust system. Inspect the exhaust system for proper operation and check for leaks or damage.
  • Fuel system. Check the fuel system for leaks and ensure the fuel cap is sealing correctly.
  • Suspension system. Inspect the suspension for signs of wear or damage.
  • Frame and chassis. Check the frame and chassis for structural integrity, looking for cracks, bends, or other damage.
  • Coupling devices. For vehicles with trailers, ensure the coupling devices are secure and functional.
  • Windshield and mirrors. Inspect the windshield for cracks or chips and ensure mirrors provide adequate visibility.
  • Emergency exits and routes. (For passenger vehicles) Check that emergency exits are operational and clearly marked.

Much of this can be remotely viewed and monitored through the use of computerized telemetry and data harvesting from sensors throughout a truck. Newer trucks may come with this preinstalled; other vehicles may need aftermarket telemetry systems installed. Either way, keeping an eye on all elements of the truck should be a primary consideration.

A Commercial Vehicle Inspection

Other things to remember include:

  • Cargo. Your cargo should be properly packed and secured; shifting loads is one of the greatest dangers to drivers and others on the roads. If there are hazardous materials, particularly anything radioactive, be aware of the intense scrutiny it will be under, and make sure you give the inspectors zero cause for concern.
  • Drivers. Drivers need to perform adequately and within expectations. Look for potential violations in action, both on the road and off, that could jeopardize your safety. Ensure all paperwork is in good order. Also, compare driver inspection reports and your own inspection reports; if something a driver should have reported goes ignored, it’s potential proof that your driver is either negligent or lying, neither of which is acceptable.

Keeping records of all inspections, current and past, for both trucks and drivers is a critical part of making sure you can pass future inspections. In the case of violations, they can be tied to specific trucks and/or drivers, and the repercussions of those violations can be tracked.

Remember, your overall goal is not just to pass inspections; it’s to ensure safe, efficient, and effective operation on the roads. Inspections are performed based on rules and regulations that help you maintain those standards according to what the government and industry regulators deem the bare minimum. You can always exceed the standards to no ill effect.

“Failing to timely keep up with vehicle inspections pertaining to commercial vehicles regulatory compliance can end up making a huge hole in your company’s wallet. It is simply not realistic for management to keep track of every vehicle’s needs and to make sure that every driver is having their vehicles inspected as necessary. The chances of all of your vehicles needing inspections around the same time are very slim, as different vehicles have different lifespans and maintenance requirements and needs. Therefore, you need something that will keep track of all of your vehicle inspection information and alert you when the next vehicle inspection is needed.” – Autosist.

Finally, don’t be afraid to perform your own inspections. Instill in your drivers the need to perform pre-trip and post-trip inspections, do your own routine inspections whenever possible in a schedule, and make sure that compliance isn’t a goal to strive for; it’s a matter of course.

Let Us Help

At Epika, we maintain a national network of shops and partners who can help with any and all of these elements of inspection and, more importantly, the repair and replacement of anything that needs fixing to pass an inspection. Well, almost anything; we can’t replace a bad driver, but we can help you make sure your vehicles are in great working order.

A National Partner Assisting a Truck Driver

All you need to do to get started is reach out. Whether you need proactive maintenance, rapid services wherever you are, or something in between, we’re here to help.

What is an ELD and How Does It Work for Truck Drivers?

Decades ago, truck drivers survived by knowing their routes, knowing how to use maps and a road atlas, and understanding how a truck works inside and out. As time has gone on, however, many things have changed. Trucks have grown more complex. Roads have changed, and atlases are no longer a common sight in the hands of motorists. Internet-connected devices provide navigation and real-time route adjustments to account for traffic, construction, detours, accidents, and more.

And, of course, the laws, rules, and regulations surrounding commercial motor vehicles have changed as well. Not only are they stricter than ever, they’re more heavily enforced. Part of that enforcement is the use of ELDs in trucking and logistics. What are ELDs, though? How do they work, and what do they mean for drivers? Read on to find out more.

What is an ELD?

An ELD is an Electronic Logging Device.

Installing an ELD

These devices consist of several components; a tracking module hooked up to the engine of the truck, a tablet in the cab for the driver’s use, and even a connection to a fleet management platform can all be considered components of the ELD system.

What is the Purpose of an ELD?

ELDs are tracking devices meant to ensure compliance with laws governing commercial motor vehicles.

For example, you are likely aware of the federally mandated limits on driving time, which limit the amount of time a driver can spend driving without taking rest breaks. These limits are both to prevent abuse of drivers by companies hoping to push them to their limits and to prevent drivers from persisting in driving while exhausted or otherwise impaired from long hours.

An ELD provides independent verification and tracking of a commercial vehicle’s hours of operation. Since there’s expected to be only one driver of a commercial motor vehicle, it can be assumed that the hours the vehicle is driving are the hours the driver is driving, so tracking that time is an easy way to automatically and accurately ensure compliance.

What is the Purpose of an ELD

It’s worth noting that ELDs do not add additional burden to drivers or fleet managers. In fact, they lighten the load compared to manual logging or other less connected systems.

The fatigue of operating a commercial motor vehicle for long hours is significant and has been studied for decades. It’s well-known to be a large contributing factor to street and highway accidents, resulting in loss of cargo, operational hours, schedules, and even life. No driver and no fleet manager wants to see an accident happen, and while quotas and schedules can be tight, it’s always better to enforce hours of operation than to see an accident happen.

What do ELDs Track?

While the specifics of what an electronic logging device will track depends on the device and on the setup implemented by the fleet management platform in use by the company, there are many pieces of information that can be on the list. These include:

  • Vehicle Identification Number
  • Motor Carrier Identification
  • Date and Time of Operation
  • Geographic Location (GPS Coordinates and Route Information)
  • Miles Traveled
  • Engine Start and Stop Times
  • Yard Moves
  • Engine Diagnostics and Codes
  • Driver Identification
  • Driver Logon and Logoff Times
  • Hours of Service Tracking
  • Duty Status Changes
  • Driver Daily Records

Most of this is tracked automatically or is input by the driver as part of the process of starting up the vehicle for a day of travel. Some systems may be more sophisticated and track in greater detail or more granular moment-to-moment readings. Others may have time-segmented readings like hourly recordings of time and distance traveled. Again, it can vary.

What do ELDs Track

If you’re interested in seeing what ELDs are on the market, the FMCSA maintains a list of registered and verified ELDs. Companies making ELDs can certify that their devices meet the minimum standards set by the ELD Mandate. There are a few things to note here.

  • The devices on the list are self-certified. While the FMCSA may have reviewed some of them, they do not perform rigorous testing before a device can be registered. Rather, they spot-check, and when issues are discovered, they can revoke certification of the device.
  • Manufacturers of ELDs can also choose to self-revoke certification for devices. This generally happens when new versions are released to remove the older versions from service.
  • The FMCSA provides the list as a list of options; it does not endorse or recommend any specific device.

You can see both lists – the currently certified ELDs and the revoked ELDs – here. There are, as of the time of this writing, nearly 900 devices on the list.

What Are the Benefits of Using ELDs?

There are a lot of significant benefits to using ELDs.

First and foremost, as mentioned below, they’re now mandated by the Department of Transportation. Inasmuch as “not breaking the law” is a benefit, this can be considered a benefit to using ELDs.

One of the biggest tangible benefits of ELDs is that they do a lot of automatic tracking of what would formerly be tedious paperwork for drivers, fleet managers, maintenance crews, and inspectors. The elimination of paper logs alone is worth billions across the country.

What Are the Benefits of Using ELDs

Another benefit is that ELDs are fast and, since they’re standardized, compatible with roadside inspections. Rather than having to inspect paperwork manually, computer systems can handle validation much more quickly, can flag issues if they appear, and can have drivers in and out in a matter of minutes. This vastly speeds up roadside inspections and keeps your fleet moving.

ELDs also help enforce compliance with hours of service regulations, which is a safety benefit. Oftentimes, drivers and fleets might put pressure one way or another to push beyond acceptable limits, to finish deliveries just outside of the allowable time on the road, or to cram in additional shifts when they shouldn’t. ELDs use an impartial record to avoid fudging the paperwork in a way that, though profitable for a company, is dangerous for everyone involved and everyone on the road.

A fringe benefit of ELDs is that some of the data they track, such as engine status codes, can be used as part of preventative maintenance. By knowing when an engine is starting to show signs of issues, even if those issues are easily handled in the field at the time, you can schedule the vehicle for preventative maintenance. By being proactive, you can avoid catastrophic failures and can keep your vehicles operating smoothly for much longer.

Are ELDs Required?

Yes, with caveats.

The ELD Rule, as it’s known, is a requirement for drivers who are required to prepare hours of service records of duty status reports. There are some exceptions to the mandate, such as short-haul drivers and drivers operating vehicles made before the year 2000.

The ELD Rule is not one-sided. That is, while it mandates that ELDs are used, it also mandates certain design specifications for those ELDs so they have a minimum level of accuracy and functionality across the entire commercial motor vehicle industry. Further, the Rule also provides protections for drivers from being harassed due to the data reported by the ELD or because they’re obeying limits.

Are ELDs Required

For more information, here are two valuable resources:

The first is the full text of the Rule and all of the relevant specifications in a 125-page PDF document. The latter is a shorter, more readable FAQ about the relevant information you might need to know.

Are ELDs a Violation of Privacy?

Having a ubiquitous, mandated tracking device monitoring everything a driver does can be construed as intrusive and, some argue, a violation of privacy. In fact, numerous challenges and lawsuits have been attempted over just this argument.

The ELD Rule has taken this into consideration. First and foremost, there are limitations on what the ELD can and cannot do and track. The two biggest benefits to privacy are that drivers who can leave their trucks at work don’t need to bring the ELD home with them and that drivers who own/operate their trucks and also use them as personal conveyances have the option to set that status.

Are ELDs a Violation of Privacy

The “Personal Conveyance” status, when toggled on for a driver, dramatically restricts the tracking that the ELD can monitor. In particular, it greatly reduces the accuracy of GPS tracking. This allows the driver to simply and easily switch between on-duty and off-duty operation of the vehicle.

Overall, while privacy concerns may be valid in some senses, they have not been supported in court; the ELD Rule has been broadly upheld.

What Do Fleet Managers Need to Know About ELDs?

