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Technology geared to safety, fuel economy key for improving driver performance panel says

The technology panel was moderated by Paul Menig (left) CEO of Tech-I-M. From left: Brent Nussbaum, CEO, Nussbaum Transportation Services, Inc.; Clay Merches, vice president, Safety and Human Resources, J&R Schugel; and Gerard DeVito, executive director, Next Generation Automated Platform, Eaton Corporation (THE TRUCKER: DOROTHY COX)

By Aprille Hanson
The Trucker Staff


DALLAS — Paul Menig, CEO of Tech-I-M, started the three-person panel discussion on “The Connected Fleet, Part 1: Using technology to improve driver performance” at the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference here Wednesday in a way that for drivers, might seem unsettling.

“There’s wearable computers coming now that we’ll be able to tell whether or not a driver is having a diabetes [attack] …  whether or not he’s fatigued because you’re going to be able to tell something about the oxygen content in his blood by a wearable computer,” Menig said, adding that he is a consultant to the trucking industry as well as working in aerospace studies. “So there’s even more technology coming that we know about.”

It was certainly the most Big Brother-esque statement of the panel, but was given to show just how fast and far-reaching the coming technology will be. The panel included: Clay Merches, vice president, Safety and Human Resources, J&R Schugel; Gerard DeVito, executive director, Next Generation Automated Platform, Eaton Corporation; and Brent Nussbaum, CEO, Nussbaum Transportation Services, Inc.

The key points from the panel discussion focused less on oxygen levels in a driver’s blood and more on a few areas where driver performance can be improved by technology: training, fuel economy and how to reward drivers for meeting the needs of the company.

Nussbaum explained that his company, which has 275 trucks and 600 dry van trailers, has been a leader in accepting new technology from OnGuard Collision to OnBoard Computer from PeopleNet.

“Our drivers fought it initially, but now they are the biggest proponent of it,” Nussbaum said. “It only takes a few situations where a truck brakes for you and if it hadn’t done it that driver would say, ‘I would have been right on top of them.’”

But the biggest point Nussbaum made was how the company used technology tracking as a pay incentive for drivers with their “Driver Excelerator” scorecard, that assigns points for improvements in various areas including fuel savings, safety and daily operations.

“We need to coach them, not correct them” Nussbaum said of drivers, “help them reach a higher level.”

An actual scorecard from one of Nussbaum Transportation Services drivers was displayed that Menig compared to a “grade school report card,” but with much more information: the temperature, load weight average, number of miles running, fuel purchases (it showed the driver bought fuel at the best price 88 percent of the time), how long the truck was idle, how much time the driver took off-duty, a tally of any violations (logbook, moving, road side inspections, etc.) and even sudden accelerations – the driver had two.

“We allow our drivers three sudden accelerations” in an allotted time period Nussbaum said, adding the driver’s three-month average of fuel use was 10.28 mpg.

It may be micro-managing at its core, but Nussbaum said there’s a big incentive for reaching the various Bronze, Silver and Gold levels of overall achievement.

“The drivers get a quarterly per mile bonus,” Nussbaum said. “In order to help recruit drivers, we’re going to give him Gold Level points coming in and give him three months to get” to the gold level standard on their own. “If he doesn’t get there, he loses driver pay because his bonus pay was already built in his per mile pay.”

Nussbaum said the quarterly bonus is about $1,800, which varies by the levels achieved.

“Our people drive our success … the older drivers care less about it [the scorecard]. They just want to move through the industry and retire,” Nussbaum said. “The younger drivers have bought into this in a huge way … They do care and they will work at it.”

For Merches, the focus is safety and using DriveCam video technology to help train drivers on how to react better in certain situations.

“We are able to capture those critical events that occur,” Merches said, adding that J&R Schugel has 600 trucks and 1,100 trailers. “We can break down a video to a quarter of a second frame to correct,” any bad driving behaviors.

Three in-cab camera captured videos were shown of their drivers involved in various dangerous driving scenarios: One where a driver prematurely reacted to a four-wheeler running a stop sign, causing her truck to roll over into the ditch; a driver coming up too quickly to stopped traffic in a construction zone causing a rear-end collision; and a driver who pulled the horn to warn a four-wheeler that tried to cut in front of him that his vehicle was there.

Merches said while the third driver made the correct call by not swerving, the first two drivers needed better training in those scenarios.

“She started to move off the highway before the vehicle ran the stop sign and overcorrected. If she had just held onto the steering wheel and maintained” her position, the driver likely would have stopped, Merches said. Of the second driver, “The reaction time was a little delayed. We need to anticipate the actions of others. The truck should be two to three miles slower than traffic … with eight seconds of following distance.”

The camera was able to show 15 seconds leading up to the accidents, allowing the company to identify what exactly led to the truck driver making those decisions. The camera can also identify the speed limit on a road thanks to a map overlay system in the camera. A fourth video was shown of a trucker traveling 51 mph while approaching a 35 mph speed zone.

“We have to find those violations before the officer does and pulls us over. If the driver enters a speed zone, it will record him if he is speeding,” Merches said. “This is a big piece of technology … it helps us find out exactly what happens in a critical event and train appropriately.”

DeVito focused on the concept of the company helping the driver control fuel usage by controlling the shift points in an automated transmission. Pointing to a study that Eaton conducted with various companies, there was a 33 percent variation of fuel economy between the same trucks, alluding to the fact that certain drivers were taking extra measures to ensure better fuel economy.

“There is still a manual mode option for drivers that use an automated transmission; there are options with all the engines now, but they cannot override shift points in the engine,” DeVito said, adding that 94 percent of fuel is burned in top gears. “You can still give the driver a manual mode option, but control the shift point options.”

For example, if “a truck tops a hill and is not loaded very hard with weight on it, it can disengage the transmission down to neutral,” on an E-Coast option, DeVito said.

Tracking the fuel economy can help teach a driver about aggressiveness on and off the throttle and using the brakes, DeVito said.

Since implementing the scorecard for drivers, Nussbaum said the company has gone from 6.49 mpg in 2011 to now 8.20 mpg on average for the entire fleet.

For the future, Nussbaum said he’d like to see more in-cab video technology and tablet devices for a driver to not only work with, but to stay connected to his or her family while over the road.

“I would actually like that transmission to shift quicker,” Merches said regarding future improvements. “The fuel mileage is where all the money is spent.”

But regardless of what technology is implemented, the driver has to buy into the concept.

“The only way we’re going to be able to help inspire a driver to perform is to give him or her a reason,” Nussbaum said.

The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at editor@thetrucker.com

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