It’s often about as simple a fix as there is, replacing or repairing a light that’s out. The problem is, it’s also one of the easiest problems to be unaware of. How many lights of various kinds and functions are on a trailer? Any of them can go out at just about any time for any number of reasons, and a driver isn’t going to hear or feel or likely even see anything different while on the road.
Often – very often – it’s a law enforcement officer who brings it to the driver’s attention,
“Lights that are out are an easy target for a state trooper,” said Kevin Cornelius, business development manager of power delivery at Grote Industries, a manufacturer of lighting and safety equipment for trucking fleets.
Earlier this year, Grote introduced the Guardian Smart Trailer System, designed to monitor every light on a trailer - including those for stop, left and right turn signals, tail, license, clearance, side marker, and identification. The system represents a significant improvement over previous systems, Cornelius explained, and can hopefully help drivers cut down on what are some of the most frequent CSA violations.
According to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration database, as of October 27, less than four weeks into fiscal 2018, there had been 153,409 vehicle inspections, resulting in 241,404 violations. Of those, by far the most frequent violation – 30,300, or 12.55 percent – were for “operating vehicle not having the required lamps.”
“Inoperative turn signals” also cracked the top 10, with 7,556 instances, 43 percent of which weren’t just violations, they were OOS violations, the second-leading cause of OOS vehicle violations other than flat or leaking tires.
Going down the list and adding them all together, light- or signal-related issues account for nearly a quarter of all violations.
Not only that, Cornelius pointed out, “When a truck is pulled over, it can trigger the officer to investigate everything else like the driver logs, brake wear or tire tread.” When you add up the fines and the downtime on top of the repairs, lights can become a significant expense.
The Guardian Smart system gives drivers a better chance of being the first to know about light malfunctions on their truck. Previous systems have provided little more than a flashing indicator that a light is out. And many of these systems only work with LED lights and require complicated installation.
The Guardian Smart system can be easily integrated into the trailer’s wiring harness system at the nose box. The installation can be done when the trailer is built or easily retrofitted, Cornelius said.
Once installed, the system automatically senses what lights are on the trailer and sets its own baseline. The system’s sensor continuously monitors voltage and current passing through the wire harness. The system is programmed to differentiate notable or sudden changes from those that are gradual and could be caused by lights warming up or ambient temperature conditions.
Cornelius explained that the challenge in creating a system that could monitor both LED and non-LED lights is the difference in the different amounts of current each kind of light draws through the circuit board.
“We wanted to have that flexibility so if someone wanted to retrofit to to older equipment, it would still work,” he said.
Previous systems only gave a flashing light signal to indicate when a light somewhere on the trailer was out. The Guardian Smart system takes it a step further by indicating which circuit is out, and the information can be transmitted to drivers and to fleet maintenance and managers by smartphone app, as well as through the truck’s onboard telematics system.
Cornelius said there are nine fleets currently using the Guardian Smart Trailer System, and that a next-generation version is due out in April. The new system will include a “geo-fence” feature that will allow a virtual geographic boundary to be drawn around a specific location, such as a facility or repair depot. When the geo-fence is crossed and there is a lamp or light outage, an automatic warning is sent via e-mail or text message to appropriate personnel.
He added that Grote is currently working on improving the system so it can eventually indicate the specific cause of an outage, indicate which specific light is out and even predict outages before the occur.
“The ability to proactively identify and resolve any lighting, electrical, or other tractor-trailer issues will only grow as this kind of real-time monitoring system becomes more sophisticated,” concludes Cornelius. “In the trucking industry, access to this type of information is going to reduce CSA violations and ensure safer, simpler operation.”
For more information about the Guardian Smart Trailer System, visit grote.com/guardian.