Using ELDs as a fleet manager is largely self-explanatory. They don’t add additional burden to your job; rather, they lighten the load and streamline/automate some record-keeping. Here are some key points you might want to keep in mind.

First, know who amongst your drivers needs to be equipped with an ELD and who doesn’t. Refer to the FMCSA list of exemptions to know if any of your drivers are exempt. In particular, small-scale companies operating within relatively small areas (less than 150 air miles) and drive-away, tow-away operators don’t generally need ELDs. If you have a mixed fleet or if your entire fleet falls within an exemption, you may not need to concern yourself too much with ELDs.

A Fleet Manager

Second, it’s critical to make sure your ELDs are properly installed and configured with your fleet management system. While some fleet management platforms can hook into just about any ELD, other systems are more proprietary and will want you to use their specific brand of ELD in your fleet. Make sure you keep this in mind when you choose a fleet management platform, and if locking you into an ecosystem you don’t like has been a thorn in your side, consider changing both the ELD brand and fleet management platform.

Third, remember that ELDs are a tool, not a burden or an enforcement mechanism. They’re no different than the paperwork that came before them, except they’re easier to deal with. They are meant to protect drivers and others on the road, to maintain compliance with federal law, and to ensure safe operation. While some choose to vilify them, there’s no good reason to do so.

Are There Downsides to ELDs?

Potentially. One of the largest is the potential costs. Depending on the service you use, some ELDs can run as much as $25 per month per vehicle. Understandably, this can be a significant cost for larger fleets. The devices themselves cost around $100, though, of course, this is largely a one-time-per-vehicle fee.

Another potential issue is that, as an intentionally static record, mistakes and issues can’t be easily corrected. For example, if a driver gets off work and takes their vehicle home but forgets to sign out or switch to personal conveyance mode, it can trigger issues with their scheduling and recorded hours of service. It can be edited but usually requires multiple people to access and verify the edits to prevent fudging the records.

And, of course, any change in technology can be a hassle for old hands – drivers, fleet managers, and others – to learn and adopt. The learning curve isn’t always very smooth, and it can require a lot of adjustment, particularly from fleet managers, to use them to the best of their ability.

That said, the benefits of ELDs far outweigh the drawbacks, with the possible exception of the expense. Even then, ELDs can help save a company money through preventative maintenance and proactive repairs, along with monitoring for things like routes, speed, and other metrics that can be optimized for smoother and more efficient fleet operations.

Epika Fleet Services

Speaking of preventative maintenance, at Epika, we’re constantly growing our nationwide network of facilities that can help with anything from emergency repairs to routine maintenance on your fleet vehicles. If you’re interested in seeing what we have to offer, simply browse our brands, view our service provider map, or locate providers near you. We look forward to working with you!

Autonomous Trucks and Fleet Management in 2024

Self-driving vehicles have been something out of science fiction for nearly as long as there have been vehicles, but over the last handful of years, a surprising amount of progress has been made towards the actual development and use of autonomous cars and trucks.

While much has been made of Tesla and its “full self-driving” system full of problems, other companies have been making much better progress much more quietly in the background. Some of those companies have been testing and actively on the roads even this year, and 2024 is looking to be an exciting year for the advancement of logistics technology.

Optimism always needs to be tempered with caution, however, and while 2024 may be a turning point for some, we’re still far from a world where global logistics is handled autonomously.

Why Autonomous Shipping is Overdue

Critics point to automation in its various forms as a way for companies to lay off human workers and outsource their jobs to capture more profit for executives. While that’s certainly the motivation for a scattered few businesses, there are many other concerns that lead to automation. Moreover, automation is rarely actually a cost-saving measure, at least initially. Humans have training, judgment, critical thinking skills, and more, all of which are difficult or impossible to replicate with a robotic system.

That said, there are some reasons why certain industries, like logistics and shipping, can benefit from a focus on autonomous driving and fleets.

Perhaps one of the biggest is the driver shortage. Recent surveys indicate that, across the United States, there’s a shortage of 80,000 drivers necessary to keep nationwide logistics running smoothly. Worse than that, the shortage isn’t improving; estimates say that by 2030, the number will double, and we’ll need 160,000 more drivers to keep up with demand.

Why Autonomous Shipping is Overdue

Why is this happening? Many reasons. Foremost among them is the far-ranging effects of the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age. Around the world, there are nearly five times as many drivers over the age of 55 as there are drivers under that age. Even if a similar proportion of people across the generations were entering logistics as drivers, the relative size of these generations means fewer new drivers enter than older drivers leave.

At the same time, trucking isn’t glamorous. It has a generally negative public perception and coupled with industry-wide tales and horror stories of long hours, low pay, time spent away from families, poor working conditions, and the risk of being on the highways all the time, and you can see why relatively few people seem interested in the career. Even if most of those criticisms are overblown, exaggerated, or simply untrue with modern shipping, the perception persists.

It’s no wonder, then, that logistics companies are turning to the development of autonomous trucking as an option.

Is Autonomous Trucking Ready to Go?

Perhaps the biggest question you might have is this: is autonomous trucking ready to go, or is it still a pipe dream?

The answer is somewhere in the middle, but a lot closer to the first than you might imagine.

In fact, self-driving trucks are already on the roads.

Aurora, an autonomous trucking company, has been testing self-driving trucks throughout Texas. Currently, through the end of 2023, they’ve been running around 75 loads across Texas interstates per week, fully autonomously. Other companies are progressing at a similar pace, like Embark and TuSimple. Other firms, like Kodiak Robotics, are also competing.

Is Autonomous Trucking Ready

Make no mistake; this isn’t a commercial venture yet. It’s still in testing. Every load carried throughout the state from partners like FedEx and Walmart is carried by an autonomous vehicle but backed up by an operator. Each truck has a backup driver poised and ready to take over at the first sign that the truck isn’t behaving safely. Meanwhile, an operations specialist rides shotgun to monitor the system, take feedback and record readings, and funnel data back to development for use in improving the systems.

Aurora isn’t the only company pushing for self-driving freight. Texas is a hotbed for development, due in part to favorable regulations but more so because 20% of the nation’s shipping takes place on Texas roads, and the large, generally straight and flat roadways through many parts of the state make for great testing grounds. Elsewhere, other companies are developing their own technologies in places like China.

All of that said, despite these vehicles already sharing the roads, they aren’t quite ready for wide-scale rollouts just yet.

Obstacles to Fully Self-Driving Fleets

There are quite a few reasons why you aren’t going to be able to buy self-driving trucks to augment or replace your current fleet next year.

The first is that the technology is still in development. While it’s closer than many people might think, that doesn’t mean it’s here. For example, one of the biggest issues is simply that all of these technologies are being tested in places like Texas. That’s fine when you need to haul a load through a long, flat desert or through the well-known interstates in a hot and dry climate. What about elsewhere? What about the rainy Pacific Northwest or the ice and snow of the Midwest and Northeast? Currently, these technologies are completely untested in these inclement conditions.

Of course, autonomous trucking doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. If the technology ends up proven and reliable in ideal conditions, it simply means that it can be adopted in those conditions, and the drivers who would otherwise drive those routes can be moved to more complex or less-than-ideal routes. That all remains to be seen, though.

Another obstacle is regulations. Currently, self-driving vehicles are really only allowed on the roads because they have a backup human operator ready to take over control at any time. Nearly half the states in the country have some regulations allowing for self-driving trucks on the road, but these regulations are sporadic and inconsistent. No two states are identical. There are also differing regulations between full self-driving cars and commercial fleet vehicles.

In short, it’s a mess, and it’s not likely a mess that’s going to be sorted out any time soon. The government is slow and ponderous at the best of times, so it remains to be seen what kinds of laws, regulations, stipulations, and requirements will be handed down from on high or built up from the state level over the coming years.

Obstacles to Fully Self-Driving Fleets

Expense, of course, is another roadblock. Many logistics and fleet companies that currently struggle with the driver shortage don’t necessarily have the resources to buy new self-driving trucks. This is especially true when those trucks still need drivers as a backup; the savings aren’t savings, not for many years to come.

Cybersecurity is also critical to anything autonomous. Increasingly “smart” vehicles are also proving increasingly vulnerable to various kinds of software and hardware exploits, and that’s not the kind of flaw that can be systemic throughout a national transportation grid.

You also have to think about trust. Even a tested self-driving system has the potential for issues and errors, which is why all such systems currently require a driver in place and ready to take over. If you remember, one of the main driving factors behind autonomous truck development is the driver shortage. Well, it doesn’t solve the problem if your self-driving trucks still need a driver, right?

Finally, there are also all of the other things relating to trucking that aren’t the driving part. How does a self-driving truck fuel up? How does it handle inspections? Systems aren’t really in place to handle these scenarios, at least not outside of their testing zones. Answers will come, eventually, but they aren’t set up and ready to go for next year.

What Fleet Managers Need to Know for 2024

The coming year is likely to be a turning point in self-driving commercial vehicles, with a primary focus on first-mile and middle-mile transportation. Self-driving faces many challenges off the interstate, but for long-haul primary transportation and middle-mile transportation between distribution centers, it’s much more likely to be a viable option.

One thing is certain: autonomous trucks are not going to solve your problems in 2024. They’re still too new, too underdeveloped, and too untested to reach widespread availability. Fleet managers can look to partner with certain companies for regional testing, primarily in the south and southwest, but this is – as is so often the case – the kind of innovation that will come from the biggest companies first and make its way to smaller logistics firms later.

For fleet managers, there are two things you need to know for 2024, at least in terms of fully autonomous commercial vehicles.

First, don’t expect to be able to buy off-the-shelf autonomous fleet vehicles. These systems, even as advanced as they are, aren’t plug-and-play. They require dedicated setup and testing along consistent and defined routes and rely on human backup operators to solve problems as they occur.

Relatedly, the second key point is this: don’t expect to replace your drivers any time soon. For the time being – and for the foreseeable future – self-driving is not trusted enough, consistent enough, or tested enough to be viable without a human driver present in the driver’s seat, ready to assume control when necessary. Self-driving may, eventually, reach this point, and that’s something many of these development companies are banking on, but self-driving isn’t going to solve the driver shortage any time soon.

Autonomous vehicles are definitely something to keep an eye on, but there’s bound to be a lot of shake-up before things settle and become widespread. Companies will rise and fall, technologies will be developed, hyped, and ultimately succeed or fail, and there will likely be both incredible success stories from early adopters and tragic failures from an early investment that goes awry. Unless you’re determined to be a success story – at the risk of being a cautionary tale – it’s likely better to sit back and watch as the story unfolds first.

What Fleet Managers Need to Know

One thing you might consider is looking into more driver-assist technologies. While the headlines talk about fully autonomous vehicles, there are also numerous companies working to develop evolutionary systems. These start essentially as driver assistance technology to help reduce some of the burden on drivers while still relying on them to operate the vehicle. Think of it more like an airplane’s auto-pilot on the ground: something that can be engaged to keep a truck at a consistent speed and in a consistent lane for a long haul but needs to be adjusted or disengaged when something outside that norm comes up.

These are likely to be much more readily available in the coming year. Companies like Plus, for example, are working on these incremental driver assistance systems. They will grow and add features over time, with the intent to reach fully autonomous driving eventually, but providing value in the meantime.

For more detailed prognostication and forecasting, global industry-wide surveys and studies like the Autonomous Truck Market Report can give some valuable insight into the state of the market and the technology poised to enter it.

One thing is certain: demand for full self-driving fleets is here and will only grow as the driver shortage grows more and more stark. Technology and development are racing to meet that coming need, but it’s not going to make it next year; there’s simply no way that the combination of regulations, technologies, development, and trust will combine in that time. Make no mistake, though; we’re looking at time measured in years, not decades, before these technologies hit the road.

For now? Fleet managers have more pressing concerns to think about. Improving fleet telematics, making use of 5G service, hardening systems to cybersecurity threats, and using big data analysis to promote predictive and preventative maintenance are the concerns that should drive you in 2024.

Epika Fleet Services

Fortunately, we’re here to help. At Epika, our nationwide network of service providers is available to provide any service you could need, from installing driver assist and telematics systems to performing preventative maintenance and, of course, repairs to your fleet vehicles. Just click that link to find nearby service providers and get started with proactive efforts today.

5 Effective Strategies for Fleet Accident Management

An immense amount of responsibility is placed on the shoulders of millions of people every single day. That responsibility begins when they enter their vehicles and begin their journeys, whether they’re heading up the street to the grocery store, on the highway across the city for work, or across state lines on longer road trips.

The reality of infrastructure is that a huge array of different people share the roads at any given time. A single stretch of highway might have veteran commercial vehicle drivers, experienced adult drivers, tired or distracted drivers, teenage drivers still learning, and everything in between. Everyone has to follow the rules of the road, share the roadways with one another, and respect the fact that every single one of them is operating a machine with the power to end lives in the blink of an eye.

There are over two million auto collisions in a year, according to the CDC. Of those, there are only around 43,000 fatalities each year, which is a testament to two things: the fact that most collisions take place at slow speeds (fender-benders in parking lots, for example) and that vehicle safety is such that even shockingly dangerous high-speed crashes can still protect the people inside the vehicles.

Of those two million collisions, around half a million involve commercial vehicles. While the majority of these result in no injuries, the repercussions they do have on scheduling, fleet finances, insurance premiums, and more are all significant.

As a fleet manager, you’re constantly juggling different aspects of managing a commercial fleet. You have to get loads to their destinations on time, you have to manage budgets and keep your trucks in tip-top shape, you need to review your drivers for adherence to the rules, and you need to keep safety in mind at all times. It’s a lot to remember, review, and enforce.

Good policies and plans in place can help make your job a whole lot easier, so we’ve put together five strategies you can use.

1: Review and Maintain Zero Tolerance for Safety Violations

Some problems on the road are created by other road users. Your drivers might be following all the rules, but a careless, drunk, or angry driver can trigger a crash unexpectedly, leaving no time for your driver to react.

Sadly, we can’t say commercial fleet drivers are entirely innocent. Even though being governed by federal rules, close to 7% of commercial truck crashes involve drivers with unsafe alcohol levels in their system. Other kinds of substance abuse could be to blame, as could distractions from using a mobile phone while behind the wheel. Also, another 7% of hefty truck mishaps are due to drivers ignoring speed limits set by the company and federal laws.

Safety should always come first.

A Fleet Vehicle

One of the top strategies to dodge accidents involving your fleet is to set firm policies on safety violations. List out what counts as a safety violation as per federal laws, local guidelines, and any extra rules you want to apply at the company level. Make sure every driver understands them well.

Adapt a no-nonsense approach. A driver who breaks the rules once might have simply slipped up, but when that single slip-up can cost the company a huge amount of money, not to mention risks to human life, it’s not something you can shrug off.

Do note that a no-nonsense approach does not mean a driver is instantly shown the door after any incident. I’ve already established that a driver could be doing everything right while a collision occurs due to no fault of their own. These drivers shouldn’t be punished. The rules are about not breaking safety guidelines and not being part of incidents.

It’s worth looking into telematics technology to assist with some of this. While it is hard to catch a driver if they’re using a mobile phone while driving, you can keep track of vehicle actions like sudden lane changes, excessive speeds, and other behaviors that hint at rule-breaking.

These measures, coupled with regular drug tests, can help decrease the risk of an incident caused by your drivers.

2: Schedule and Prepare for Weather Conditions

While 14% of large truck accidents occur because of driver safety violations, another 13% happen due to adverse weather conditions. Heavy rain and slick roads, snow and ice on the roads, high winds, snow and ice on the vehicle disrupting operation; these sorts of issues crop up inevitably during year-round logistics and commercial fleet operation, so you need to be prepared to help your drivers handle them.

You can do this in several ways.

First, make sure your drivers are trained and confident in operating their vehicles in adverse weather conditions. Even something as simple as rain can reduce traction and visibility and make a large truck take much more space to stop than on clear, dry roads. Knowing how to behave in adverse weather is important.

Prepared Fleet Vehicles

Secondly, make sure your vehicles are equipped with any gear they may need for the weather conditions. As part of routine maintenance, for example, checking windshield wipers and defoggers/defrosters for operation and efficacy is hugely important. Visibility is the single most important concern for a commercial driver, so ensuring the windshield can be free and clear while in operation is required. Other forms of proactive maintenance, like ensuring proper tire inflation, can be important as well.

Third, be proactive with awareness and scheduling. You know where your drivers are going and what routes they’re taking, and you can correlate that information with weather reports. You should be able to predict if it’s going to be raining or snowing where a driver will be. Let those drivers know the conditions they should expect.

Along those same lines, leave time in your schedule to account for weather conditions. In rain, snow, and other weather, slower driving is generally safer driving. If it means a load arrives at its destination (or leaves its origin) at a different, later, or earlier time than normal, so be it; it’s better to schedule a load to arrive late than to rush a driver into making bad decisions in bad weather to make a delivery on time.

3: Develop an Incident Reporting and Claims Process

No matter how safe your drivers are, how well-maintained your vehicles are, and how well you handle road conditions, accidents still happen. You can’t always trust other drivers on the road, and there’s always the chance for the completely unexpected; there’s no way to forecast or predict a tie strap breaking and a couch falling into the road, debris popping a tire, or another driver behaving recklessly.

Fleet Vehicle Incident Reporting

When an incident happens, you need a procedure for handling it.

  • Train your drivers on how to handle an incident if one occurs.
  • Use fleet management software that includes incident reporting that can be initiated from a mobile device on scene.
  • Understand your fleet insurance claims system and how to file claims, what information you need to have in a claim, and other critical documentation.
  • Know how to notify police as necessary and work with them for incident reports.
  • Know who to work with to get your vehicles towed if necessary and where they can be taken to be repaired.

The specific process will vary, so giving an easy template is difficult. However, many fleet management apps have incident reporting systems as either built-in components or optional modules, so it can be a good idea to investigate what’s available to you and how to use it.

Your process likely won’t be perfect. Incidents vary, and you and your driver will need to adapt to the circumstances. Still, having a starting point is better than having no idea where to begin.

4: Build a Plan to Recover from a Collision

When an incident happens, dealing with it comes in three stages. The first stage is the immediate aftermath: moving the vehicle out of the roadway if necessary, calling the police, checking for safety and injuries, and so on. The second is documenting and filing incident reports and other short-term claims, having the vehicle towed or moved to a facility, and doing whatever cleanup of the scene is necessary.

The third phase is recovering from the incident. How do you get your vehicle repaired? How do you continue the delivery of the load, assuming it wasn’t damaged or lost in the incident? Is your contract at risk, and if so, how do you repair the relationship?

While you can’t exactly plan for the social aspects of a lost load or contract, you can certainly put steps in place for repairing your trucks. For example, you can work with us, and our nationwide network of service providers can handle everything from a tire blowout to much more significant damage.

Building a Plan

One tip is to make sure you’re ready to authorize repairs on a fleet vehicle within 48 hours of an incident. The sooner you can get the vehicle repaired and back in service, the smaller the disruption to your operations.

Another consideration is your drivers. A minor collision, like someone making a turn and getting their bumper crunched or going under a bridge a little too low and scraping the top of the truck; these are not as big of a concern. Other incidents, though – from road rage to the rare but possible fatality, might have a stronger adverse effect on your driver. You may wish to make counseling available for drivers who end up in incidents of a certain severity and perhaps even make it mandatory in cases where a life is lost. The last thing you need is for a driver to develop – and leave unaddressed – PTSD from a bad incident.

Similarly, in the immediate aftermath of an incident, it can be worthwhile to make sure your driver reports to a physician to be checked out and make sure there are no injuries. Large commercial trucks, when involved in collisions, are rarely the ones injured, but in cases where a higher-speed impact or a vehicle flip occurs, it can be a concern. Play it safe and keep the health of your drivers in mind, mental and physical.

5: Ensure Proper Maintenance and Condition of Fleet Vehicles

One of the biggest things you can do to help ensure proper, safe, and effective operations no matter where you are is to focus on proactive maintenance.

Many incidents are caused not by driver error but by a failure of a vehicle. A tire blows out, a transmission breaks, lights go out because of a fault in the electrical system, and adverse weather is made more dangerous because of poorly maintained front windows; these are all too common on commercial vehicles despite the requirement for regular inspections.

One of the best things you can do as a fleet manager is make sure you’re invested in a process of proactive and preventative maintenance. It’s not just about regular oil changes and fixing issues as they arise on a truck; it’s about deeper, more detailed inspections on a regular basis that can identify issues before they can become problems.

Proper Maintenance of Fleet Vehicles

Many fleets aren’t initially focused on proactive maintenance. That’s fine; it’s always possible to make the shift. In fact, it’s not even that difficult; it just takes a different way of thinking, a different set of data to track via your vehicle telemetry, and a set of service providers who can routinely work with your fleet for those maintenance needs. That’s where we come in; all you need to do is click here to find service providers near your area of operations and get started.

As a fleet manager, the best thing you can do is plan for the worst while doing everything in your power to prevent it from happening.

Have you had to develop an incident response and accident handling process? Do you use fleet management software for reporting, or have you developed your own? Tell us about it, and while you’re at it, make sure to reach out and look into our network of service providers to see what we can do for you.

Passive vs Active GPS: What’s The Difference for Fleet Vehicles?

Whether you have a couple of vehicles you use for local services or a fleet of hundreds across the nation, managing a fleet is a huge challenge. Foremost among those challenges is one of the most obvious: knowing where your vehicles are.

Think about it: knowing where your vehicles are is critical to every other aspect of your business. Are your drivers moving on time and on schedule? Are there unexpected delays? Is a vehicle you expected to be on route suddenly stopped? Is a vehicle undergoing maintenance or returning to the yard? Are vehicles moving when they shouldn’t be?

In the old days, knowing where a vehicle was involved two things: data points from check-ins with drivers and predictive tracking. You would ask where a driver was, knowing their route and the speeds along the way, and you could make predictions about where they would be in an hour, in two, and so on.

Of course, variance in traffic, unexpected delays, and other issues meant that these predictions would decay rapidly. Unless a driver was proactive in reporting, too, you would never know until you check back in.

Fortunately, modern technology has made all of this a concern for the past. With GPS tracking, you can have a complete picture of where every vehicle in your fleet is at any given time from a central software dashboard. Every vehicle can have a status: on duty, off duty, out of service, on maintenance, etc. Anything unexpected can be flagged, and issues can be investigated, all quickly and easily.

GPS tracking is a fantastic tool, but it’s not simple. There are multiple different kinds of GPS tracking for fleet vehicles, and knowing their pros and cons can help you decide which you need for your fleet. So, let’s dig in and learn more about it.

How GPS Tracking Works

GPS is the Global Positioning System, and it’s a modern marvel of technology. It’s a world-spanning network of satellites in space using radio signals and triangulation to pinpoint the location of GPS-equipped devices virtually anywhere in the world. The carefully maintained GPS network feeds control centers precise information about time, the exact specific location of the satellites, and even the speed of the radio signals, all to enable mathematical determinations of ground- and air-based positioning. GPS can track everything from the cell phone in your pocket to the units installed on your fleet vehicles.

For a fleet manager, GPS tracking is pretty simple. You don’t need to know any of that math or any complex calculations. All you do is buy GPS tracking devices and install them on your vehicles. From there, you connect them to the software you use to manage your fleet.

A Fleet Manager Using GPS Tracking

If your platform doesn’t support GPS, you get a new platform; if it supports GPS but not those devices, you get a new platform, or you return and get the right devices. The connection between the GPS tracking devices, the satellite network, and the software on your devices handles just about everything else automatically.

What Can You Do with GPS Tracking?

For fleets, the benefits of GPS are incredible.

By knowing where your vehicles and drivers are, you can assign the best vehicle to any given task or route.

Coupled with real-time traffic information, GPS allows you to dynamically re-route vehicles away from congestion, accidents, construction, and other slowdowns.

Coupled with other information like fuel consumption and fill-ups, average speeds, and weather conditions, software and machine learning can identify when a vehicle may need maintenance even before its onboard systems do.

Many fleet insurance providers offer discounts on premiums that cover vehicles equipped with GPS tracking devices; some report savings of as much as 35% off premiums.

What Can You Do With GPS Tracking

You can detect unauthorized operations, whether it’s a driver who keeps going after their shift has ended or a vehicle being stolen out of a yard and driven off; it even helps with asset recovery!

Geofencing technology can alert you if a vehicle leaves the designated operating zone, which can indicate all manner of problems that need your attention, from route changes to unexpected problems to theft.

Start and stop times verified by GPS can validate (or identify problems with) the timekeeping provided by the onboard Electronic Logging Device.

With these benefits, GPS tracking is an excellent feature to have with any fleet management system.

That said, some of these benefits may not be available to all GPS tracking systems. The reason is that there are actually two kinds of GPS trackers: passive and active. The differences between them affect the features they can provide. So, what are the differences?

What is Passive GPS?

Passive GPS trackers are simple devices that can best be described as “a receiver, not a transmitter.” They receive and track information about the truck’s location from the GPS network, and they do so automatically as long as they have power and the right configuration. This may mean they put a small draw on the truck’s battery at all times or, more commonly, switch off when the truck is powered down.

Passive GPS is more like a historical record than an active tracker. When the truck returns to base (or, with more modern models, when it syncs with the driver’s tablet), the GPS tracking history is synced and downloaded to your fleet management system. This might be a daily or weekly occurrence, but the key is this: it’s not real-time.

You may have noticed how many of the benefits above rely on real-time knowledge of where your fleet vehicles are. Those benefits are not available for passive GPS tracking because passive tracking does not provide real-time information about the vehicles equipped with the devices.

What is Passive GPS

So, if a lot of the benefits of GPS tracking don’t apply to passive trackers, why are they available? They have a few benefits.

  • They’re cheaper than active trackers. This is both in terms of the cost to purchase the units and also in terms of the overhead necessary to configure them, sync them to your system, and keep them updated. They also don’t draw as much energy as active trackers and so put less strain on the vehicle’s electrical system.
  • They usually still qualify for insurance premium reductions as GPS tracking, despite not providing the same array of benefits that would be useful to the insurance company. That said, this isn’t always the case; the reduction in premiums may be smaller, or the insurance company may specify active tracking. Be sure to check with your insurance provider before investing in your GPS devices first.
  • Since passive GPS trackers don’t send signals out to the GPS network, they are lighter weight and have fewer points of potential failure.

There are some drawbacks, too, of course. The biggest is that the lack of active tracking means you can’t utilize that information dynamically and in real-time. They are also reliant on access to cell towers and other available GPS signals, so in remote areas, they can lose signal.

What is Active GPS?

If passive GPS is a receiver, active GPS is both a receiver and transmitter. It doesn’t just receive signals from the GPS network to detect where it is; it also broadcasts the responses back to the global information network, where your fleet management platform receives it and maintains a real-time depiction of where your vehicles are at any given time.

These devices often use a combination of GPS radio signals and cell signals to transmit this information. Many of the oldest GPS units still use 2G/3G, but modern versions are equipped with 5G signal for as robust and fast connections as possible.

What is Active GPS

The benefits over passive GPS are pretty clear.

  • Since you always know where the tracker is, you can use that real-time location information for a variety of useful benefits, including those listed above.
  • Fast and reliable data allows real-time checking. It also reduces the need for onboard storage since the data can be synced to the cloud.
  • Additional telematics data, ranging from engine temperature to computer status codes to driver shift status, can all be transmitted alongside the GPS location.
  • As full trackers, you can take advantage of the deepest possible premium discounts that your fleet insurance carrier offers.

That said, there are downsides to active trackers that make some fleet managers opt for the passive option.

First and foremost is the expense. Active GPS trackers are more complicated machines, and that means they are more expensive to purchase. That doesn’t tell the full story, though; unlike passive GPS trackers, active trackers need access to cellular networks, which means they usually require a monthly subscription fee. Depending on the number of vehicles you need to track, this expense can add up quickly.

Active trackers are also more power- and signal-hungry. They can, in extreme circumstances, drain a truck’s battery. They also require a stronger and more consistent signal to transmit accurately, and while most have graceful fail-overs and retry signals for when they lose connection, the cheapest models might not be very good at it.

What About Hybrid GPS?

Hybrid GPS tracking is another option. While it might not seem like there’s room between “does have” and “doesn’t have” a transmitter, there’s a third option.

Hybrid trackers are essentially passive GPS trackers 90% of the time. However, they do have transmitters in them, usually ones that work at low frequencies and only in certain situations. They are programmed to monitor their conditions, and if they exceed certain limitations, they switch to active mode to broadcast their location.

Hybrid GPS

Why is this useful?

  • By establishing a geofenced area, the tracker can operate passively during normal operation, but if the vehicle leaves that boundary, the tracker switches to active and broadcasts.
  • The tracker can be sent an activation signal. If a vehicle is reported missing or stolen, you can broadcast that signal, and the tracker will respond with its location, switching to active mode until you turn it off or it runs out of juice.
  • More active-leaning hybrid trackers can be set to work actively when they have strong, fast connections to the cell network, but instead of struggling with bad connections, switch to passive until a good connection is restored. This can, in some cases, also avoid the monthly fee for access to the cell network.

Hybrid trackers are often preferred over purely passive trackers. They’re mid-way in terms of expense as well and can qualify for insurance discounts where purely passive trackers don’t.

Are There Laws Regarding GPS Tracking?

Yes and no.

Currently, there are no mandates that require or prohibit tracking. Federal law doesn’t address the issue at all.

State laws, meanwhile, vary. Some places require that you get consent before tracking, like California. Of course, you can simply make that consent part of your employee requirements, but it’s part of an awareness measure. Similarly, Connecticut requires that you inform your drivers that you track the vehicle. If you’re a global company operating in Europe, your tracking needs to comply with GDPR as well.

Laws Regarding GPS Tracking

The issue gets trickier if you’re trying to track employee vehicles on company time. You can still do this, but you need much more explicit consent.

Tracking fleet vehicles is hugely beneficial to companies, but it does require some awareness of the privacy issues involved. This is why a lot of fleet tracking systems, including GPS trackers and ELDs, usually have an option to toggle tracking off when the driver is off-duty. This way, you ensure that you’re tracking the truck, not the person.

Is GPS Tracking a Good Idea for Your Fleet?

Almost definitely, yes. Fleet tracking provides so many benefits to a modern company that there are very, very few valid reasons not to use it. The insurance premium reduction alone will usually pay for the system in short order; optimizations in routing and tracking are the icing on the cake.

A Fleet Vehicle

The only question is, what tracking system should you use? For that, there’s no easy answer. Some fleets benefit from passive tracking; others can only get where they are with active tracking. Whatever the case, though, one thing is sure: with Epika, we can help you out.

Whether it’s installing and configuring GPS, providing proactive maintenance when the systems alert you to the need, or just helping keep your business moving, we’re here for you. Just click here to find a service provider and get started.

Maximizing Fleet Efficiency with Telematics Technology

Telematics technology provides your company with one thing that can make all the difference in the world. It can be the difference between a profitable company and a floundering, failing business. It can make or break careers. What is it? Information.

Telematics technology is a powerful way to monitor, predict, guide, and optimize the performance of your fleet, whether you’re dealing with two or three vehicles or a fleet of hundreds. What is it specifically, though? How can you make use of it to improve the efficiency and performance of your fleet? Let’s talk about it.

What is Telematics?

Telematics is a word for an all-encompassing set of technologies that can provide you with accurate, useful, real-time information to help you make decisions. It’s a portmanteau, a word made up of two words mashed together: telemetry and informatics.

  • Telemetry: The in situ collection of measurements or other data at remote points and their transmission to receiving equipment for monitoring.
  • Informatics: The study, transformation, and use of information.

In other words, telematics is the gathering of specific information about your vehicles and the use of that information to guide the performance of those vehicles.

What is Telematics

Modern fleet telematics devices use a combination of GPS location tracking, vehicle condition and diagnostic information, vehicle location and movement, and driver behavior to provide a robust, ongoing report on the state of a given vehicle in your fleet. That information, in aggregate, can allow a centralized platform (your fleet management software) to give you overall reports on your fleet. It can also be used at the vehicle or driver level to diagnose issues, schedule proactive maintenance, and optimize the efficiency, productivity, and performance of those vehicles and drivers.

What Information Does Telematics Gather?

Telematics technology works by installing a small device into a vehicle and linking it up to your fleet management platform. This device generally combines the features of a vehicle monitor, an ELD (electronic logging device), and a GPS tracker. Typically, the driver will also have access to some of the information provided by the telematics device and can add context, submit their own reports, issue corrections, and generally engage with the system. The sum reports are sent back to your home base, where they’re trackable individually and in aggregate across your fleet.

Installing Telematics Technology

What information, specifically, is a telematics device likely to be tracking?

  • GPS information. This includes precise location but also travel direction, speed, and route. Depending on the kind of GPS tracking, this may be real-time or on a delay. Geofencing can also specify a route and a buffer zone around that route and can flag any time a vehicle leaves this operating theater.
  • Driver behavior. While you can’t necessarily track things like whether or not the driver responds to children asking for a honk, you can track things like rapid acceleration, deceleration, speed, hours of operation, and other behaviors that promote safe driving.
  • Fuel monitoring. Tracking fuel usage and levels can identify problems with excess idling, excessive fuel consumption, and potential fuel leaks. By syncing it up with fuel payments, you can also monitor for fuel theft.
  • Odometer tracking and mileage reporting. Keeping accurate mileage reports can help with scheduling proactive maintenance and other tasks for your vehicles.
  • Vehicle condition and computer reports. Commercial vehicle computers track a variety of information about the condition of the vehicle, ranging from tire pressure to engine temperature to fluid levels, all of which can be used to proactively maintain a vehicle or diagnose potential issues before they become active problems.
  • Specific trouble codes and malfunction indicator lights. While many of the telemetry data points aren’t necessarily reflected on the onboard computer and dashboard indicators for the driver, if any of those indicators are triggered, this, too, is reported.

Some of this information must be specifically configured to be tracked; others are tracked automatically. It also all depends on the specific devices you’re using. Some track more information, and some track less. Some also link up with additional technologies, like dashboard cameras, which can be automatically enabled to record incidents ranging from excessive braking to collisions to off-route driving.

All of this information is tracked at the individual vehicle level. However, when every vehicle in your fleet is being tracked the same way, you can develop aggregated reports about the condition of your vehicles and the state of your drivers. This allows you to do things like optimize route planning and assign the closest vehicles to the closest tasks.

What Are the Benefits of Telematics Technology for Fleet Managers?

It’s one thing to know, in the abstract, what information you’re gathering. It’s another to know what that information means and how to use it. So, what are the benefits of gathering all of the above information, reading reports on vehicles and drivers, and knowing the overall state of your fleet?

Reduced fuel costs. Many different elements of a driver’s daily life can use excess fuel, and telematics information can help cut back on that excess fuel usage. For example:

  • Telematics can find more efficient routes that burn less fuel to reach a destination.
  • Telematics can identify cases of excess engine idling, identify the causes, and help you avoid them.
  • Telematics can identify potential problems or inefficiencies with the vehicles to help you schedule more proactive maintenance and boost fuel efficiency.
  • Telematics can flag unauthorized equipment usage.

Since fuel costs are one of the largest expenses associated with operating a fleet, even a small percentage cut in fuel usage can work out to significant savings across the company.

More proactive and preventative maintenance. Trucks wear down over time; it’s just a fact of life. Generally, problems can be noticed before instruments or the onboard computer recognize that there’s a problem by using telematics data to monitor trends in performance. Further, if there’s an issue with a vehicle that a driver solves but doesn’t report, the telematics can still report it. These minor flags and issues can all add up to a need for maintenance and a warning: something might break soon. By scheduling the vehicle for maintenance before something breaks and leaves a driver and load stranded on the highway, you save time, money, and effort.

Simplified communication and record-keeping. A huge part of the job of a fleet manager is the paperwork associated with tracking everything from load weights to driver certifications to vehicle status. With telematics, all of this can be remotely tracked and assembled into useful reports. Moreover, if any of it needs to be checked and verified by police, DOT officers, or other authorities, the reports are readily available and verifiable.

Benefits of Telematics Technology

Improved safety. Safety comes up in many different forms, and telematics technology can address most of them.

  • If a vehicle is being used outside of operating hours or by unauthorized individuals, it can be flagged.
  • If a driver is operating beyond their legal limits, they can be flagged.
  • If a vehicle is stolen, its location can be tracked for asset recovery.
  • If a vehicle goes off-route, it can be flagged, and an explanation can be required.

This increases the overall safety of your fleet by improving both vehicle and driver accountability. It also can save your fleet money; many commercial vehicle insurance providers will offer discounts for vehicles equipped with GPS tracking and telematics technology.

Predictive analytics. By seeing your fleet in aggregate, you can estimate upcoming fuel expenditures, predict dates for maintenance scheduling, and even get some idea of what kinds of parts or maintenance need to be replaced so you can make sure your fleet maintenance teams have those items on hand. This can reduce downtime and speed up maintenance significantly.

Additionally, this all helps to lower the administrative overhead a fleet manager is responsible for. It decreases the amount of paperwork and manual data entry (and thus human error) while maintaining logs automatically. Information and reports are available at your fingertips, not through manual digging through data.

From improving routing to preventing catastrophe, the information provided by a telematics device in a given vehicle can fuel an immense amount of savings in both time and money. And, with a bird’s-eye view of your entire fleet, you can make optimal decisions based on real-time location and operations data you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use.

Are There Downsides to Telematics Technology?

No technology is without problems, and telematics is no different. There are three major categories of issues that can come up with telematics technology.

The first is the expense for fleets. Telematics devices can be relatively inexpensive, with some coming in under $100. Others may be significantly more expensive, with the higher quality, more capable devices clocking in at higher rates. Active tracking also generally requires a connection to GPS and cell service, which typically requires a monthly fee. The software to set it all up, the tablets to monitor it in the vehicles, and the receivers can all be additional costs as well.

That said, you save a lot of money by implementing telematics and making use of the technology. Additional fuel efficiency, additional productivity, preventative maintenance that can delay or avoid major issues and downtime, and even insurance premium reductions can all come from using telematics technology. You can also avoid fines and penalties by flagging behavior before it’s discovered by police, the DOT, or through an accident. In other words, these systems rapidly pay for themselves once you’re past the hump of the initial expense.

The second is the maintenance burden for the technology. Telematics devices are computers, and they often have arcane software that has been built up over the years, frequently lacking in modern design sensibilities. Some may make it hard to diagnose and troubleshoot bugs. Some have issues with software and firmware updates. Some are simply low quality and lose tracking or connection frequently. Devices can overheat or be subject to damage from vibration. It can take a lot of time and research to identify high-quality telematics systems and separate them from the chaff of cheap devices.

Installing, configuring, syncing, testing, and maintaining telematics devices is a burden above and beyond what you would have if you simply used the bare minimum passive GPS trackers and ELDs necessary to satisfy DOT regulations. But, again, the benefits typically outweigh this additional burden.

Downsides to Telematics Technology

The third is the potential for privacy concerns. With always-on GPS tracking embedded in a vehicle, drivers may be concerned about it tracking various personal information about them, including locations of things like their kids’ schools, their homes, or their common habits.

Many modern telematics devices solve this by allowing a driver to toggle an “off-duty” mode that either disables GPS tracking or, more commonly, simply broadens the area of tracking to be significantly less specific.

Additionally, consent is frequently required to implement this kind of tracking. Drivers are informed that their locations are tracked, and it’s often made a condition of employment.

Truthfully, while there’s some validity to privacy concerns, most possible scenarios where the information is abused are hypothetical; meanwhile, several lawsuits have been litigated and have upheld the legality of GPS tracking for fleet vehicles. It would be a different story if you were tracking drivers’ personal vehicles, but there’s no reason to do so.

Implementing Telematics Technology for Your Fleet

If you’re looking to implement telematics technology for your fleet vehicles, you need one thing above all else: trained and experienced technicians who are familiar with the installation and configuration of these systems.

This is one way we at Epika Fleet can help you improve your fleet management. Our nationwide network of service providers includes many such technicians, familiar with a wide range of different brands and options for telematics tracking.

Epika Fleet Services

Moreover, once you’re linked up to our network of service providers, you can also use those same technicians for preventative maintenance, proactive monitoring, scheduled service, and unscheduled service. Whether you need a truck towed from the side of the road or a routine oil change, there’s nearly guaranteed to be a service provider near you who can help. All you need to do is find a service provider today.

FAQ: Can You Change a CDL from Intrastate to Interstate?

Any company with a fleet of trucks needs drivers with CDLs, or Commercial Driver’s Licenses, to operate those vehicles. However, there is more than one kind of CDL, which means your drivers need to have the right kind of license for the vehicle they operate and for the kind of travel they do.

One of the most important elements of a CDL is whether it’s an intrastate license or an interstate license. What are these, what’s the difference, and can you change from one to the other? Read our FAQ to find out more.

Who Issues a CDL?

One of the first and most important things to know about interstate and intrastate trucking is that there are different authorities in play.

A Truck Fleet

First of all, you have the FMCSA. The FMCSA is the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, and it’s the federal government’s regulating body that sets rules and standards for the operation and safety of commercial motor vehicles across the country. They set rules, and they govern registrations and regulations, but critically, they do not issue CDLs. They are, essentially, a governing body that sets the bare minimum rules to ensure that all states have at least a certain level of safety; many states add their own more stringent rules on top.

Actual CDLs are instead issued by the state’s Secretary of State and Department of Motor Vehicles. Both interstate and intrastate CDLs are issued in the same way through roughly the same process. While the requirements are largely the same between different states and types of licenses, there may be additional rules depending on the state.

What is an Intrastate CDL?

A commercial driver’s license (CDL) for in-state use only allows a driver to use a commercial vehicle in their home state. It’s perfect for all sorts of driver tasks, from local deliveries within the city to long statewide trips.

But hold on, the type of CDL you have—be it Class A, B, or C—is important too:

CDL Class Criteria
Class A
  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating or gross combination weight of 11,794 kilograms (26,001 pounds) or more, whichever is greater.
  • Inclusive of a towed unit(s) with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of more than 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds), whichever is greater.
Class B
  • Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 11,794 kilograms (26,001 pounds) or more.
  • Or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not exceeding a gross vehicle weight rating or gross vehicle weight of 4,536 kilograms (10,000 pounds).
Class C
  • Any single vehicle, or combination of vehicles, that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B.
  • Designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver.
  • Transporting material designated as hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103 and required to be placarded under subpart F of 49 CFR Part 172.
  • Transporting any quantity of a material listed as a select agent or toxin in 42 CFR Part 73.

Let me tell you how it works: the in-state restriction (often referred to as intrastate) sets the boundaries for where you can drive, while the CDL class gives you the green light on the types of vehicles you can drive. If you want to drive enormous vehicles like tractor-trailers or vehicles that weigh a hefty 26,001 pounds or more, then you’re going to need a Class A CDL. And that’s only if your trailer weighs over 10,000 pounds.

On the flip side, Class B and Class C CDL each have their own places—they let you drive different types and sizes of vehicles to meet certain transport needs within the state. So, if you’re interested in driving smaller vehicles or vehicles with special features, these CDLs are what you need. All in all, it’s about getting the right CDL for the right job within your state.

“How does one distinguish between intra- and interstate commerce for the purposes of applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs)?

FMCSR Guidance: Interstate commerce is determined by the essential character of the movement, manifested by the shipper’s fixed and persistent intent at the time of shipment, and is ascertained from all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the transportation. When the intent of the transportation being performed is interstate in nature, even when the route is within the boundaries of a single State, the driver and Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

Note: A trucking company hauls freight from California to Idaho. Another shipping company delivers the commodity to its final destination. Although the second company travels entirely in-state, the original intent of the shipment is interstate and covered by DOT. However, if the first company delivers to a warehouse in Idaho, delivery trucks taking the commodity to customers are not considered involved in interstate commerce if the original manifest did not indicate the shipments were intended for these customers.” – OSHA.

A handful of examples can help illustrate this.

Various Fleet Trucks

First, imagine you have a load that begins in New York. This load travels by rail to Illinois, where a CDL driver picks it up and delivers it to a location in Chicago. This driver, though they never leave Illinois, must have an interstate CDL rather than an intrastate CDL because the intent of the load as a whole is interstate.

Second, imagine you have a load that starts in Baton Rouge, LA and is bound for Ferriday, LA. The fastest and most efficient route for this load is north through Route 61; however, this route takes the truck out of Louisiana and into Mississippi for part of the journey. Even though the load is bound to a destination in the same state as the origin, it travels out of the bounds of the state, so the driver must have an interstate CDL.

A third example is a standard postal company like UPS. Loads carried from a shipping hub to a warehouse in another state need to be carried by a driver with an interstate CDL; however, the drivers who deliver loads locally from the warehouse to the surrounding area do not need an interstate CDL, because the individual deliveries are considered different loads.

These examples are just scratching the surface of the difference between interstate and intrastate CDLs; they go to show you how varied and nuanced the regulations can be.

What is an Interstate CDL?

A driver can utilize an interstate CDL to transport loads across different states and even beyond national borders. It’s particularly important for people engaged in long paths spanning many regions or countries.

Similar to state-specific CDLs, a driver’s capacity to handle certain types of vehicles during business activities shifts based on the CDL class (A, B, or C). The needed CDL class is determined by the type of ride they’re handling, be it a heavy tractor-trailer or a bus filled with people. While operating in various states with interstate CDLs, the drivers are required to meet slightly tougher conditions; these arise due to a larger working area and the need to abide by different state and national rules.

Interstate commerce encompasses long-distance transports and certain accords, allowing some CDL holders to haul loads into Canada and Mexico. The focus isn’t solely on the driver crossing state borders but also on where the cargo originates and where it’s off to. Therefore, it caters to the broader range of commerce taking place between states.

Interstate CDL

One special note is that interstate CDLs are not just inter-state; they can even be cross-country. Both Mexico and Canada have reciprocity agreements to allow certain drivers with CDLs to transport loads across borders, in addition to across state lines.

“The only foreign commercial driver licenses (CDLs) that are accepted in the United States are from the federal government of Mexico and provinces and territories in Canada. The United States has CDL reciprocity agreements with only these two North American countries. In rare instances, FMCSA may issue temporary waivers (up to 90 days) or exemptions (up to two years) to allow drivers licensed in other countries to operate in the United States. These drivers are required to carry the waiver or exemption document with them.” – FMCSA.

In general, the requirements for an interstate CDL are slightly higher than those of an intrastate CDL, but the difference is relatively minimal in most cases. In fact, for many drivers, the switch is as simple as filling out a form.

Are There Specific Insurance Requirements for Different CDLs?

Yes. Typically, intrastate requires a certain level of insurance coverage, and interstate requires a higher level of coverage. Additionally, certain kinds of loads, like oil, hazardous materials, or very heavy loads, will have specific, higher insurance coverage requirements. However, all of this also varies from state to state.

Specific Insurance Requirements

The FMCSA sets minimum requirements, but many states add additional requirements on top.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires carriers hauling freight across state lines to meet minimum coverage limits for public liability insurance. Coverage minimums will vary depending on the type of freight you move and the vehicle weight.

  • Non-hazardous transported in a vehicle weighing less than 10,001 pounds: $300,000
  • Non-hazardous transported in a vehicle weighing more than 10,001 pounds: $750,000
  • Hazardous material moved by private carriers and for-hire: $5 million
  • Oil carried by private carrier and for-hire: $1 million

These are minimums. Many shippers and brokers will require you to have at least $1 million worth of coverage, even for non-hazardous freight.” – Truck Stop.

Navigating insurance requirements is often the task of the fleet manager or the shipping company rather than the driver, however, while the drivers themselves are responsible for their own CDL status.

Can You Change from Intrastate to Interstate?

Yes. The specific process will also vary from state to state, but in general, it’s very simple. Typically, in order to get an interstate CDL, you must have a valid intrastate CDL, a valid medical examiner’s certificate, and must be at least 21 years old. You’ll also need a valid birth certificate and/or passport. However, some states will have these on file from your intrastate license application.

Changing From Intrastate to Interstate

For many drivers, the process for switching from an intrastate CDL to an interstate CDL is as simple as going to their state’s DMV website, finding the relevant form, and filling it out. They will need to submit their medical examination results and wait for it to be processed, which can be anywhere from nearly instant to a week or two of waiting. After that, as long as they meet the qualifications, an interstate CDL will be issued.

What is the Medical Examiner’s Certificate?

Because of the inherent risk and danger of operating a massive multi-ton commercial vehicle, drivers are held to higher standards for health and physical ability. They must obtain a certificate that qualifies them for trucking issued by a certified medical examiner.

A Commercial Vehicle Operator

According to the FMCSA:

“All commercial drivers of vehicles in interstate commerce with a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of over 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) are required to obtain and maintain a valid Medical Examiner’s Certificate (ME Certificate). Commercial drivers who drive vehicles requiring a CDL have two additional requirements. On or before January 30, 2014, all CDL holders must declare to their State Driver Licensing Agency (SDLA) that they only operate or expect to operate commercially in 1 of 4 possible categories with their CDL. This process is called self-certification.” – FMCSA.

Contrary to the way it sounds, this does not exclude drivers with certain impairments, such as missing limbs. Drivers can obtain what is known as a Skill Performance Evaluation to prove that they are still capable of operating a vehicle at full capacity and safety; once issued, the driver can remain certified to drive.

“Drivers with physical impairments, which affect their ability to safely operate CMVs, must obtain a “variance” from their State in order to be approved to drive commercially. The variance document must be carried with the commercial driver whenever they are operating a commercial motor vehicle. A Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) is a special type of “variance” required for drivers with impaired or missing limbs (e.g., a hand or finger, an arm, foot, or leg). Drivers with missing limbs, if eligible, must obtain an SPE certificate. The commercial driver must always carry the SPE certificate at all times.” – FMCSA.

Do Specific States Have Different Rules?

Yes. There are both some state-level and some federal-level rules that will apply to interstate license-holders that don’t to intrastate holders.

For example, New York has the HUT permit, Kentucky requires a KYU number, New Mexico has a Weight Distance Permit, and Oregon requires a $2,000 bond for interstate trucks.

Specific State Rules

At the company level, you will likely need to register under the International Fuel Tax Agreement, get a Unified Carrier Registration number and a US DOT number, and may need to get specific plates for trucks operating interstate.

Can a Driver Have Multiple CDLs?

A common question is whether or not these CDLs are mutually exclusive.

  • Does a driver need both an interstate CDL and an intrastate CDL?
  • Does a driver need an interstate CDL for each state they will travel through?
  • Does a driver need a special license for commerce entering or leaving Canada or Mexico?

The answer to all of these is no. Each individual can only have one CDL; having more than one is illegal and can result in fines and even jail time for the driver in question.

A Truck Driver

An intrastate license is all that is required for local, short-distance hauling or even longer-distance hauling as long as the load originates and stays within the borders of the state. Most shipping companies that aren’t cross-country shipping companies or companies on the border of states are likely to only require intrastate licenses.

An interstate license is all that is required for just about any other hauling. There are, however, some additional requirements for special circumstances.

  • If the truck will have double or triple trailers.
  • If the truck carries a tank (the kind that holds liquids, not the military kind.)
  • If the truck carries hazardous materials.
  • If the vehicle carries passengers, like a bus.

Each of these special circumstances requires both additional training and greater requirements for a CDL that can handle it.

Need Support for Interstate Trucking?

At Epika, we maintain a vast network of service centers, fleet support locations, and other facilities to help any and all trucking companies better manage their fleets.

Epika Fleet Services

Any good fleet requires proper maintenance, and we can help you keep it up. Just click here to learn more!

Comparing Centralized and Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

Fleet maintenance is an essential part of fleet management. Keeping your commercial vehicles in good repair is required by law for passing inspections, and it’s a key part of ensuring your costs stay low, your fuel efficiency is high, and your operations are smooth. The question is, how do you perform your fleet maintenance?

Fleet maintenance falls into two types: centralized and decentralized. There are pros and cons to both methods, so let’s discuss them and which option is the better one for your situation.

A Common Growth Scenario

Let’s start off with a hypothetical. This is the story of a shipping company, from founding to crisis.

When the company is founded, it’s a small courier service within a city. The company employs a handful of drivers and a small fleet of trucks – less than half a dozen – to provide their services. Their area of operations is small, but their service is high-quality, so they quickly garnered a reputation as an excellent option for local shipping.

This company doesn’t have the budget or the space to hire mechanics and set up an in-house shop to maintain their trucks. Instead, they have a partnership with a local commercial vehicle dealer and use their facility for maintenance and repairs. It’s a simple and effective solution.

Over time, this shipping company grew, and they decided to expand. They opened a second base location the next town over to expand their courier services not just within that town but between the two. This second office carries the same branding, but the management and operations are largely independent. While both locations are held to the same general company standards, the decision on which trucks to purchase and how to manage the fleet is left to the regional manager.

Company Fleet Vehicles

Moreover, because the service center for the original fleet is an entire city over, it’s inefficient to redirect all of the trucks from the new location back to the old location’s service center. The new branch, instead, finds a local commercial vehicle service center to use and makes its own deal.

All of this is managed and approved by the top-level management of the company, but between fleet managers of each location, the differences slowly grow clear. Maybe one side’s service center is worse than the other. Maybe one manager slacks on maintenance scheduling and adopts more of a break-fix attitude. Or, maybe it all runs just fine.

Over time, as a company expands and opens up more locations, this process continues. Each new branch establishes its own relationships, its own fleets, its own record-keeping, and its own service center relationships. Some ambitious branches might even open up their own service centers to keep it all in-house.

Once the company reaches the point where they’re dealing with interstate commerce regulations and where optimizing things like fuel efficiency can be a matter of six figures of difference in expenses company-wide, looking at this mish-mash of relationships and standards becomes a very daunting prospect.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, or so the saying goes. It works… or does it?

Defining Centralized and Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

Normally, considering the terms centralization and decentralization, you might expect that it means setting up a central hub for service for your fleet. A single centralized location where regional fleet vehicles go for maintenance, where records can be kept, schedules can be managed, and more.

In reality, this isn’t quite true. While some companies set up these kinds of true-central service centers, most don’t, even when their operations are centralized.

In fleet management, centralization refers to the operations of the company, not the location of the service.

A Fleet of Trucks

A decentralized service program occurs when a company operates in regional chunks, at the neighborhood level, the city or county level, the branch level, or whatever division makes the most sense as the company grows. The example scenario above, with each location forging its own contracts and operating under the loose direction of corporate in terms of maintenance schedules and regulatory compliance, is an example of decentralized fleet maintenance.

So what, then, is centralized fleet maintenance?

Centralized fleet maintenance is bringing all of these branches into the fold, under the command of standardized contracts, pre-established relationships with other expansive service providers, and under the more direct management of experienced fleet maintenance directors.

Are There Benefits to Decentralized Fleet Maintenance?

Though we paint it in a somewhat negative light, decentralized fleet maintenance is not without its benefits.

Performing Maintenance on a Fleet Truck

First and foremost, it minimizes the management burden on a central corporate office. Corporate can set policies and leave it up to the individual branches to follow them however works best for them.

“There are a number of cogent arguments that can be made for decentralizing some, if not all, fleet functions. The single most powerful case is usually made from the standpoint of responsibility.

In many companies, responsibility for the financial results is in the field. In a company where the fleet is homogenous, oftentimes, one level or another of field management is responsible for performance, including profitability. When a manager’s performance is judged this way, it will include budgeting and cost. As such, next to personnel costs, providing and operating a fleet is the largest cost included by a field sales or service operation.

Field management, therefore, can make a case to have some level of control over how the fleet is operated, and, in particular, how their budget is impacted by that operation.” – Fleet Financials.

It also allows individual branches to pick and work with facilities that work best for them. When you standardize contracts, they often won’t apply evenly; some branches might be conveniently located almost directly next to a relevant service center, while others might find that the nearest option is half an hour’s drive away. When the option isn’t given to the local management, inefficiencies like that can build up.

Since a lot of regions have their own quirks that an upper-level management team might not recognize or be able to acknowledge, leaving fleet maintenance decisions up to the local staff might also be beneficial to the overall operations of that branch.

The Drawbacks to Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

All of the above relies on two things being true:

  • The regional management team knows what they’re doing.
  • The regional management team has the best interests of the company at heart.

Very often, one or both of these is incorrect. Sometimes, local management may have some idea of what they should be doing but don’t know how to best go about it. They haven’t hired a fleet manager, just a general manager, and since they don’t have expertise in fleet maintenance, they don’t know how to distinguish a good service provider from a mediocre or bad service provider.

Moreover, there’s a much greater risk of incidental or intentional corruption. Maybe the regional manager strikes up a deal with a local service center and pockets a kickback; maybe they’re simply inexperienced, and a sub-par service provider convinces them they’re receiving better service than they are. Whatever the case may be, there’s an immense amount of room for inefficiencies and sub-par service, often without regional managers knowing other options exist.

Decentralized Fleet Maintenance

There’s also the bigger picture to consider. Very often, what makes sense or is efficient for smaller-scale operations is actually broadly inefficient for larger operations; allowing each region to pick its own “best” can be unnecessarily expensive for the company as a whole.

“The problem with decentralizing into more ownership is a tangible decline in productivity. Yes, the decentralized maintenance workforce more quickly addresses the urgent work than does the centralized force. Yet, decentralized groups show less interest in scheduling work in advance and are more difficult to steer away from doing reactive work.” – Reliable Plant.

Decentralized fleet maintenance has tangible problems as well.

  • Instead of being guided by experienced maintenance experts, decisions are made by managers who have a lot on their plate and less experience with commercial vehicle service, regulations, and more.
  • Without the bird’s-eye view of the company as a whole, inefficiencies can add up.
  • A lack of centralized software and data tracking leads to lost records, deferred maintenance, poor adherence to maintenance schedules, and much more.

This is all compounded if each region is also making its own decisions about the kinds of vehicles to purchase and when; instead of having standardized vehicles of a few types throughout your fleet, you can have many more, all with their own issues that need tracking.

How Centralized Fleet Maintenance Works

Centralized fleet maintenance begins by taking responsibility away from regional managers and putting it in the hands of directors with experience, capability, and, critically, much more overall data and resources than regional managers can access.

The core watchword of centralized fleet maintenance is standardization. Everything is brought under one banner, under one service provider or one network of them, with one team or director making the decisions.

It begins with centralized record-keeping. Vehicle details, maintenance logs, manufacturer recalls and alerts, and consolidated data can all be sent to a central system where maintenance directors can review them. Trends, overarching data, and means of optimization can then be extracted and applied company-wide across all the disparate elements of the fleet.

Standardizing telemetry data and, more importantly, the technology used to gather it is also an important part of centralized fleet maintenance. Using the same data tracking across all vehicles in a fleet is a key part of making sure the appropriate kinds of data are gathered. This may involve upgrades to the technology of many vehicles in a fleet, but that’s just part of the expenses of centralizing maintenance.

The biggest factor in centralized maintenance is standardizing the service providers used for maintenance across a company. For example, for preventative maintenance services, you might partner with a company like ours and our network of service providers across the nation. That way, you have standard contracts, standard pricing, standard services, and a standardized quality of service, and you can access those services anywhere in the country.

A Commercial Vehicle Service Provider

One of the biggest benefits of centralizing fleet maintenance is that you cover all the bases, and you can be assured of that coverage. Since you aren’t dealing with shifting standards and different service providers operating at different levels, you have a greater guarantee of service quality and adherence to compliance rules and standards.

Additionally, through record-keeping, you can apply better schedules for preventative maintenance. Every vehicle needs to be inspected, every vehicle needs ongoing maintenance, and every vehicle needs to minimize the risk of catastrophic unplanned failure. You can even access top-level route planning software to ensure that trucks nearing their scheduled maintenance window end routes in an area near a service center instead of needing to travel across town unnecessarily.

All of these optimizations, from large to small, have a ripple effect across the company. What might save a few dollars on fuel here and there can add up to immense savings across the whole of the company. Increased vehicle uptime and smoother operations, standardized maintenance packages, and no unexpected fees can all compound over time.

Does Centralized Fleet Maintenance Have Drawbacks?

Nothing in this world is perfect. Centralized fleet maintenance has some steep requirements to perform adequately.

For one thing, it’s heavily reliant on the people making decisions to have the appropriate information, which means your telemetry and record-keeping needs to be on point. Without the right data, data-driven decision-making is impossible.

Relatedly, the people making these decisions need to be knowledgeable and experienced. Above, we mentioned the potential issue of a regional manager being conned because they don’t know any better; that’s bad, but it’s way worse if it’s your maintenance director making poor choices.

One of the greatest challenges is the transition from decentralized to centralized. Establishing new processes, new software, new telemetry, and new policies will all involve growing pains. For larger organizations, these kinds of transitions can take months or even years to be done properly.

Epika Fleet Services

When handled properly, centralizing fleet maintenance is a hugely beneficial decision. Fortunately, we’re here to help; as a national network of service providers specifically for commercial fleets, we can help you get excellent fleet maintenance set up and running in short order. Simply reach out to us to get started!

The True Cost of Low Tire Pressure on Fleet Trucks

Tire inflation is, to the surprise of many, one of the single most impactful metrics on the performance of a truck and a fleet across the board. It can have an incredible effect across the board in terms of performance, operating costs, and even safety. Unfortunately, most of those effects are at the fleet level and across the long term, so it’s easy for individual drivers to ignore them for the time being, never knowing the full extent of the cost.

Tires are one of the most expensive individual components of a truck, so treating them right is paramount to long-term success. Let’s dig deeper into the issue and see what the best practices are for a fleet manager.

The Replacement Cost for a Truck Tire

First, let’s consider the cost of replacing a tire when it wears out or, worse, goes flat or blows out in operation.

Individual tires of average quality can cost between $250 and $600; however, premium-tier high-quality tires or specialty tires can cost $1,200 or even more. If your trucks operate in areas with special conditions, like snow and ice, steep hills, or particularly rough roads, those tires can cost even more.

Tire Pressure

Factors that influence the cost of replacing these tires include:

  • The size and weight of the truck. Larger trucks, larger trailers, bigger tires, more expensive rubber. The heavier the expected load, the better the tires need to be to avoid premature failure.
  • The type of the tire. It’s not just about conditions like winter versus summer tires; it’s about where the tires are on the truck. Steer tires, in particular, are critical to the performance of the truck.
  • Tire hardness. Harder tires are more resilient, but they’re less forgiving. Softer tires are often preferred by drivers because they offer a smoother, more comfortable ride, but they wear out faster and will need replacement more often.
  • Tire warranty. No product is free of defects, and a good warranty can go a long way for a heavily used part like a truck tire. Good warranties, however, are expensive.

Of course, the raw cost of replacing a tire is just a small part of the overall consideration when tires are concerned.

What Happens When a Tire is Under-Inflated?

Keeping a tire at a lower pressure than it’s meant to be has a bunch of negative effects. According to Sharon Cowart from Michelin, it’s the number one cause of “premature tire removal.”

So, what happens when a tire isn’t inflated properly?

  • The truck won’t handle as expected. This applies whether it’s a single tire that’s under-inflated or if all the tires on the truck are under-inflated. Tires are designed to function best at specific pressures, and deviations from this can compromise handling.
  • Underinflated tires wear differently. A tire that isn’t inflated to the correct pressure won’t distribute its load effectively, leading to uneven wear on both itself and the other tires. Furthermore, this imbalance can stress the underinflated tire even more. It’s essential to understand that both underinflated and overinflated tires can result in irregular wear patterns.
  • A tire at a lower-than-intended pressure is going to have more contact with the road surface, resulting in more friction. This added friction increases wear on the tire, but more importantly, it also makes the truck slower to accelerate, reducing fuel efficiency. Fuel economy can suffer.
  • Underinflated tires are at a much greater risk of catastrophic failure. This is because the tires themselves flex more when they are underinflated. That flexing builds up heat and damages both the rubber of the tire and, more importantly, the steel wires inside the tire, which break and damage the structural integrity of the tire. Underinflated tires are at greater risk of a flat and, more importantly, a blowout.

There’s also the hidden danger on that last point; when the structural steel wires in a tire break, it’s not always visible. The tire can be ready to blow, but there’s no visible sign of it… until a driver or maintenance technician starts to inflate it up to proper pressure, whereupon it results in a blowout.

Underinflated Tires

This isn’t just a danger on the road; it’s a danger during maintenance.

“According to the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Associations, a constant 20% under-inflation in a commercial vehicle tire increases tread wear by 25% and reduces the tire lifetime by 30%. This results in significant increase in tire costs for a fleet. It also increases fuel costs: under-inflation of just 10 PSI reduces fuel economy by 1%.” – Fleet Equipment Magazine.

Estimates place the tire-related costs of underinflation at $600-$800 per tractor-trailer per year. Extrapolate across an entire fleet, and you can begin to see the extent of the problem.

It’s also worth noting that all of this is a direct cost-benefit analysis. When you also consider the increased time spent in maintenance due to worn tires, the time lost when a tire fails in the middle of a route, and even the lost time from slower acceleration, all of that time adds up to more implicit costs stemming from less efficient operations. It’s much harder to quantify but can be very impactful nonetheless.

What Happens When a Tire is Over-Inflated?

While underinflation is a hugely damaging and detrimental issue, overinflation is nearly as bad.

First, in the opposite effect of an underinflated tire, an overinflated tire has a smaller portion of the surface of the tire contacting the road. This increases the risk of slipping, decreases traction, and reduces the handling of the vehicle. It also, of course, leads to irregular wear patterns on the tires themselves. In particular, it increases wear in the center of a tread, which leaves a tire’s edge looking good but the middle worn down.

When steer tires are inflated differently, handling also suffers; the truck will pull in the direction with the lower pressure, resulting in more stressful driving and worse handling for the operator.

Overinflated Tire

Overinflating tires can also lead to a harsher, harder ride for the driver. While modern trucks have many conveniences to insulate the driver from the bumps and jostles of travel, it can still be very impactful and lead to higher-stress, higher-fatigue trips.

Higher pressure also mechanically makes a tire more prone to failure. If there is damage to the tire, whether from wear, from previous underinflation, or from an external source like roadside debris, that creates a weak point in the tire. Greater internal pressure means a greater chance of that weakness becoming a failure, either as a flat or a blowout.

While overinflation is less of a problem than underinflation, it’s still a problem; tires are meant to be maintained in a “just right” golden zone of pressure, according to their manufacturer.

Making Monitoring Tire Pressure Easier

One of the biggest roadblocks to maintaining appropriate tire pressure is just how inconvenient it is to even check in the first place.

In the words of Fleet Equipment Magazine:

“Monitoring tire pressure manually is inconvenient. Think about it: there are 18 tires per vehicle in most cases. Even if it only takes 60 seconds to take the valve cap off, measure the pressure, and replace the valve cap on each tire, that’s almost 20 minutes of time out of the driver’s day, not to mention the time to refill the low tires. So we find that many people use the ‘thump and go’ method, which is not reliable. Even manual pressure gauges aren’t always accurate. Installing a digital tire monitoring system might have an up-front cost, but it reduces tire costs almost immediately.” – Fleet Equipment Magazine.

So, how can you actively and proactively monitor the pressure of the tires on your trucks without putting undue burden on your drivers and taking hours out of their day?

Two Types of Tire Pressure Monitors

There are actually two different kinds of systems you can install on a truck to make monitoring tire pressure easier.

The first, called TPMS, is useful enough that it’s become standard on many trucks manufactured today. While it’s not yet actually mandatory – though some people think it may be in the future – it’s so useful that it may as well be.

TPMS System

TPMS means Tire Pressure Monitoring System. There’s a range of different kinds of TPMS configurations, but their general purpose is to monitor and report on the pressure of each tire individually. This report is then sent to both a unit in the cab of the truck where the driver can see it and often reported via a “phone home” to the fleet manager.

“Today’s TPMS generally use telematics to alert both a driver and a fleet manager to an underinflated tire. In both cases, the information allows prompt action to be taken to correct the issue before a catastrophic failure occurs. TPMS is, to put it mildly, a good idea whose time has come.” – Fleet Maintenance Magazine.

These systems need to be configured with information about the tires they’re monitoring, including the appropriate range of inflation for each. On top of that, a threshold needs to be set, such as 15% over- or under-pressure. TPMS systems don’t generally lock out a driver; they simply send a warning that it’s time to adjust the pressure of a tire. It’s then up to the driver or the maintenance crew to handle the issue.

The second kind of system is ATIS, or Automatic Tire Inflation Systems. These are systems that don’t just monitor but take an active role in tire pressure. Instead of just monitoring the pressure of the tires, it’s equipped with an air source and can automatically add or remove air from a tire to bring it in line with specifications. This is also reported to a central unit, which can report it to the driver and to the fleet manager; problem tires that need inflating frequently can be examined or replaced.

Do These Systems Have Drawbacks?

Unfortunately, no system is free of fault, and systems like TPMS and ATIS have potential issues that need to be addressed before they can be a viable part of your fleet monitoring and control systems.

First, it’s important to know that these systems need to be configured for both the truck and the trailer; trucks that switch trailers routinely will need either compatible or identical systems that plug and play nicely together or will need configuration each time a trailer is switched. A misconfigured system leads to alerts that either aren’t viable, are ignored, or some combination thereof. Essentially, it’s worse than useless.

Second, as a computerized system, they come with all of the usual drawbacks of additional electronics. They need a signal to phone home, they have antennae that need to be kept in good repair, their wiring needs to be in good repair, and more.

They also add to the burden of replacing a tire; the system needs to be recalibrated, or else the tire will simply have a persistent alert until it can be reconfigured. This can be an added source of stress for a driver who replaces their tires on the road.

Replacing Tires

ATIS have the added issue of needing the automatic inflation system to be working properly and topped off with compressed air.

Essentially, it all introduces additional points of potential failure. However, the benefits of ensuring proper inflation on your truck’s tires are so great that they outweigh the drawbacks, which is why so many trucks are including TPMS systems, and so many fleets are adopting their use.

Maintaining Tire Integrity Across the Country

As part of a robust preventative maintenance program, monitoring and maintaining tire pressure is a hugely impactful practice. Fleet managers should always have some kind of monitoring system in place, above and beyond “having the driver do it” because, as we all know, some drivers take shortcuts. No knock on them; it’s just a fact of life that it’s easy to disregard small, non-immediately-impactful tasks.

Tire Integrity

If you need services related to tire pressure, we’re here for you. Whether that means checking and filling tires appropriately, swapping bad tires before they blow out, reconfiguring a TPMS or ATIS, or even installing such a system in the first place, our network of partner businesses can do it. All you need to do is reach out to get started.